When a fire breaks out at a small business, is it better for employees to stay and fight the fire, or is it more important for everyone to get out safely and call the professionals in to fight the fire?
It is always most important to keep individual safety at the front of every plan!
So many variables have to be considered to answer this question. First and foremost, how big is the fire, how quickly is it spreading and what is the cause of the fire? No matter what the answer is, this question is the most common type of emergency situation for which small businesses have to plan ahead.
If a small business is going to require their employees to stay and fight the fire with a portable fire extinguisher, proper and frequent training must be provided to these employees. A well-trained employee could fairly easily use a portable fire extinguisher to put out a small fire. In order to do this safely, however, the employees must understand the limitations and uses of a portable fire extinguisher as well as the dangers associated with fighting fires.
Having an Emergency Action Plan is critical for any business, and if a business is going to ask employees to fight a fire this plan is especially crucial. It needs to be clearly understood if all employees, or just a handful, will stay and fight the fire.
Choosing to completely evacuate the building or facility is the most effective way to minimize the potential for injuries to employees, however training employees to use portable fire extinguishers is also a way to minimize employee injuries and reduce response time in fighting the fire.
Four different scenarios are possible when a fire breaks out at a small business. The first scenario includes a mandatory evacuation of the entire workplace as soon as the fire alarm sounds. In this scenario there is no questioning what each employee is supposed to do; everyone leaves the building and goes to their pre-established safe meeting place so everyone can be accounted for.
The second scenario includes designated employees who are authorized to use the provided portable fire extinguishers to fight the fire. All other non-designated employees must evacuate the workplace the moment the alarm sounds. The designated employees must be trained annually on how to use the fire extinguishers, and the extinguishers must be regularly inspected, maintained and tested.
The third option is that all employees are authorized to fight fires with the portable fire extinguishers. This will leave up to the emergency action plan who will be evacuating (if anybody) and who will be staying to fight the fire. Again, any employee who will be fighting the fire must be annually trained on how to use the fire extinguishers, which will also be regularly inspected, maintained and tested.
Finally, there is a scenario where fire extinguishers are provided, but employees are not expected to fight a fire. This would include every employee evacuating at the sound of the alarm even though there would be fire extinguishers on-hand.
For the employees who are expected to fight a fire they would also need some risk-assessment training or experience. For example, they would have to be able to see the fire and assess if the situation is able to be contained or fought with just a portable fire extinguisher. They must decide if the fire is too big to be fought, if the air is safe to breathe or if they must evacuate due to toxins, if the environment is too hot or smoky to be safe to stay and fight, and what is the safe evacuation point if it comes to having to give up on fighting the fire.
Perhaps the final thing to consider is how far away is the nearest fire department? If a first-response team would be able to get to the business quickly, is it that important for their employees to have to stay and fight the fire?