Preparing Fire Wardens
Print Issue: July 2005
As companies develop fire-safety plans, they should not overlook the importance of recruiting and training personnel to serve as fire wardens. Unlike security personnel, who handle fire safety as a part of their assigned duties, fire wardens are volunteers from among the ranks of company employees.
These volunteers are entrusted with the critical task of helping to ensure that all staff members are safely evacuated from the building during an emergency. Although some fire wardens are chosen because of special skills, such as EMS training, most wardens are volunteer leaders who have simply agreed to assist in companywide evacuations. Training these wardens is, therefore, a critical step in ensuring that the evacuation plan is carried out as intended in an emergency.
Key skills that wardens must be taught include how to search a floor for any remaining staff who did not respond to the alarm and how to facilitate the movement of employees who are trying to evacuate to designated exits. Wardens also have a role to play in training other employees. Thus, after wardens are fully instructed in the evacuation procedures, they should be directed to disseminate all aspects of the plan to employees in their areas.
Security directors should also consider inviting employees not designated as wardens to the training sessions. Opening the training to all employees will help them understand the company’s fire-safety procedures and will make the warden’s job easier during an evacuation.
Companies should consider the following rules of thumb when developing fire-safety plans and training for wardens.
Selecting wardens. One warden per 50 employees is sufficient. Wardens with more than 50 people under their direction may not be able to adequately account for their employees.
Retaining volunteers. Although my client companies have never had difficulty recruiting employees for the warden job, retaining volunteers can be a different story. It is recommended that managers have a frank conversation with prospective wardens, detailing the company’s expectations. In addition, companies should consider giving wardens incentives, such as a small monetary bonus, to keep participation and motivation high.
Deputies and assistants. Two deputy or assistant wardens should be appointed on each floor in case the designated fire warden is unavailable. These deputy wardens should go through the same training as the fire wardens and should, like the wardens, become familiar with the floor and each employee’s location and special needs, if any, in the event of an evacuation.
Mustering nonemployees. Fire wardens and their backups should be made aware of any contractors, customers, or vendors working on their floor. Although most full-time employees will know the evacuation procedure, these temporary employees and guests may not. It’s the warden’s responsibility to ensure that they exit safely. One method for doing this is to have the front-desk receptionist send an e-mail to each warden that tells him or her when a visitor or contractor is on his or her floor.
Visibility. Fire wardens and deputy wardens should be given a brightly colored hat, armband, or vest that designates their position. The warden should wear this during drills and training sessions to familiarize employees with what to look for in the event of a real evacuation.
Response time. Wardens should be trained to perform their evacuation responsibilities immediately when the alarm sounds and should not call security to see what they should do.
Updates. The fire-safety director will need to update fire plans and evacuation procedures from time to time. When that happens, the director should advise the wardens in writing of any changes. The new plan should also be distributed to everyone in the company, with changes emphasized.
Refresher courses. Refresher courses should be held quarterly for wardens, and other employees should be encouraged to attend these sessions. Local fire department personnel are a good resource for this training and are often available to train on several topics, including fire-extinguisher equipment training. At my company, fire extinguisher training is held at least once a year, and all wardens are asked to attend.
Drills. Companies should conduct regular fire drills. Although some companies feel that fire drills are a nuisance, they are an important tool in training and life safety. Safety directors should keep records of all drills and make special note of any problems.
Postmortems. After each drill, wardens should be asked to fill out a feedback form that details how effective the drill was. The form should ask the wardens to comment on any employee’s failure to participate and any equipment problems such as faulty speakers and strobes. Although there is no standard form to follow, companies should be sure to ask questions that relate to each aspect of the fire-safety program, which could also include magnetic strike doors that fail to open.
Crafting a good evacuation plan is the first step toward ensuring that no lives will be lost in a fire. Companies must then make sure to recruit and properly train the critical volunteer fire warden corps, who will be charged with implementing many of the evacuation procedures. Only then can management be certain that everyone will react with confidence if the critical moment comes.
John Hewitt, CIPM (Certified Institutional Protection Manager), is senior security manager for Trammell Crow Company in Dallas, Texas. He is a member of ASIS.