Fire-walk with me
‘We’re surrounded by fire’! This was the exclamation by a student on a recent course I tutored. We had just returned from an impromptu ‘walk-about’ of the building where I was delivering elements of the NEBOSH National Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management.
It all started when we took a break for coffee and cakes and I asked the group of students to make a note of the ‘factors relating to means of escape and methods and systems to give early warning in case of fire’, the idea being that as they walked through the building to where the coffee was , they should observe and note as many examples as they could relating to the section of the course we had just covered.
Elements 4.2 and 4.3 of Unit 1 of the Fire Certificate require students to be aware of a wide range of principles and features of means of escape and methods and systems available to give early warning in case of fire. We had covered the course materials, viewed the slides and watched videos but the after lunchtime dip in concentration had kicked in I called ‘time out’ and sent them for a break.
On their return, a few students said they had spotted the odd fire-escape sign, alarm call-point and alarm-sounder but little else – possibly due to the rush to get the best of the cakes and coffee!
So I rounded them up and led them off on a tour of the building to point out some of the main features we had covered earlier. It was quite a modern building – two floors in a sort-of ‘E’ shape, with emergency exits at the ends of the ‘E’ wings and a central main stairwell and simple goods/people lift.
Before we left the room I pointed out the fire door complete with door-closer, vision panel, cold-smoke seal and intumescent strip. Above the door was an emergency light-fitting, (identifiable by the little green or red light-emitting diode – LED – tucked away in the corner of the fitting), a map of the escape routes, ionisation smoke detector on the ceiling and combined audible and visual alarm sounder on the wall.
Out into the corridor and fire exit signs both left and right indicated that we had two routes available to leave the building. Instead of taking the usual way out we turned the ‘wrong way’ and took a look at the final exit door at the end of the corridor: slam bar fitted to the door, more signage, fire extinguisher to the left, another emergency light-fitting above and a manually activated fire-alarm call-point on the wall.
Checking that the door wasn’t alarmed we opened it to find an external fire escape leading down the side of the building to the car park and, in the distance, the assembly point. Above the door and down the wall of the building were more emergency lights, which would illuminate the route down the stairs and a short way from the building.
Back into the building and we went along the very sparse and empty corridor that formed the escape route for about six or eight rooms on this floor/leg of the ‘E’, and then through the first of three intermediate fire doors, which divided the long corridor into separate fire compartments. We pulled the first door open towards us and pushed the other two; few noticed this until we realised they were hinged so that they opened in the direction of travel towards the closest exit and weren’t just the work of some joiner intent on trying to make us spill our coffee.
As we reached the landing area of the main central stairs where the other corridors of the ‘E’ all met we noticed the corridors were now a little wider, and two sets of double-width fire doors separated us from the stairwell. Because the number of people who might have to use this area was larger the width of the escape route had been increased and double doors installed leading to a same-width stairs.
Through the two sets of fire doors at the top of the stairs we found an area marked as a refuge, with a help button, intercom and evacuation chair. Down the stairs, more emergency light-fittings, handrails on both sides and first and last stair treads coloured bright yellow to improve their visibility.
On the ground floor we found a small kitchen area with usual appliances – kettle, toaster, microwave, etc. There was an extinguisher and fire blanket on the wall and, as you’d expect, an emergency light and fire door with closer, but looking closely at the fire detector it was slightly different from all the others. This, I suggested, was probably a heat rather than smoke detector so that any well-done toast, or over-heated ready meal wouldn’t set off the alarm!
Next to the main entrance doors we spotted the fire-alarm control panel. It showed the building was divided into a number of fire-alarm zones, and a sign stated that it was connected to an external alarm-receiving centre. In a folder next to it there was a detailed plan of the building with all of the devices and features we had seen, and more, all clearly marked.
So, during our short ‘walk-about’ we had spotted more than 20 separate principles and features of means of escape and methods and systems available to give early warning in case of fire.
Where possible, I like to bring the syllabus to life like this and actually demonstrate the subjects required to be understood by Elements 4.2 and 4.3 of FC1. So take a break from studying and go walk-about in your workplace, the local shopping centre or the next hotel you stay in and the you’ll find you are, indeed, ‘surrounded by fire’!
Alan Springhall MSc, DipNEBOSH
Alan followed his grandfather’s advice and left school at 16, he then completed a traditional mechanical engineering apprenticeship. Alan has over 30 years experience of practical health and safety application in a range of manufacturing environments including: glass, plastic moulding and extrusion, aerospace, paper and solvent adhesive processing. Alan is now an accredited tutor for the NEBOSH Diploma and most of the certificate courses, he specialises in classroom delivery which allows him to share his practical experience and enthusiasm to bring the syllabus to life. He is also proud to have tutored, on three separate occasions, the best performing national diploma candidates and likes to think that he played a small part in the performance of these excellent candidates. Alan is a keen motorcyclist; it is his preferred mode of transport in all but snowy weather. In his spare time Alan likes to keep fit by circuit training and running marathons. he is also aiming for his first triathlon this year.