School Fire Safety: How to be Prepared

The importance of fire safety in school can probably not be overstated. Educational settings hold many people within a confined campus and if a fire were to break out, it is vital to know what to do to contain it and how to safely evacuate everyone at risk. It is also important to know how to prevent fires in schools to lower the risk of a fire breaking out in the first place.

Let’s take a look at fire safety in school by covering: 

  • School fire safety standards
  • School fire prevention measures
  • School fire safety protocols 

Fire Safety in School: Fire Safety Standards

Preparing and executing a fire safety plan in school is a legal obligation for educational institutions in the United States. Fire safety regulations in schools are designed to protect students, faculty, staff, and educational buildings. Legally, schools are required to follow the fire safety regulations set out by their state and city. These fire safety standards can differ from state to state and from city to city, so it is important to know the standards and regulations where you are located so you can ensure proper implementation.

National standards for fire safety in school, however, have been developed by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) and most state and local fire safety regulations are based on these standards. The NFPA first developed these fire safety standards for schools in the mid-20th century, but they are periodically reviewed and updated.

Understanding the fire safety requirements for educational facilities outlined by the NFPA is the first step to implementing fire safety and prevention within the school setting. This understanding can help educational facilities understand how to employ best practices for fire safety in school and avoid issues with fire safety compliance.

NFPA outlines fire safety in school requirements in their comprehensive guide, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. This guide includes information on fire protection system requirements, such as fire alarm and sprinkler systems as well as fire extinguishers. Some important guidelines on fire alarm and sprinkler systems include automatic sprinkler systems that are connected to the fire alarm system so when sprinklers are activated, the alarm system is as well.

The NFPA fire codes provide guidelines on the legal occupancy of an educational space. As large, overcrowded spaces are harder to evacuate in case of an emergency, the NFPA code requires at least 20 square feet per person. This means, for example, that if a school is to hold 400 people, it must be at least 8000 square feet. These NFPA guidelines also include how to evacuate school buildings as well as what grades should be located on which level within a multi-story building. Classrooms with younger students are required to be located on the same level as the exit to the outside. 

NFPA guidelines also stipulate the frequency of fire drills and who needs to participate in them in addition to where fire extinguishers are required throughout an educational facility. The NFPA also lists special fire prevention requirements within classrooms to avoid safety hazards.  

School Fire Prevention and Safety

Fire prevention measures and fire safety protocols are both important in providing fire safety in school. Prevention measures are put in place to lower fire risk within a school and safety protocols are in place to help everyone in the school evacuate in case of a fire emergency. It is important to educate teachers, staff, and students on their roles in both prevention measures and safety protocols. Fire safety and prevention is much easier when everyone in the school building understands their role in helping to maintain a safe school environment.

Your school fire safety checklist should include:

  • Conducting routine fire safety inspections and scheduled maintenance
  • Employing landscaping and outside maintenance practices with an eye towards fire prevention
  • Performing an annual review of emergency protocols
  • Reviewing and implementing routine fire drills
  • Establishing routine procedures for keeping hallways and exits clear
  • Applying protocols to stay on top of potential fire hazards 

Fire Safety in School: Prevention Measures

One of the first rules of fire safety is that prevention goes a long way. Focusing on fire prevention in schools can lower the chances of a fire breaking out in an educational setting and up the chances of getting a fire under control quickly if one does break out.

Prevention Tips for Fire Safety in Schools

Inspections and Maintenance

Make sure to keep fire alarms, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, and exit signage up to date and working properly. Routine checkups and scheduled maintenance is vital to staying on top of these important fire safety products and keeping school buildings up to code. 

Landscaping and Outside Maintenance

Keep landscaping trim to prevent fire hazards and remove any obstacles from doors and windows that may impede potential evacuation. 

Fire Drills and Emergency Protocols

These measures are not a one and done set of safety guidelines. They need to be reviewed, updated, refreshed, and communicated with teachers and staff on a regular and routine basis. Establishing a schedule to keep fire drill plans and emergency protocols up to date and communicated is important for fire prevention and safety. 

Hallways and Exits

The NFPA requires that all doors, windows, and access points to a building remain clear so that in case of fire emergency crews can easily get in and out of the school. Establishing and employing regular routines for keeping hallways and exits clear is vital. 

Fire Hazards

Understanding what potential fire hazards may be present in your school and then staying on top of minimizing the risk of those hazards is a crucial fire prevention measure. These areas include rack and other storage areas, freezers, coolers, data centers, kitchen areas, science labs, and cleaning supply cabinets. 

Fire Safety in School: Fire Safety Protocols 

If a fire does break out in a school, it is crucial that everyone stays calm and knows what to do. This is easier said than done, but it can also prevent serious injuries and even death. The best way to stay calm in an emergency and know what to do is to practice. This is exactly what fire drills are set up to do. 

Fire Drills

A fire drill procedure is an important tool for keeping those who work and learn in an educational setting safe. These procedures should include teaching students, faculty, and staff what to do in case of a fire in school and also practicing what they learn through school fire safety drills. The most effective fire drills are well-planned and regularly practiced. Running a fire drill at different times during the school day can also help in discovering the different needs or obstacles that may arise at different times. For example, the procedures may be different at the start or end of the day as opposed to during lunch periods. 

A fire drill procedure in school should include:

  • Immediate evacuation when the fire alarm sounds
  • Classroom teachers calmly guiding their students through their designated evacuation route and to an assembly point
  • Classroom teachers making sure no students are left behind and all students evacuate quickly and safely
  • Other staff checking to make sure no students are left in restrooms, hallways, or other non-classroom areas and guiding them to the assembly point outside of the building
  • Fire wardens checking that evacuation routes are clear, windows and doors are closed, everyone has left the building, and any vulnerable individuals are helped to safety
  • Instructing students to walk quietly and calmly without running or overcrowding routes and exits
  • A roll call procedure once everyone has reached the assembly point to ensure no one unaccounted for
  • Review of the drill from start to finish to discover any problems or issues that need to be solved

It is also important for fire wardens or staff to be trained to observe the fire drill and spot issues that need to be addressed. In addition, all staff should be properly educated on their roles and responsibilities during the drill.

Remember, a fire drill is done to help everyone in the building to know what to do if and when a fire emergency occurs. The fire drill helps remind students, teachers, and staff what a fire alarm sounds like, what their route is out of the building, where to assemble once they are out of the building, and how to follow fire safety procedures. A fire drill can also give valuable insight into the fire safety evacuation plan that has been developed. The drill can show if the fire safety plan worked as intended, or if there were issues that slowed down the evacuation and if there are areas that can be improved, such as alarms, signs, or evacuation routes. 

The Importance of Fire Safety in Schools

Schools are most often large buildings or groups of buildings. Even smaller elementary schools can easily take up a full city block. Schools are also often constructed as multiple story buildings. These educational settings also contain a lot of people of varying ages and abilities. Understanding and following fire safety codes, implementing fire prevention measures and safety protocols, and continuing to improve fire safety in school through education and resources is vital to preventing injury or even death to those who spend much of their day in the school setting.