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A fire drill is a method of practicing how a building would be evacuated in the event of a fire or other emergency. Usually, the building's existing fire alarm system is activated and the building is evacuated as if the emergency had occurred. Generally, the time it takes to evacuate is measured to ensure that it occurs within a reasonable length of time, and problems with the emergency system or evacuation procedures are identified to be remedied.
History of fire drills
The purpose of fire drills in schools is so that everyone in the building is aware of how to exit the building in the quickest, easiest and safest way possible if a fire, smoke, carbon monoxide or other emergency did occur and will help staff and students familiarise with the sound of the [fire alarm]. Fire drills were put in place[where?] after many severe fires in schools happened.
One fire that had a major impact on the foundation of the school was a fire at the private Catholic school Our Lady of the Angels in 1958, in Chicago, Illinois. Children on the second floor were trapped there, with neither the teachers nor their students knowing how to get out of the building safely. Many children tried jumping out the window and many burned in the fire. The main cause of death was of being trapped in the building without an exit. Although the school had passed a fire inspection two months prior, having the correct amount of fire exits and fire extinguishers for that time, it lacked smoke detectors or adequate fire alarms and was overcrowded.
In order to make schools safer, education was needed on what to do during the fire. Monthly fire drills were put in place after the Our Lady of the Angels fire. It was found in a later study that education on fire also helped to prevent it. As time moved on, people started to learn more about what started fires, and what to do in the case of one happening. People were now on the lookout for fires, and now knew how to prevent them from igniting. Within a year of the fire, many of the hazardous conditions found in Our Lady of the Angels were then fixed in thousands of schools around the United States.
Other improvements in fire safety
After the fire at Our Lady of the Angel, state regulations required that there had to be fire alarm street boxes no more than one hundred feet from the front of the building. The General Assembly of Illinois also passed life safety codes in response to the fire at Our Lady of the Angel. Things such as more control over waste disposal, proper storage of combustible supplies, more frequent fire drills and inspections were put in place. Other reforms from the fire include the city of Chicago modifying the Municipal Building Code of Chicago, affecting fire safety of schools as well as other buildings with two or more stories. To prevent fires and deaths caused by fires, schools must have an evacuation plan in place, and make sure that all the proper fire alarms and warnings work. Teachers must take charge of the situation and be a leader. Teachers should also consider the amount of students that they have. They need enough space and time to get all of the students out quickly, and safely. Teachers should also be the ones that are looking out for causes of fires, in order to try and stop it from happening.
In reviewing how during one shooting incident Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden a fire alarm was used, and the consideration that an alarm could distract victims and get all the occupants of the building in one place, out in the open. Nick Dial's article suggests possible improvements of a color-coded drill along with other remarks about school security.
Fire drill regulations
Many jurisdictions require that fire drills be conducted at certain intervals. This is most often the case in elementary, middle, and high schools as well as most colleges and universities, but sometimes other places as well. Often the frequency of such drills and any special actions that must be taken during such drills are listed in the statute.
In the United States, school fire drill regulations are set by individual states.
Some states require that schools conduct a fire drill once per month:
- California (elementary schools)
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- Utah (elementary schools)
- West Virginia
Some states require that schools conduct a specific number of drills over the course of the entire school year, or that a certain number of drills must be conducted within a certain period of time:
Some states specify a greater frequency of fire drills at the beginning of the school year:
Until regulations changed on November 1, 2010, New Jersey was unique in its requirement that schools conduct two fire drills per month. Under more recent requirements, one of the two fire drills was replaced by a monthly security drill.
The Government of the United Kingdom requires that all schools, colleges and universities and any other education establishment perform a fire drill at the start of the new academic year in September. and recommends that one should occur every term. According to the latest UK fire regulations, places such as public residencies or small buildings should have a fire alarm warning device such as a bell or a sounder installed in every room. Plus regularly health and safety checks such as testing the fire alarms and fire extinguishers should be performed weekly. According to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all workplaces must have an emergency plan consisting of staff actions, evacuation plans and arrangements for contacting the fire brigade.
The New Zealand Fire Service requires all schools and educational facilities to carry out a fire drill (termed a trial evacuation) at least once every six months, unless a shorter period is specified in the school's approved evacuation scheme. Schools need to give the Fire Service 7-10 working days' notice before a fire drill is planned, and must submit a report to the Fire Service within 7-10 working days of the drill; an unplanned alarm activation does not count as a fire drill.
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