Protect people at risk: fire survival guidance – building fire

Control Measure Knowledge

To protect people at risk from a fire in a building, the advice given should be based on control room personnel’s basic knowledge and understanding of fire behaviour and development.

Gather together 

If there are several people at risk in a building, it may be advantageous for them to gather in one location because:

  • Fire survival guidance (FSG) can be passed from fire control personnel to a single person, who can consistently relay the advice to others
  • It may reduce the likelihood of multiple FSG calls being received by the fire control room from a single location
  • It supports easier and quicker rescue of multiple people from a single location

This guidance may not be appropriate for large, complex, tall or buildings of multiple occupancy. For example, in tall buildings it may not be safe for people to move between floors or flats. People at risk should not move into one room or location if doing so exposes them to additional risk. Fire control personnel should assess whether this is appropriate guidance when gaining situational awareness.

Move away from fire 

The risk of injury from flames, heat and smoke should be reduced the further away people are from the location of the fire.

When advising people to move to another room or location, consideration should be given to the following:

  • Fire gas ignitions can affect rooms adjacent to the fire location.
  • Doors that feel hot to the touch are likely to be affected by the fire and should not be opened
  • A window can provide both fresh air and a means of leaving the building if the situation escalates, or if external rescue by operational personnel is required
  • The person at risk may be on a phone that is only available in their current location
  • If the caller is unable to remain on the phone when moving to another location, consideration should be given to:
    • Advising the person to redial 999 so that FSG can be continued
    • Providing sufficient FSG before allowing the caller to hang up the phone

Close doors 

A standard door will usually contain the spread of fire due to the inherent fire resisting properties of the materials used. Standard doors should also lessen the spread of toxic smoke and fumes into otherwise unaffected parts of the building for a short amount of time. They also reduce the flow of air to the fire, reducing fire growth and spread.

The more closed doors between people at risk and the fire, the safer they will be and the more the spread of the fire will be reduced.

Block doors  

Although closing doors will slow the spread of smoke, considerable quantities can still pass around the door edges and through other gaps in the room, such as air vents. Cloth can absorb some of the smoke particles and filter some of the gases contained in the smoke. Placing cloth objects, such as bedding, pillows, clothing or towels, around gaps where smoke is entering, will reduce the amount of smoke entering the room.

Cover mouth and nose

Placing cloth objects over the mouth and nose can reduce the inhalation of smoke.

Stay low 

Near the fire, the smoke will be hot and buoyant, collecting with the hot gases at higher levels. Further from the fire, as the smoke cools it will mix with the general air and be more evenly distributed at high and low levels.

Remaining close to the floor, as low as possible, should reduce the amount of smoke and hot gases people are exposed to.

Open window 

An open window will allow smoke to leave the room and fresh air to enter; the air underneath the window will also be cooler.

When fire control personnel advise people at risk to open a window, consideration should be given to the location of the fire. Opening a window may increase the risk due to:

  • Firespread on the external walls of the building
  • Fire being located beneath the window, allowing smoke from outside to enter the room through the window
  • The air entering the room may encourage fire development

It is important to reassess the conditions after a window has been opened, if there are any signs or symptoms which suggest an increased risk or escalation of the incident, for example:

  • Signs and symptoms of backdraught
  • Smoke entering through the window
  • Flames visible behind the door
  • Flames visible outside the window

In these scenarios, the situation should be assessed as to whether the window should be closed or people at risk told to evacuate.

If the window cannot be opened, a firm blow aimed at the corner of the pane with a hard, sharp object will help the glass to break. Glass left at the edges should be knocked out and sharp edges should be covered if possible, to prevent injury. Careful consideration should be given when advising people at risk to break a window, as once the glass is broken it cannot be undone.

It is important that fire control personnel confirm with the caller that people at risk have taken action and followed the advice given.

The advice given may affect the tactical actions of operational personnel, for example, an open window can act as a source of natural ventilation of the building. If operational personnel then use tactical ventilation methods, it may push the heat and smoke towards people at risk. Informing operational personnel of the advice given and actions taken will allow an effective tactical plan to be produced.

Situational awareness gained throughout the call should continually be reassessed for accuracy to ensure advice being given is relevant and up to date.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions