01-26-2000, 11:09 AM
At work and at school, there are regular fire drills and there are procedures that Must Be Followed to make sure that everyone knows the way out and can be accounted for in an emergency.
In large enclosed areas such as public buildings, malls, and the Underground City in Toronto, there is a constantly-changing population who may not know what the fire alarm sounds/looks like, may not know where the exits are, and (especially in enormous polyglot cities such as Toronto) may not understand the language of emergency announcements.
How do safety people handle this situation?
Rigardu, kaj vi ekvidos.
I work in a large urban public library and fire safety is pretty important there. When the building reopened after renovation, there were a few fire drills while the building was open to the public.
These weren't particularly popular with the general public who didn't like being disturbed.
The visual fire alarm is a set of bright white flashing lights distributed throughout the building. The audible alarm sounds like a "whoop". (That's what the signs say.)
There are green exit signs all over the place and maps to show where to get out.
There are occassional fire drills before the building is open to the public, but the staff is inside. What happens is that the security staff gets on the emergency PA (officially called the enunciator) and gives people instructions on where to exit, this is to make us ready to find alternate exits.
There have been a few false alarms and the security people get on the PA and tell us to stay in one place. If there were a real fire, I would think it would still be difficult to evacuate the whole building. People in libraries like to stay there and often refuse to leave no matter what you tell them. We had to evacuate the building once because of a power failure and many people refused to leave despite the fact that it was too dark to read anything (and you couldn't use the public Internet terminals either.)
01-27-2000, 12:30 AM
How do safety people handle this situation?
Fires in public buildings such as stadiums, theaters, civic centers, auditoriums, hotels, etc, are one thing. The buildings (are supposed to) have more than adequate exits for every occupant, and an alarm system to let them know how and when to leave. For those that don't speak the language, I would think they would know to follow everyone else who is leaving who does happen to speak the language (I'll find out about multilingual fire alarm notification messages). The trick with these buildings is that you know exactly how many people are going to be inside. Theaters have a set number of seats, hotels only have so many beds. Makes the planning a lot easier.
The construction of the buildings should be adequate to seperate the fire from the rest of the building, be it fire walls or floors, or some other building feature. Furtermore, they should also have an automatic sprinkler system (state law requires it in Massachusetts if the building is over 7500 square feet, check your local authority for numbers near you). That should keep a fire pretty small and confined to its place of origin if one does happen. So for the most part, you're pretty safe in one of these buildings (it only took 602 deaths in the Iriquois Theater for us to figure out how to design one of these buildings properly).
Malls, shopping centers, and underground buildings are another story. I had posted in another thread a few days ago about mall fires in particular. This is the problem in a nutshell: People are stupid. They're even stupider when shopping is involved.
[war story] Our department protects a large shopping mall, about 80 stores (give or take), single floor, about 1/2 mile long or so. Big place. In the past 8 or 9 years, we have had 2 good fires in this mall, one during Christmas shopping season (pine furniture store), another in the summer (clothing store). For both fires, people were walking into the store to shop while fire was rolling out of the entrance and into the mall concourse. Both firefighters and police (as well as mall security, but seriously, who listens to them? :)) were trying to move these people out of harm's way, and they weren't budging. They want to shop, damnit, and no fire is going to stop them, they have rights! [/war story]
Anyway, enough ranting, back to the question at hand. Unlike the above buildings (hotels, theaters, etc), no one has a clue how many people are going to be inside a mall. Sure, a reasonable guess can be made, but there is no set maximum number. Just keep stuffing the shoppers inside to spend their money. So, concessions have to be made for these people. Mainly, these concessions are more exits, wider exits, and substantial construction.
The fire alarms are supposed to be obvious anywhere you go, a strobe light and loud horn on the wall are kind of a universal sign for a fire alarm. Emergency lights should come on, pointing at the exits. In buildings with newer fire alarms (past 5 to 10 years), an emergency message will be transmitted over the fire alarm speakers, giving verbal instructions on what the occupants are to do. Again, the language problem arises, but like I said, I'll find out about it. And, like in the theaters/auditoriums/stadiums/etc, the buildings should be sprinkled, keeping a small fire small. Adequate construction should provide a barrier between the fire and other sections of the building (how often have you seen a wooden shopping mall?).
In short, you're in charge of yourself when you're in one of these buildings. No one is going to make sure you're accounted for outside. Certainly, we'll try to look for people left inside, but if we don't know that Sunspace was shopping in the Gap and didn't get out, we won't be focusing the search there.
Thank you, Mr. Parmlee. (bonus points for anyone who knows who he is)
Self-Declared SDMB Fire Service Expert
01-27-2000, 01:11 AM
Thank you! This was about as I had suspected.
Just thinking of trying to get out of the food court on the lowest level of the Eaton Centre, which is two levels *below* the subway, gave me some pause for thought. And I have no idea what the fire alarm there sounds like.
Last week I was at the Yorkdale mall when what I presume was the fire alarm went off. Everyone completely ignored it and went on with their business. There were no lights or announcements.
I suppose it could have been a burglar alarm..
01-27-2000, 06:42 AM
I got two replies to the multilingual fire alarm systems.
One was a reply from a gentleman in Pennsylvania. An alarm that he had used in the past week or so has both English and Spanish announcements. His statement was that the alarm will make any announcement you want, as long as you record it. "There is an emergency condition in the building. Everyone stand on your heads until we tell you to stop..."
I also recieved a reply from a firefighter in Quebec City. He said that all of the fire alarm announcements there are in French and French alone. Looks like us English speakers are in trouble there.
Self-Declared SDMB Resident Fire Service Expert
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