From the Bible
And the Lord said ... “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2)
... when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee (Isaiah 43:2).
Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me (Psalm 71:2).
I remember the first fire drill after the disastrous fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. My 6th Grade teacher, who was also the principal, explained how each class would get out in case of a fire. Ours was not the only school to emphasize fire drills. The Lady of the Angels fire woke up schools in several countries to the importance knowing how to escape the flames.
In the News
Indianapolis, Indiana, December 15, 2018 - A fire started in the kitchen of a church near the end of a Boy Scout meeting on the next floor down. A noise was heard, and a scout went up to check. He came back reporting that there was a fire. The scouts exited safely while 911 was called. The fire damaged the fellowship hall and kitchen.
Indianapolis, Indiana, March 13, 2020 - A fire started on a Friday night in the foyer of a church which was being renovated. Nine persons who lived in the basement were asleep. They were awakened by the smoke alarm and left safely.
Shelby, North Carolina, October 7, 2008 - On a Tuesday afternoon, a fire which apparently started on first floor of the education wing of a church quickly spread through a stairwell to the attic and roof. Two persons in the church office smelled smoke and got out safely. Arson was a possible cause.
Safety Member Certification
"Arson and Fire Safety v4" covers fire safety subjects from Fire Science to fire evacuations. It focuses on fire prevention, arson prevention, fire extinguishers, planning and carrying out fire drills, evacuation, and regrouping after a fire.
This is one of seven training modules in the Safety Member Certification program. The program consists of the Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy and the Safety Member Certification Tests. A member who takes all the training modules (courses) and passes the Certification Test for each one will be certified as a Safety Member for two years. The training can be as an individual (online), as a group (classroom), or in live Zoom classes.
Online Individual Training
Online training is the best choice when a Safety Team member is new to the team or cannot attend scheduled classes or it is too long until any are scheduled. The new member can then be fully trained and can participate later in refresher and updating classes.
Classroom Team Training
This, the traditional training format, is also the way to train the entire team when starting a Church Safety Ministry. It is also a way to keep the team trained with refresher classes, which also include updates to the content. Classroom training has the advantage of personal interaction with the instructor and other students.
Live Zoom Classes
Live Zoom classes also have the advantage of interaction, even though everyone is in a different location. They also add the advantage of tuning into the class at a later time if work schedules or emergencies keep a student offline when a class is held. Even though a student cannot participate in the discussion during a replay, he or she will hear the interaction between the instructor (in this case Kris) and the others who may have the same questions that he or she has.
The 2022 Spring Semester starts on February 6. The schedule is as follows:
- Feb. 6 Safety Team Fundamentals
- Feb. 20 Active Shooter Response
- Mar. 6 Deescalating Disruptive Persons
- Mar. 20 Protecting Children from Abuse
- Apr. 3 Basic Use of Force Laws
- Apr. 25 Arson and Fire Safety
- May 15 Storms and Disasters
Arson Prevention: 3 Steps to Success
Click *HERE* to get this free download. Following a brief overview of the topic, including the motives for church arson and the importance of making the church a less-inviting target, Arson Prevention: 3 Steps to Success explains the three steps to success in preventing arson - External Security, Internal Security, and Awareness:
- External security: This includes lighting, landscaping, and the management and minimization of combustible materials.
- Internal security: Security inside the church building includes smoke detectors and fire alarms, sprinkler systems, and locks for windows and doors.
- Awareness: Both the congregation and the community should be aware of arson attempts and suspicious activity which may lead to arson.
Time to Get Out
"You've got to know when to go." Getting everyone to safety during a fire depends on early detection and warning. When a fire is detected and is considered a risk, then people can be warned and the building evacuated.
Detection and Warning
Note how the persons in the news stories knew there was a fire. In the first one, someone went to investigate a noise, found a fire, and warned the others. In the second, a smoke alarm awakened sleeping people. In the third account, the occupants smelled smoke.
An installed fire suppression system is triggered automatically when sensors detect a fire. The same system can also trigger an alarm when it is activated. Besides the alarm sent to the fire department and Safety Team member(s), it can also sound a public alarm throughout the building. In many jurisdictions this is a building code and fire code requirement.
If the fire is detected by a person, an alarm can be manually triggered. This is the de-facto requirement for a fire alarm when there is not an automatic alarm system. Many of us are familiar with the alarm on the wall in a school hall that had the "In case of fire break glass, pull lever" instruction and a glass-breaker on a chain. Alarms at different places in the building will make a loud sound (which varies according to the design).
There are guidelines for evacuating persons with disabilities. This includes alarms. Alarms with strobe lights are now required by many local jurisdictions to alert persons who are hearing-impaired or deaf.
A newer feature is voice command alarms. This can be recorded instructions for specific areas, such as an upper-floor hallway with classrooms. Each classroom could have a message saying which way to turn when leaving the room. Otherwise, someone at the control area of the system could announce the kind of emergency and instructions for evacuation, including where to assemble when out of the building. The reasons for this include:
- In an emergency crisis situation there tends to be confusion. This is especially true if there is smoke to limit visibility or the lights go out.
- Several persons attending church will not be totally familiar with the building, especially those who have been there the least amount of time (such as visitors and occasional attendees). Also, even among regular attenders, not all will have been in a church fire drill and know which way to go from that classroom.
Once the fire is detected and the alarm is sounded, it's time to get the people out. One scene we do not want to see is panicked people jammed in doors and trampled trying to get out. That's a formula for tragedy. In an assembly area, such as a fellowship hall, wedding chapel, or sanctuary, calm guidance is needed.
The person in charge of the program interrupts the proceedings with an announcement. It could go like this: "There is a fire in ___. We are evacuating the building. Please remain calm. Wait for an usher to let your row out and move to the indicated exit. Follow the line to the reunification area. If you have children in class, their teachers will take them there."
