The importance of fire drills


“WE have fire extinguishers, but only two persons were trained in how to use them and they weren’t here today”; “We were not sure what the beeping sound was, we thought it was just a test of the PA system not the actual fire alarm”; “We have never had a drill before so when the alarm went off we did not know what to do or where to go, so there was just a mad scramble for the door and a few persons got hurt”; “He got to the side door, but there was a padlock on it and he could not get out in time.”
Over the years, these have been some of the responses by workers here or in the wider Caribbean interviewed after fire broke out at their respective places of employment. What each had to say told the story easily – lack of preparation, lack of training, lack of drills.
We all know the dangers of a fire and the panic and confusion that can result. The first appearance of choking smoke, the crackling heat, the darkness created by loss of electricity; all of these factors can wreak havoc on these senses and the inability to react in the correct way due to a lack of practice can prove fatal.
There is no excuse for a business not to have precautions put in place for emergencies such as a fire outbreak.
For an employer to simply say that it cuts into productivity or have the omniscient belief that a fire will never happen is absolutely ridiculous when considering the lives that may be saved by such a measure.
I am of the firm belief that there should be a law that requires all businesses across the island to conduct fire or evacuation drills in the presence of fire prevention officers from the Barbados Fire Service, who will monitor and make suggestions as is necessary.
If a business does not seek to safeguard and protect its staff and customers, then it is only interested in the bottom line and should be hit where it hurts the most – in its pockets. Businesses refusing to engage in such a practice should be fined and their insurance companies informed of their unwillingness to comply.
In addition, such drills should be done at least once every two years, fire exits should be clearly demarcated and fire evacuation tips displayed on notice boards, including where emergency assembly points are located.
Recently, I was in a supermarket when the fire alarm went off and within seconds, staff were ushering customers through the door, some of whom heard the alarm but continued to push their trolleys along without a care. The general manager got on the PA system informing persons that the alarm had been triggered and of the need to evacuate the building and reminding staff where to assemble. In all the evacuation was over in several minutes – a sign that they were well aware of what to do.
We know the saying that what does not happen in a year, happens in a day. Let us ensure that we know what to do on that day.

Barbados Advocate

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