Creating and Maintaining an Effective Tenant Fire Warden Training Program

March 19, 2024 | By: Joseph Murphy

Fire warden training and fire evacuation drills are dreaded events by many property managers due to the logistical difficulties and associated business disruptions for their tenants.  While many managers view fire safety training and drills as cumbersome business requirements, in reality, it is an extremely important service that serves the best interests of your employees and tenants. It may potentially be the most important thing you do all year. Helping ensure the safety of your tenants, training them to react appropriately to life threatening events in their workspace, and helping increase their odds of making it home to their families are all compelling reasons why fire safety training and evacuation drills are well worth the time, expense and short-term scheduling disruptions involved.  

Other than the human factor, why else should property managers provide this training? The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, and OSHA both require businesses to create and maintain an Emergency Action Plan and to educate employees or tenants  1) when the plan is developed,  2) when the responsibilities or designated actions are changed and 3) whenever the plan changes. Properties with well-prepared employees or tenants and well-developed preparedness plans are likely to incur fewer or less severe injuries and/or property damage during and following a building fire.  

If there are ten or more people in your building above the ground floor – or in a floor located below ground level – you are required to have a written emergency action plan and to provide training to the employees and occupants of your property on how to safely evacuate your building. 

Case Study: On September 11, 2001 the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were struck by commercial airliners; the ensuing fires consumed massive sections of each building. Following these horrific events, an estimated 99 percent of the occupants of these towers evacuated successfully in the critical minutes that followed these attacks, nearly everyone that could get out did get out. A handful of people located on floors above the impact levels also evacuated, but most perished – and dozens of victims died trapped in one of the 99 elevators in these towers. According to a USA TODAY report, 1,434 people died in the North Tower; the North Tower was the first tower hit and the second tower that collapsed. The death toll from the South Tower was 599. An analysis revealed that two-thirds of the South Tower occupants evacuated before their tower was struck in the 16   minutes between attacks. The training they had received in the past, and the instruction they received that morning all contributed to their survival. Each tower was estimated to have between 5,000 and 7,000 occupants; collectively, 10 thousand or more people evacuated successfully. 

This case study is testimony to the effectiveness of training and emergency preparedness drills in saving lives by teaching and reinforcing the actions to take in a time of extreme duress, and  prompting a decisive, organized exodus from a facility via safe evacuation routes. 

Establishing an effective fire warden training plan is not difficult and is required for most properties. Benchmarking with comparable properties and working with your security provider who has experience in this area are two ways to get started at little to no cost. Working with external resources that can be contracted to provide this service is also an option. Regardless of how you get started, your plan should include training in the following areas: 

  • Emergency and evacuation plans 
  • Facility alarm systems 
  • Floor sweeping to move occupants towards exits 
  • Established assembly points or safe refuge areas 
  • Reporting and accounting procedures for evacuated personnel 
  • Special handling for persons requiring extra assistance to evacuate 
  • Awareness of types of emergencies other than fires (such as weather related, terrorism, workplace violence or medical emergencies) that might affect the facility and prompt an evacuation 

Evacuation drills are conducted to familiarize occupants with the means of building egress. These drills may be required by codes or regulations, local ordinances, insurance recommendations or as a policy of the building owner or manager. Regardless of the reason why, evacuation drills provide critically important learning experiences for occupants and staff, not only in the available egress options but also in their roles and responsibilities.  

It is important to realize that code requirements for fire drills are found in a number of national standards and in the requirements of OSHA 29, Code of Federal Regulations 1910.38, “Employee Emergency Plans and Fire Prevention Plans.” National standards with fire drill requirements include fire prevention codes such as NFPA 1, Fire Prevention Code and others. NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, also contains specific requirements for fire drills in many occupancies. These codes are adopted by local jurisdictions, checking with your local fire service is the only way to know for certain which codes apply specifically to your property 

According to NFPA 101, Life Safety Code (Edition 2012), “In all business occupancy buildings occupied by more than 500 persons, or by more than 100 persons above or below street level, employees and supervisory personnel shall be periodically instructed in accordance with Section 4.7.2(drill frequency) and shall hold drills periodically where practicable.” If your property has an educational tenant or a day care center, they are required to hold evacuation drills not less than once each month.  

NFPA Life Safety Code states that the primary objective of a fire evacuation drill is the orderly evacuation of occupants – rather than the speed with which they evacuate. The basic goals of any evacuation plan are to 1) ensure occupants can recognize the evacuation alarm, 2) take appropriate actions when they hear the alarm, 3) begin evacuation using routes prescribed in the plan, 4) provide assistance to visitors and others requiring additional assistance to evacuate and 5) report to the designated assembly point or area. 

Noted author and high-rise security and life safety expert Geoff Craighead states, “Buildings are designed to be safe, and have construction standards that should provide sufficient time for occupants to escape, but these provisions are not themselves sufficient. The life safety of occupants also depends critically on how ready people are to react appropriately at the time of an incident. A sound fire and life safety program will assist all building staff and occupants to be in a constant state of readiness to react to an emergency, particularly one that involves fire, in a way that will help provide for everyone’s safety.”  

Be prepared. Make a plan, educate your tenants about it and practice it. While it may take a little time out of your regularly scheduled activities, the return on the investment, saving human lives, is well worth the investment.   

If you are interested in learning more about fire life safety training programs, and how a knowledgeable contract security provider can assist you in developing and implementing a plan, contact the author at  (404)640-1648.  


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