For a large assembly area, there should be several exits, one for each section of the area. People in other parts of the building follow the designated routes to their exits.
The destination for everyone evacuated should be a designated reunification area. There everyone should be accounted for. Too often missing persons have already exited a building, but did not go to the same place as the others, so they are not accounted for. We do not want firefighters or others risking their lives going in for someone who's already out.
Safety Team members need to know what their roles are in an evacuation. Some will lead the first evacuees to the exits. Others will direct people inside the building using traffic wands. At the end of the line, they will check rooms on their way out for anyone left behind and assist those who need help getting out.
Ready for Evacuation
Even a small building needs some planning and preparation for getting out if there is a fire. It could be a simple as, "If there's a fire in the front, go out the back. If it starts in the back, go out the front." This means that exits and the routes to them are marked. For instance, take a small sanctuary. Have a lighted EXIT sign above the rear door and another over the outside door. Then in the front of the sanctuary have another lighted EXIT sign over the door leading to an exit and one over that outside door. If the outside door is down a hallway, have an EXIT sign with an arrow pointing that way.
For a medium or larger church, plan the exit route from each room. Large churches should have local fire department personnel help with planning the best exit routes. Also plan where the reunification area will be. This should be a safe distance from the church building and not blocking responding emergency vehicles.
Mark the planned evacuation routes on a floor plan. Post a copy of this in each room with that room marked and its exit route highlighted. You could also mark tornado shelter routes on the floor plan in a different color, such as using red for fire and green for tornado.
A church of any size needs emergency lights. These are battery-operated and come on if the power goes out. They need to be checked regularly to see if the batteries are good. An emergency light is needed even during daylight hours in a hallway or stairwell without windows.
Training for Evacuation
Training is essential for a successful fire evacuation. Take the evacuation plan and train the Church Safety Team in carrying it out. Then practice with the team and with church staff, teachers, and group leaders. Practice evacuating the sanctuary with those on the platform (worship team, chair persons, etc.) and ushers.
After this, have fire drills, beginning with the children's department, then with the entire congregation. If your church has a daycare center, a weekday preschool, or a day school (kindergarten and up), they have separate drills.
Don't spring surprise drills, at least not until you've had regular drills. Announce a regular fire drill a week ahead. Also plan an activity after the drill to keep everyone together. For a surprise drill, begin with announcing, "This is a fire drill." Hint: announce that there will be a surprise fire drill some time during the coming month. They just don't know which day or service.
Rarely will everyone be present for a fire drill. However, if most of the congregation has been drilled, there are enough people who know what to do that they will lead the others, including visitors.
Review and Revise
After a team practice or a fire drill, evaluate it. Were there any problems? If not, is there a way to make it better? If representatives of the fire department (maybe other emergency services also) are present, solicit their input.
More information on fire evacuation can be found with the National Fire Protection Association and Quick Response Fire Supply, LLC.
When the church is on fire, get out while the getting is good. See to it that no one is left behind.
There Is More
This is a three-part series. The other two articles are "Not Too Hot" (Preventing Fires and Arson) and "Cool It Down" (Suppressing Fires).
- Kris Moloney, "Complete Training System and Safety Member Team Certification," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/].
- Wikipedia, "Our Lady of the Angels School Fire" [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Angels_School_fire].
- Justin L. Mack, "Boy Scouts safely escape 2-alarm fire at Indianapolis church," Indianapolis Star, December 15, 2018, updated December 16, 2018 [https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/12/15/none-injured-after-indianapolis-church-catches-fire-during-boy-scouts-meeting/2326880002/].
- Staff Reports, "9 people inside west-side church on fire escape unhurt," WISH TV, March 13, 2020, updated March 14, 2020 [https://www.wishtv.com/news/local-news/west-side-church-catches-fire/].
- Staff at WSOCTV.com, "Two People Escape North Carolina Church Fire," Firehouse, October 8, 2008 [https://www.firehouse.com/home/news/10495470/two-people-escape-north-carolina-church-fire].
- Trent Faris, "Shelby church fire investigation underway," WBTV, October 7, 2008 updated October 14, 2008 [https://www.wbtv.com/story/9140990/shelby-church-fire-investigation-underway/].
- Kris Moloney, "Arson Prevention: 3 Steps to Success," Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/83065f7b5a].
- Staff, "Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities," National Fire Protection Association, © 2016, p. 30ff [https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Public-Education/By-topic/Disabilities/EvacuationGuidePDF.ashx].
- Bryan L. Hoskins and Keagan D. Lacey, "Mass Evacuation and Sheltering," National Fire Protection Association, May 2016 [https://nfpa92.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Building-and-life-safety/RFMassEvacuationSheltering.ashx].
- Kristin Bigda, "NFPA 1: Requirements for emergency egress and relocation drills, #FireCodefridays," National Fire Protection Association, May 05, 2017 [https://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/publications-and-media/blogs-landing-page/nfpa-today/blog-posts/2017/05/05/nfpa-1-requirements-for-emergency-egress-and-relocation-drills-firecodefridays].
- NFPA Staff, "NFPA 72, Chapter 24 Emergency Communications Systems (ECS)," National Fire Protection Association, no date, available via Central Ohio Chapter, International Facility Management Association [https://ifmacentralohio.org/images/meeting/101316/nfpa_chapter_24__emergency_communication_systems.pdf].
- QRFS Team, "#361 - Fire Safety in Churches, Temples, Mosques, and Synagogues," Quick Response Fire Supply, LLC, September 8, 2020 [https://www.qrfs.com/blog/361-fire-safety-in-churches-temples-mosques-and-synagogues/].