Buildings in the Greater Toronto Area have taken steps in ensuring that they are accessible to everyone, regardless of any physical or non-physical limitations. What we may often forget is that accessibility is a two way street, that is to say, just as easily as we can have someone enter a building, they need to be able to exit it as well. There are many factors that come into play when trying to make your building(s) completely accessible; entering and exiting. There are obvious peripherals that enhance a building’s accessibility. Although this isn’t the most comprehensive list, you can expect to see devices such as ramps adjacent to stairways, elevators adjacent to indoor stairwells, wider doorways, and automatic doors.
But let’s take a step back and think about the term Persons Needing Assistance. Persons needing assistance can be anyone who has a cognitive or physical limitation, whether temporary or permanent. Temporary physical limitations can include (but are not limited to) persons with broken/fractured/sprained limbs, pregnant women, or the elderly. Permanent cognitive limitations can include (but are not limited to) anyone who suffers from a mental illness which hinders their decision making abilities in an emergency situation. Permanent physical limitations can include (but are not limited to) persons who are suffering from paraplegia or the elderly. As you can probably tell, we’ve only grazed the surface of how broad the term is. The most important thing to remember is that persons needing assistance are not exclusively those with physical limitations.
Now that we have a general idea of who would need assistance when it comes to an evacuation or any fire protection emergency, let’s get into what needs to be done about it. Here are the 3 Things to Consider when reviewing your Fire Protection for Persons Needing Assistance.
The Ontario Fire Code: Provisions for Persons Needing Assistance in the Fire Safety Plan
The Ontario Fire Code (OFC) requires that the Fire Safety Plan includes special provisions for Persons Needing Assistance. Subsection 126.96.36.199.(2) “A Fire Safety Plan shall (a) provide the emergency procedures to be followed in case of fire, including (iv) evacuating occupants, including special provisions for persons requiring assistance.” Furthermore, the OFC also “provides for the appointment and organization of supervisory staff to carry out fire safety duties.” Subsection 188.8.131.52.(2)(b). This is especially crucial in care, care and treatment, and retirement home occupancies. – OFC 184.108.40.206.(1) What exactly defines these types of occupancies? See the following excerpt from the Ontario Fire Code, Section 1.4:
- Care Occupancy: an occupancy in which special care is provided by a facility, directly through its staff or indirectly through another provider, to residents of the facility
- (a) who require special care because of cognitive or physical limitations, and
- (b) who, as a result of those limitations, would be incapable of evacuating the occupancy, if necessary, without the assistance of another person.
- Care and Treatment Occupancy: an occupancy in which persons receive special care and treatment.
- Retirement Home: a retirement home regulated under the Retirement Homes Act, 2010, regardless of whether it is a care occupancy or a residential occupancy.
*Please note that although these provisions are emphasized an a care-type occupancy, it is still required in other types of occupancy where persons needing assistance are present.
Create a list in your Fire Safety Plan which provides the names and locations of persons needing assistance in your building. It will also be helpful to include the type of assistance required, and which supervisory staff has been assigned to help the individual.
We’ve all seen those commercials for wearable alerting systems, and those are definitely helpful. But once again, let’s keep this idea of accessibility as a two way street. Any pull station or wearable button alerting system creates an outbound signal. Let’s consider how to alert a tenant or resident if a conventional horn or strobe light would not be effective. Some buildings are equipped with horns and strobes as separate devices, some of them are combination devices. If a tenant is deaf and unable to hear the alerting signal created by a horn, it is vital to ensure that there is a strobe device installed which acts as a sufficient alerting system. The situation is very similar when it comes to tenants that are blind. The strobe light alerting system would not be effective in this case, so it is vital to ensure that the horns installed are working as per their required operation. As per NFPA 72, fire alarm notification devices must be a minimum of 15 dB (decibels) above the average ambient sound level. There are also horns available on the market that create a vibrating sensation throughout the area or floor on which it is installed. This may be an ideal device to install when considering effective alerting systems. As always, it is the responsibility of the supervisory staff to ensure a safe evacuation of all tenants in a building, especially those requiring assistance.
In most cases than not, elevators are programmed to retreat to the ground floor and remain out of use during a fire safety emergency. As you can imagine, this makes evacuation troublesome for persons needing assistance, especially those who may be immobile. We advise keeping collapsible wheelchairs on each floor of your building for those who may require it during an evacuation. Make a note in your fire safety plan to ensure that the supervisory staff are aware of these immobile persons. You may need to assign two people to each immobile person in order to wheel them to a hazard-free stairwell, and then lift them down either with or without the chair. In a previous blog, we covered useful devices for a safe evacuation. Check out the Evacuscape Chair and SkySaverUSA by visiting the blog here.
We know we said the “3 things to consider” but here’s a bonus one. As with most things, raising awareness on a topic creates an environment conducive of forward-thinking. If you are a property manager, take the time to speak with your tenants to understand their needs in case of an emergency. If you are a tenant, approach your property manager with any concerns you may have when it comes to ensuring your safe evacuation. Participate in a fire drill to understand what is to be done in case of emergency, especially when evacuating persons needing assistance. Remember, an emergency will not wait until you have this conversation.
If you are wondering whether or not your building is accessible, both for entering and exiting, feel free to reach out to us. We can work with you to understand how to prepare your building and its tenants for an evacuation involving persons needing assistance.