Evacuation and rescue: Buildings that fail

Control Measure Knowledge

It may be necessary to review an existing evacuation strategy if fire or smoke is spreading in a manner that impinges upon the safety of people in the building.

In some situations, particularly in larger buildings with stay put, phased evacuation or defend in place strategies, where travel distances are extended it may be necessary to adopt measures that would normally be avoided, to evacuate or rescue people.

To facilitate evacuation, it may also be necessary to redeploy resources from other tasks to ensure all occupants are removed from the building safely.

Protect egress and evacuation routes

Wherever possible, access and egress routes used by personnel should either be separate from evacuation route or allow enough room for flow of personnel and evacuees. However, in many buildings with single access routes, particularly in tall residential buildings this is not possible.

Throughout the incident, the impact of operational activity upon a potential evacuation route should be considered. If it is believed that the potential evacuation route is being compromised by operational activity, alternative approaches or mitigations should be considered, for example water on stairwell becoming slippery may require the use of absorbent materials or coverings, or smoke entering a stairwell from a fire floor may need to be prevented by changing ventilation strategy or deploying smoke control techniques or equipment.

If the building is showing signs that smoke or firespread may impact upon evacuation routes, it may be necessary to review operational activity to allow changes to the evacuation strategy.

Coordinating evacuation and rescue

In buildings with large numbers of people, multiple floors or limited egress, it may be necessary to phase evacuation and coordinate evacuation. Encouraging all people to evacuate at once may lead to bottlenecks or create conditions that affect the evacuation, such as allowing smoke to enter corridors that were previously unaffected.

The conditions of the incident should be assessed, and likely development should be considered. It may be necessary to change existing strategies depending upon how the fire is spreading. For example, if it identified that fire spread is across one face of the building, evacuation of that face may need to be prioritised.

How the flow of people will affect other people should also be considered, for example depending upon travel distances it may be possible to effectively evacuate several floors at a time if they are sufficient distances apart. It should be understood that it will not be possible to prevent people leaving their property.

Informing occupants

Informing occupants of changed evacuation strategy may be difficult, fire control rooms should immediately be informed about any change in strategy, as should multi agency partners, to ensure advice being offered is in line with operational tactics.

In addition to information being passed by control, other options may include:

  • Evacuation alert systems – Refer to Appropriate intervention: Fires in tall buildings for more information
  • The use of media and social media messaging
  • Changing advice to callers to fire control
  • Loudhailers or external broadcast systems
  • Drones (Unmanned aircraft) with announcement systems
  • Deploying personnel to floors to inform occupants
  • The use of aerial platforms with announcement systems
  • The use of building features, such as door entry communication systems

Search co-ordination

As early as possible in an incident where evacuation may be necessary, a cordon should be established to receive information from people leaving the building, including:

  • The location they have left
  • If people are still in the location, they have left
  • If people require assistance to leave the building
  • The conditions within the building
  • Their name and contact details
  • If they have spoken to fire control

A functional officer or sector should be appointed to coordinate searching the building, to do this they will need information from people leaving the building, information from fire control rooms and information from personnel deployed to search the building.

This information should be combined with plans of the building where available, to build a picture of places where people may be situated, and areas that have already been searched and how resources should be used to ensure everyone has left or been rescued from the building.

Operational or sector commanders and the officer coordinating the search should coordinate to ensure internal and external activity do not compromise search and rescue activities.

Information should be regularly reviewed to ensure people who may have made a call to fire control room, that have subsequently left the building or have been rescued is updated.

Compromised evacuation routes

Where possible people being asked to leave or being rescued should be taken out via a route that is safe and contains safe air. This is not always possible; personnel should consider the use of RPE and PPE to mitigate the affect on occupants. Smoke control devices should also be considered.

Managing evacuation in large or tall buildings

It may be necessary to deploy personnel to the stairwells above the fire floor to inform occupants of a change in evacuation strategy, to assist in evacuation or to perform a rescue. For more information regarding Stairwell Protection Teams please refer to Appropriate intervention: Fires in tall buildings.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions