fire alarmPhoto credit: Timothy-r.coakley, Wikimedia Commons

I remember how disruptive fire drills were in grade school, especially when they occurred while we were working on assignments that needed to be finished as homework if we didn’t maximize class time. In university, I remember being disturbed from my sleep at 1:00 AM by fire alarms blasting the dormitory. Of course, it had to be in the middle of winter. Even now, there doesn’t seem to be an opportune time to run a fire drill during the work week.

So how often should you run a fire drill? How do you know if employees are taking them seriously enough to be effective?

The number of times a year a lab runs a fire drill is situational, but the main thing is that they are performed often enough to ensure everybody knows exactly what to do in an actual event.

According to Linda Blacklidge of the Medical Laboratory Observer, your employees must be able to perform the following four things as a result of your training:

1. Recite the appropriate actions to take were a fire to occur at a given location. Responses should assure you your staff is aware the fire must be reported either by pulling the fire alarm or by using the phone.

2. Indicate doors to be closed to prevent the spread of fire beyond the initial location.

3. Demonstrate how to use a fire extinguisher if the fire is small enough.

4. Identify appropriate escape routes (depending on fire location) and know the rendezvous location to meet up with other staff members.

You should also document in black and white terms your policy for fire drill attendance. While it might be necessary to exempt some individuals from participation, you should keep in mind that such exemptions may lead to non-compliance in other employees. Your policy should spell out for the consequences for non-compliance as well.

In any fire drill I’ve participated in, there have always been grumblings. In such situations, it’s important that you take the time to reeducate reluctant staff about the importance of practicing emergency situations. They “must understand the full impact of a fire drill on their safety and on the lab's liability in the event of a fire."