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December 20, 2016

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What do I need to do as a new fire warden?

Being the company’s newest fire warden means you’re taking charge of a significant part of health and safety management. Upholding fire safety is crucial for preventing the devastating effects that fire has on both people and businesses as a whole.

According to gov.uk, in 2015/16 there were a recorded 15,984 fires in non-dwelling buildings, 21 fatalities, and 1089 non-fatal injuries, and it’s estimated that a high percentage of businesses never fully recover from a fire. This emphasises the necessity for fire wardens to fully understand their responsibilities so they can prevent their business and people from becoming a statistic.

What are the specific duties of fire wardens?

You have two main duties: establishing and maintaining fire prevention measures and fire emergency procedures. Prevention is of course better than cure but should the worst happen, you need to react immediately. Fire won’t wait for you to run a quick internet search or ask someone else what to do.

Fire wardens need to undergo both technical and practical training to learn how to fulfil these duties. Technical training educates the learner about the types of fire hazards, classes of fire, fire prevention measures, fire extinguisher symbols, fire drills, evacuation procedures, and how to carry out fire risk assessments. Practical training teaches fire wardens how to use fire extinguishers correctly and safely.

Fire Prevention Measures

Your main responsibilities for preventing fire are:

  • Carry out fire risk assessments. This requires inspecting the premises to detect fire hazards and identify where additional control measures are required, e.g. clearer signage or safer storage of hazardous materials. Risk assessments are one of the most crucial fire safety procedures.
  • Write a fire plan. You and your employer will construct written guidelines and instructions for three key areas: prevention, evacuation, and fire-fighting. This plan should include details on all known fire hazards in the premises.
  • Test and check equipment. This includes testing smoke alarms, fire alarms, and emergency lighting; making sure fire doors are signposted and release when the alarm sounds; and inspecting fire extinguishers and other fire equipment for damage or expiration dates.
  • Remove and minimise hazards. This involves moving sources of fuel well away from sources of ignition and vice versa (e.g. cardboard boxes near a stove, or flammable liquids near electrical equipment), as well as implementing safer storage.

Fire Emergency Procedures

The most important aspect of a fire warden’s role is being prepared for an actual fire. Because unfortunately, preventative measures can and do fall through; all it takes is one person to not abide by the rules for devastation to occur. But fire wardens help minimise this devastation.

Your main responsibilities for emergency procedures are:

  • Carry out fire drills. These should be done at least once a year, although it’s recommended that they are more frequent in high-risk environments, if a high number of new employees have started since the last drill, or if escape route(s) change. If any part of the fire drill is ineffective, correct it immediately.
  • Create, review, and update a fire evacuation plan. Record the plan for evacuation in an official document, and don’t forget to consider people with disabilities (e.g. mobility issues) or deafness. Implement a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for the disabled and other alarm systems for deaf people, e.g. flashing lights. Review plans regularly so they remain relevant and effective.
  • Ensure evacuation plans are understood. During a fire, people look to you for instruction and to be safely guided out the building. But they should not be completely clueless. Communicate fire evacuation instructions to people via signage and circulate the evacuation plan via email.
  • Know what to do during an evacuation. The action you take during a fire could be the difference between everyone escaping safely and someone suffering serious harm. You won’t have long to react during a fire; it spreads at an alarming rate. There are 6 evacuation steps fire wardens must take:
  1. Instruct people to exit via escape routes. Use a loudspeaker or whistle to communicate in large/noisy premises. Offer assistance and guidance to anyone who needs it, although people assigned to PEEPs should be in charge of assisting disabled so you can fulfil other actions.
  2. Search the area. Scout escape routes before sending people on them if you suspect they may be compromised. Then check that no one has been left behind in isolated areas, e.g. toilets, or have hidden themselves in areas that they think are safe.
  3. Minimise risks. Close all windows and doors to starve fire of oxygen and reduce the spread of smoke.
  4. Determine whether or not you can safely fight fire. Find the source of the fire and eliminate it if you have knowledge of the different types of fire and can do so without putting yourself at risk. But if you can’t, do not try to be a hero: leave it to the emergency services.
  5. Report to and cooperate with other fire wardens/marshals. Working together with others makes evacuations thorough and enables you to fight fire safely and effectively. Provide the emergency services with any details they ask for if you know the answer.
  6. Report to the assembly point and take a roll call. There should be a system (e.g. a rota or calendar) in place that identifies people present and people absent (e.g. off sick) so you know who was/wasn’t in the building during the alarm. Carry out a roll call to make sure everyone is accounted for. If someone is not, notify the emergency services.

By knowing how to take charge of preventative and reactive measures, you’ll be fully prepared to fulfil your duties as a new fire warden. You’ll be able to prevent fires in the workplace and, in the event one does manage to break out, will know how to combat them safely and ensure the safe evacuation of everyone on the premises.

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Liz Burton is a Content Author at High Speed Training and has a BA Degree in English and Creative Writing. High Speed Training are a UK-based online learning provider that offer a vast range of training courses, including health and safety, food hygiene, fire safety, health and social care, and safeguarding children. Liz is skilled at writing about technical subjects in a style that anyone can understand – she enjoys supporting people’s learning.

 

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Philip Watkins
Philip Watkins

Unfortunately most of those ‘rookie’ fire wardens that are sent on training courses are there to act as the eyes & ears of the managers that send them. Most fire safety training is generic but unfortunately buildings are not. More often that not the Landlord fails to liaise enough with their tenants and the evacuation procedures are flawed if at all organised so it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. However, those businesses that own or have control their own building tend to be more responsible. It’s all very well training wardens about fires, how they develop &… Read more »

Matt Orr
Matt Orr

As a fire warden trainer I support the fundamental message being given within this article with the exception of one area. Fire wardens should not be carrying out fire risk assessments. This is a specialist area with health and safety and the training they receive do give them the competence to carry one out. They should contribute to it absolutely but not carry one out. I would also say any fire plans should be created in conjunction with a competent health and safety professional.

Craig Shaw
Craig Shaw

I concur with the comments of Matt Orr regarding Fire Risk Assessments. I would also suggest that the contents of the above article in terms of the duties of a Fire Warden are in fact placing the Fire Warden in danger by for example – advising them to check routes have not been compromised, search toilets etc and consider fighting a fire if safe to do so. As a retired senior fire service officer and currently working in the field of Health & Safety/Fire Safety and having been responsible for training, the last thing the Fire Service Commander wants to… Read more »