The importance of evacuation equipment:
In spite of fire safety legislation placing the responsibility on designated people to evaluate and manage fire risk, some firms still believe that the removal of disabled people with evacuation equipment is the duty of the emergency services, and so long as shelters are provided they have satisfied their obligation. This is definitely not the case, and government regulation clearly states that a buildings emergency plan ‘should not rely on fire and rescue service involvement’.
Refuges are comparatively safe waiting areas for short periods of time, they are not spaces where disabled people and evacuation equipment can be left until further notice or until rescued by the fire brigade.
In any establishment it is the duty of administration to plan for the departure of disabled people using their grounds. Personal emergency egress plans should be organised for each disabled worker, resident or other dependant individual.
It should also be kept at the front of your mind that not all movement impaired individuals are wheelchairs users. Users of aids such as walking sticks, Zimmer frames and other evacuation equipment should also be well thought-out. Whereas people in wheelchairs may be escorted by someone familiar with guiding the wheelchair around, people with sticks or frames may be on their own, and there is the possibility that they may disrupt the evacuation. Getting somebody who relies on a Zimmer frame down staircases in a crisis could be slower than helping a wheelchair user by carrying them in an evacuation chair or other piece of evacuation equipment. This should be taken into account when conveying the strategy.
A refuge (which is usually within a stairwell) is an area planned to protect evacuees for adequate time to enable staff to assist wheelchair users or other movement impaired people to a safer area. It should be at least 900mm x 1400mm in dimension, and should be noticeably marked out on the floor with yellow indicators with a warning stating ‘Keep Clear – Refuge Area’
There ought to be a two-way telecommunications system between the refuge in question and another area too. This can be places such as the building reception, if constantly manned and near the exit, or an outside observation facility that can be responded to at all times. If needed, the refuge should enclose written care instructions and an explanation of the refuge’s position so that disabled people using it can pass on the facts of their position to the individual on the other end of the line. There should also be a short grab rails like the ones you see in disabled toilets to allow a disabled person to stabilise themselves during transfer to their evacuation equipment if needed, and ideally a wall-mounted collapsible seat for people with movement impairment to relax for a while if possible.