While a fire might be the last thing you expect when you go out to dinner or a movie, think about fire safety and how you might react. Your life and health can depend on it.
An average of more than 16,000 fires occur annually in public places such as restaurants, movie theaters, night clubs and meeting spaces. More than 7,000 fires happen each year just in eating and drinking establishments. In 2021, there were 125,000 nonresidential fires causing 130 deaths in the U.S.
You can help protect yourself and your family by being aware of your surroundings and making note of these safety concerns as you visit public spaces:
Find the nearest exit – Make it a habit to look for exits wherever you go. Building codes usually require two ways out of every building or floor. Know where the nearest exit is, keeping in mind another door may be closer than the one you entered.
- Pay attention to combustibles hanging from the walls and ceilings – Generally, combustibles should be limited on walls and ceilings, and only standard wall and ceiling coverings are acceptable. Pay particular attention to exposed foam as decoration in restaurants and nightclubs; it burns quickly and causes toxic smoke.
- Pay attention to overcrowding in a room – If it feels too packed, it probably is.
- Be aware of obstructions – Paths to exits should be free and clear of obstructions and easy to access.
- Be conscious of construction – Exits and areas like stairwells should be free of combustibles. Stairs should be solid and usually enclosed by substantial construction separating them from the rest of the building. Open stairwells usually should not be labeled as exits; if you see one that is, make sure you know of an alternate route.
- Respond to fire alarms – When a fire alarm activates or emergency notification is provided, act immediately. Do not wait to see what others are doing or assume there is no incident; you may have only minutes to reach the nearest exit out of the building.
Other public places that require special attention are day care centers and homes for the elderly: Children, elders and people with special needs often cannot save themselves in a fire and need the help of the facility staff. These buildings – elementary schools, day care centers and nursing homes – have complex and specific life safety requirements. It is critically important the basic life safety requirements are met for these occupancies. While too detailed to get into here, you can help ensure your loved one’s safety in these buildings by always ensuring the facility you use is properly licensed and inspected by the appropriate jurisdictions.
When considering one of these facilities for a loved one, inquire about violations and the status of any repairs. If you see or learn of issues, point them out to the management immediately and, if they do not respond, contact local fire or building officials.
If you are unsure about whether or not a building meets current codes, speak with local fire and building officials in your community. We often put a great deal of time into researching facilities for their amenities and features, but don’t forget that a place safe from fire is part of the overall environment of care for these places.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.