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The first priority for building operators and property managers is to ensure that occupants can safely exit a building without becoming trapped or overcome by smoke in an emergency. It is therefore crucial that the fire alarm system, public address system, and/or other means of alerting occupants are in full working condition at all times. Each approved fire safety plan (FSP) includes the code requirements for the inspection and testing of the fire alarm system, its detection devices and the sprinkler systems as well as the maintenance to be performed on equipment such as the fire extinguishers, standpipe hoses, battery pack emergency lighting units and exit fixtures. The approved FSP also contains the basic specifications and the sequence of operation of smoke control devices, fire dampers and any automatic or semi-automatic means of fire control. It is essential that this equipment is fully functional to ensure that occupants are enabled to safely exit the building without becoming trapped or overcome by smoke.
Once a fire emergency is underway, there must be a safe means of evacuation for all occupants. Building management must maintain clear paths of escape, a sufficient number of suitably protected exit ways, emergency lighting, and signage. If a rapidly-spreading fire occurs, all occupants must be able to leave the building without injury and without being trapped by the fire. Occupants must know the location of all emergency exits and alternate paths to safety. Escape routes are to be clearly marked, unobstructed and never locked. If an emergency exit must prevent access from the exterior for security reasons, regulations specify installation of an alarmed “panic hardware” latch so that it can be opened from the inside without requiring that it be unlocked first. On these doors, applicable signage is to be posted stating “Emergency Exit Only – Alarm Will Sound”. Fire doors which are magnetically locked are to be released upon activation of the fire alarm system and/or activation of a fire pull station located by the exit door. If there are doors that could be mistaken for passage to the outside, signage is to be posted on the door stating “Not An Exit”. Cases have been recorded of evacuees in times of panic entering stairwells that lead only to locked doors used for roof access. As the emergency evacuation is underway, it is vital that the evacuees are directed to the outside assembly area or pre-designated meeting area(s) to allow fire wardens, supervisory staff and building managers to easily account for all of their occupants.