3 Ways to Prepare Your Hospital for a Fire

A fire is one of the most devastating emergencies a healthcare facility can experience and hospitals in particular prove to be a challenging type of public facility to address. Due to the nature of hospitals having high occupancy, and for that occupancy to consist of those that may not be able to easily move in the event of an evacuation, it’s vitally important for fire suppression systems be built right into the building itself.

The goal for every hospital is to avoid evacuation unless it’s completely necessary, making it important that hospitals have simple, yet effective fire prevention and suppression plans in place to save lives as well as reduce fire damage to the building itself.

Here are 3 ways you can prepare a hospital for the event of a fire.

Follow OSHA Standards

Evacuation from a hospital may be difficult for some patients or employees. Non-ambulatory patients, for example, may not be able to safely exit a building or get far from an area that is actively on fire.

Therefore, it’s crucial that builders planning out a hospital’s layout take OSHA standards into consideration, not only for the safety of the workers, but for that of the patients as well. This includes ensuring that there are clearly marked exits in every ward and on every floor. That these paths can be well-lit through the use of emergency lighting if possible, and that there are no obstacles or obstructions that could slow down the exit of anyone attempting to leave.

Because hospitals may have a high number of non-ambulatory patients or people with limited mobility, special care must be followed to ensure that in the event of an evacuation, the greatest number of people can safely exit. Wider doorways and larger stairwells can potentially allow more access to those who need to be moved. Smoke curtains that can be deployed in other areas help ensure that non-ambulatory patients may remain where they are if necessary, while ensuring easier passage from rooms and halls may aid in evacuation of patients in emergencies. Detailed maps to the nearest exit or safe space should be made of each section of the building.

Install Clean Agent and Sprinkler Systems Throughout the Hospital

Sprinkler and mist fire suppression systems are common, and are often used as the first line of defense against fire. This is true in hospital settings as well, helping to reduce the amount of damage both from the fire, and from water that could be directed into the building by hoses.

Utilizing sprinklers that can be individually activated can help contain spot fires, without causing damage to other areas of the building.

Sprinklers, however, often can’t be used around all hospital equipment, which means that some areas of the hospital should use other suppression systems as well. MRIs for example, require additional protection, as the amount of equipment and electronic systems they use cannot be exposed to water.

Instead, install clean agent systems in the ceilings and floors of most hospital rooms. Clean agent suppression systems can be hooked to both smoke and heat sensors of several types, including air sampling and beam detectors, and will help dampen and suppress a fire without damage to sensitive hospital equipment.

Add Fire and Smoke-Rated Curtains in Key Locations to Reduce Smoke Inhalation

When a fire is burning it isn't the flame itself or the heat that is the leading cause of fatalities, but rather the inhalation of smoke. Controlling smoke is an extremely important part of occupant safety as well as more effective evacuation. An excellent means of controlling smoke is the use of fire and smoke-rated curtains.

Fire and smoke-rated curtains installed in discreet areas, which deploy automatically during a fire help block heat and are excellent at blocking smoke from entering hospital rooms. Due to the natural chimney effect elevator shafts cause, smoke curtains in front of elevators are highly recommended, because elevator shafts often act as chimneys, drawing smoke to other floors not currently affected by the fire. A smoke curtain combined with an elevator door with a 2-hour fire rating will create the impenetrable assembly required by building codes. Similarly, smoke curtains that block smoke from drifting up or down staircases are also highly effective for similar reasons; if the doors can be sealed, less smoke is likely to travel to other areas of the hospital. These curtains are very versatile and aren't limited in where they can be installed. They can also be set up to fall when triggered by another alarm system or physically by a staff member.

Using fire and smoke curtains can allow more patients to remain in the hospital in the event of a fire, rather than needing to evacuate the entire building. By helping to stop the spread of smoke and fire from room to room, the building can be made safer while simultaneously allowing suppression systems to work more effectively.

Having a communicated plan of action is key to addressing a fire properly, safely, and from a place of knowledge rather than panic. It is vitally important that prevention be constantly practiced by staff. Having routine inspections done by an authority on fire safety is very important as well as routine maintenance of sprinklers, fire curtains, and alarm systems to ensure everything is in working order.