Wheelchair users and fire safety
Creating a safe evacuation plan means all employees should be accounted for in it – including workers who use a wheelchair.
“By understanding their special evacuation needs, people with limited mobility and first responders can improve their chances of evacuating their workplace or home safely,” the United Spinal Association says. “The main goal is to get persons with limited mobility to a ‘safe area’ until the fire department arrives.”
The association recommends reaching out to your local fire department to establish a relationship, as well as others who would respond to your organization in the event of an emergency. Then:
- Develop an evacuation plan with the fire department.
- Know the locations of your usable exits on the grade level of the building and how to get to them.
- Determine if a wheelchair user can get to a “public way” that’s a safe distance away from the building, and then identify a safe meeting place.
- Establish a “floor warden” system. When an alarm goes off, “the floor warden should immediately verify circumstances and inform the person with a disability accordingly.”
- Identify a location(s) for an area of refuge. If evacuating from an upper floor, wheelchair users should make their way, either accompanied or on their own, to the designated area or other place of safety on the same floor. “They should inform their supervisor, a colleague or other available person that they will remain in that place of safety and wait for assistance. Two-way radios or a telephone in these areas should be provided to ensure communication is available. The supervisor or other designated person should inform the first fire or emergency officials arriving on the scene of the person’s location.”
- Practice the evacuation plan throughout the year.
- Make sure all workers, including those on other shifts (e.g., cleaning crews, evening meeting coordinators, etc.), are aware of wheelchair users who are typically in the building. Include these workers in fire emergency drills.
- Review the plan with the fire department at least once a year.