Is It a False Alarm Or a Fatal One?

Did you know that over 36% of survivors of a high-rise residential fire in Ontario, Canada, which killed 6 people, said they didn't leave the building right away because they thought the situation was "not at all serious." Planning for fires is about more than code. You’ll need to think about how occupants and visitors will use the space and how they’ll react to a fire.

Here are some reasons that people delay leaving buildings that are on fire.

Footwear is a common reason occupants either don’t leave fast enough or don’t leave at all. If a person’s shoes are uncomfortable or hard to walk in, they’d rather stay in place or delay leaving to avoid walking down the stairs, in the hope it’s just a false alarm.

A common reason college students don’t evacuate during a fire alarm is straightforward: sleep. Many fire alarms in college dorms take place at night, and students either sleep through the alarm or don’t want to get out of bed for what they believe is a false alarm.

Because humans are social creatures, we tend to make decisions in groups. Especially when the severity or nature of the fire is in question, people will wait for confirmation or a group decision before leaving the building.

Most people don’t want to believe there’s a fire in their building. And if they can’t detect any sensory clues, such as smelling smoke or seeing flames, they are even more likely to believe it’s a false alarm and stay in place.

Unfortunately, many places today don’t post the correct fire routes or practice evacuations. If a person doesn’t know where or how to exit the building in case of a fire, they may delay or avoid leaving at all.

No one wants to leave a task half done. Especially common in office buildings, people will delay leaving to try to finish typing that email, designing that brochure or finish that phone call.

Designing for fire safety is already difficult due to the unpredictable nature of human behavior. And it gets harder every year as flexible design and open floor plans become more popular and code and requirements change. It can be hard to keep up.

If you are interested in learning more about designing for fire safety, check out our blogs on designing a building’s fire safety plan around human behavior, designing fire safety for college students or designing fire safety for flexible design.

If you need help incorporating fire safety features in your design, talk to a fire engineer today.