Evacuation guidance: People at risk - building fire

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with:


Fire control personnel should consider if either the building or any people at risk have specific evacuation strategies, so that they can give the correct or most appropriate guidance to people at risk in a building fire.

People at risk who have a specific evacuation strategy should be advised to follow the instructions detailed in their plan rather than the generic evacuation strategy for the building. Fire control personnel should communicate to operational personnel any information they have about people at risk who have indicated that they have a specific evacuation strategy, along with any possible difficulties the people at risk may face while following their plan.

Single private dwellings

People at risk inside a single private dwelling that is on fire should attempt to evacuate the property immediately. All people in the dwelling should be alerted and doors should be closed behind them as they leave as this will help to stop the spread of the fire.

Commercial and industrial properties

People at risk inside a commercial or industrial property should follow the pre-determined evacuation policies for the building. The evacuation policies should have been designed around the safety features of the building. Fire exits should be used and should be identifiable from adequate signage and lighting where appropriate.

Residential buildings with multiple occupants

If there is a fire inside a residential building with multiple occupants that has a simultaneous evacuation strategy, people at risk should alert all the people in the flat, leave the property immediately and close doors behind them, following a pre-determined escape plan. This might include maisonettes and purpose-built flats below 18m. When evacuating, people at risk should use the stairs rather than the lift unless their specific evacuation strategy states otherwise.

If a fire starts in a common area, anyone in this area should make their way out of the building via the nearest, safest exit.

Stay put strategy

In premises where ‘stay put’ is the responsible person’s pre-determined strategy, it should be safe for the occupants to remain in their flat, provided they are not being directly affected by flames, heat or smoke and the spread of fire and smoke is being contained by compartmentation or other building safety features designed for this purpose.

When ‘stay put’ advice is given, people at risk should be instructed to inform fire control personnel immediately by redialling 999 if they decide to move away from their flat or to evacuate the building after the call has ended.

If operational personnel have been informed about the location of people at risk who have been advised to stay put, any known movement of these people should be communicated to operational personnel as this may affect their tactical plan.

Simultaneous evacuation strategy

For buildings with a simultaneous evacuation strategy, and before operational personnel arrive, fire control personnel should deliver consistent evacuation advice to all people at risk who make an emergency call, leaving the caller in no doubt as to what they should do. Once operational personnel arrive at the incident, they may decide to implement a phased or progressive evacuation strategy.

Keeping people safe during evacuation

Research into how people react in a fire indicates that, in the event of an evacuation, people tend to move to familiar exits and like to leave the way they came in. They also leave via exits that are visible to them and will be influenced to use the same exits as other evacuees. These exits may not always be the safest and may hinder firefighting activity, therefore egress routes specified by operational personnel should be encouraged.

Access to floor plans or tall building layouts will assist fire control personnel in guiding people at risk towards egress routes and staircases to support their evacuation.

When people at risk are being informed to evacuate, guidance on how to do this may assist them doing it safely:

  • Where there are groups of people evacuating together, linking arms or holding hands will help them to stay together
  • Material placed over the mouth and nose can reduce the inhalation of smoke and gases
  • Doors may be hot to touch and should be checked before hands are placed directly on the door or handle. The back of the hand can be used to feel the door or handle; if either the door or handle are too hot to touch then material should be placed around the hands to provide some protection from the heat
  • If smoke is encountered on evacuation routes, staying low to the ground should provide more clear air to breathe

Change in evacuation strategy

There may be situations where, due to an escalation of the incident or development of the fire, there may be a requirement for the incident commander to change the pre-determined ‘stay put’ strategy of the building. The number of calls being received, and the type of information being received by fire control personnel may directly influence the incident commander’s decision to change the evacuation strategy due to, for example:

  • Multiple emergency calls or multiple FSG calls being received by fire control personnel
  • Emergency or FSG calls being received from the same building but from a location that is remote from the initial fire, indicating spread of flames or smoke
  • A high number of emergency calls being received, or the number of FSG calls in progress having a negative impact on the capacity of the fire control room, leading to an inability to manage the requirements of the incident or effectively share information with operational personnel and other agencies
  • A loss or impairment of situational awareness of the fire control commander
  • Occupants not following the advice of fire control personnel and choosing to leave rather than stay put
  • People at risk reporting rapid spread of fire or smoke, either externally or internally from one compartment or floor to another
  • Callers outside the building reporting that the fire is spreading via external cladding
  • People at risk receiving FSG for long periods of time and rescues not being made
  • People at risk reporting deteriorating internal conditions

Information should continually be shared between fire control personnel and operational personnel to ensure there is shared situational awareness and a joint understanding of risk. One or more of the indicators listed above may not lead to a change in evacuation strategy, however the sharing of this information will enable incident commanders to continually review the strategy and amend it if required.

Due to the potential impact on the development of the fire, people at risk should only open and evacuate via a window if it is believed they will not survive without doing so.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions