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Management responsibility


Despite fire safety legislation placing the onus on responsible persons to assess and manage fire risk, some companies still believe that the evacuation of disabled people is the responsibility of the fire and rescue service, and so long as refuges are provided they have fulfilled their duty. This is certainly not the case, and government guidance clearly states that a premises emergency plan 'should not rely on fire and rescue service involvement’.


Refuges are relatively safe waiting areas for short periods; they are not areas where disabled people can be left indefinitely or until rescued by the fire service.


In any organisation it is the responsibility of management to plan for the evacuation of disabled people using their premises. Personal emergency egress plans (PEEP's) should be prepared for each disabled employee, resident or other dependant person. Click for assistance with PEEP's (DVD)


It should also be borne in mind that not all mobility-impaired people are wheelchairs users. Users of aids such as walking sticks and Zimmer frames should also be considered. Whereas people in wheelchairs may be accompanied by someone familiar with manoeuvring the wheelchair around, people with sticks or frames may be alone – and there is potential for them to disrupt the evacuation. Getting someone who relies on a Zimmer frame down stairs in an emergency could be slower than assisting a wheelchair user by carrying them in an evacuation chair or on an evacuation mattress. This should be taken into account when formulating the emergency plan.


A refuge (usually within a stairwell) is an area intended to protect evacuees for sufficient time to enable staff to assist wheelchair users or other mobility-impaired people to safety. It should be at least 900mm x 1400mm in size, and should be marked out on the floor with yellow hatchings with a notice ‘Refuge - Keep Clear’.


There should be a two-way communications system between the refuge and another area – such as the building reception, if constantly manned, or an outside monitoring service – that can be answered at all times. If necessary, the refuge should contain written safety instructions and a description of the refuge location so that disabled people using it can pass on details of their location to the person receiving the call. There should also be a short 'grabrail' to allow a wheelchair user to steady themselves during transfer to an evacuation chair, and ideally a wall-mounted folding seat for people with mobility-impairment to rest.


Suitable evacuation aids and/or rescue equipment should be available for immediate use.


Evacuation chairs are one example, but these can be complicated to use (requiring continuing staff training), high in maintenance requirements and expensive. One alternatives to the evacuation chair are the SKI PAD and AlbacMat, which are much cheaper to buy, maintain and train people to use.


Download our CHAIRS v SKI PADS pdf document


There are also some very helpful DVDs on disabled evacuation available in our Fire Training DVD's section.


See also the Promove Sling for moving heavy or incapacitated people and the Bariatric Rescue Mat


Evacuation Chairs


Evacuation Chairs are designed to transport their passengers down stairways.  This would of course usually be a wheelchair user, who must be transferred from the wheelchair to the evacuation chair.  This can often be done simply by the wheelchair user holding a grab rail, standing, or semi-standing so that the wheelchair can be removed, and the evacuation chair substituted. Once seated and securely fastened by integral straps, the chair can be ‘pushed’ down, or in some instances up the stair (the latter usually with the assistance of an electric motor). It is advisable that two people are used in the evacuation, one controlling the chair from behind and the other holding the foot of the chair to assist, but mainly to reassure the person in the chair. In a fire situation however, there may not be sufficient people available and it is possible for one person to evacuate someone providing they are well trained and confident.


There should always be sufficient trained personnel available to evacuate however many disabled people require assistance after taking into consideration holidays and sickness etc. New personnel should be trained as necessary. Although instructions are clearly printed on each chair they should not be used by untrained people to prevent the evacuee being placed in danger.


The main advantage of the evacuation chair is its ability to transport non-ambulant people safely down stairways, where otherwise they would need to be carried, a major issue in relation to manual handling and associated injuries.


The main disadvantages of evacuation chairs are their relatively high cost, ongoing maintenance and training requirements.


Mattress Sheets and Slip Mats


A simpler alternative to chairs are bed evacuation sheets (Ski Sheets) and slip mats (Ski Pads and AlbacMats). These have been used in hospitals and nursing homes for many years, and are relatively inexpensive, easy-to-use and require little maintenance. Training is also relatively simple and can often be carried out in house with the aid of a DVD. These devices can be used in almost any situation where there is a necessity to move non-ambulant people from one area to another, including  movement down stairways.


Where residents in nursing homes or patients in hospitals require assistance in an emergency, bed evacuation sheets are ideal. They fit under the mattress and are left permanently in position. The sheets are held in place by elastic corner loops and can be adjusted for a snug fit.


When it becomes necessary to evacuate a patient or resident, it is a relatively easy procedure to secure the patient onto the mattress. Pillows are placed on the patient’s chest and legs and then straps pulled over the pillows to provide a secure ‘cocoon’ and enable the in-built ‘pull handles’ to be extended. The mattress is then dragged along the floor to safety. This does not require a massive amount of training.


The mattress evacuation sheet can also be used to take the patient or resident downstairs. Once on the stairs, the mattress is almost on the point of slide, so very little ‘pull’ is required. The patient is protected from bumps and bruises, and when safety is reached they can be left wrapped in the mattress and blankets until further help arrives.


The mattress evacuation sheet is fine providing the mattress will pass through doors and stairways, and it is important to assess this prior to deciding on which device to purchase. It is pointless and even dangerous to rely on a Ski Sheet if it will not pass along the escape route, in which case it is likely that the evacuation pad (Ski Pad) will be preferred. This is a purpose-made ‘narrow’ folding mattress. In an emergency, the Ski Pad is quickly deployed and laid beside the patient’s bed. The patient is then simply transferred to the pad and wrapped in a blanket. The in-built belts are clicked into place to secure the patient, who can then be dragged to safety. The pad can be used for most normal doors, corridors and stairs, however they may not be suitable if the route is very narrow.


In some instances, companies purchase just one evacuation chair, due to the relatively high cost. This restricts the capacity for rescue assistance to one. By using less expensive alternatives, such as the Ski Pad, several units can be obtained for a similar price.


‘What about the dignity of the person being evacuated?’ is a question often asked. As any firefighter will testify, in an emergency situation, dignity is not the most important consideration!


Evacuation devices such as chairs or mattresses may not be suitable for everyone. Some users – for example, those with brittle bones or who require on-board life support systems – cannot usually use them. A risk assessment should be carried out in such cases to evaluate their needs, and it may be necessary to limit such people to the ground floor only or 'defend in place'.


Don't forget that people with hearing deficiencies may not be able to hear a fire alarm, even worse if they are asleep. We have the answer - DEAFGARD A device designed to fit under a pillow and wake the sleeping guest. It can also be used as an 'alarm clock'.





Have you seen the new EVACUATION TRAINING AID - The WHAT NOW ??? - Brilliant, simple and providing tremendous benefit during evacuation drills and exercises.





e-mail info@marsden-fire-safety.co.uk    Tel : 0845 644 6515 or 01282 691616

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