People with disabilities may have limitations that increase their risk in the event of a fire. These include physical and sensory impediments as well as cognitive challenges. As an example, people with low vision or blindness understandably have a much greater risk of injury if attempting to find or suppress a fire. Some disabilities could limit a person’s ability to pick up cues of an emergency and navigate to an exit. People with reduced mobility may become trapped by an inability to descend a multi-storey stairway.
Many buildings in Canada require a Fire Safety Plan by law that considers the special provisions necessary to evacuate the occupants who require assistance or extra measures. The Fire Safety Plan must also be reviewed at least annually and updated to accommodate any changes concerning the building or its occupants.
Many multi-storey buildings rely on elevators to transfer occupants between building levels. Upon fire alarm activation, most elevators will function as designed and recall to a safe floor. This automatic function will not accommodate evacuation of people who experience limited mobility and cannot independently descend a multi-storey staircase. Code-based solutions and technologies are available to help address this critical issue; most important, however, is the planning and practice of the provisions in the Fire Safety Plan.
A Fire Safety Plan encompasses fire hazards, fire drills, evacuation planning, fire protection features and equipment in the building and identifies the organization of staff members with fire safety duties and responsibilities. It is the building’s owner who is ultimately responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Fire Safety Plan. Expert assistance is necessary to ensure it meets all the Fire Code requirements, including approval from your local fire department or other authority having jurisdiction.
When incorporating a strategy to evacuate an individual with a disability the following steps should be taken:
- Identify primary and secondary means of egress that will be used.
- Determine how the individual will be notified of the fire.
- Practice evacuation in a safe and controlled manner, using both primary and secondary means of egress.
- Involve experts and the fire department in planning.
- Plan for contingencies and changes. Fire safety plans must be updated as needed.
Please contact PLC Fire Safety Engineering for help with your Fire Safety Plan and or Accessibility Assessments.