Fire Safety: Create an Evacuation Plan Before an Emergency Happens
Churches are particularly vulnerable to fire damage because they’re often unoccupied for long periods of time. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fire strikes about 1,300 churches annually in the United States, causing $38 million in damage. Moreover, there are indirect costs that are impossible to measure. Many of these losses can be reduced or prevented with effective fire prevention and evacuation plans.
Best Protection: Prevention
Arson is the leading cause of church fires, followed by mechanical failures. Other common causes include candles, cooking equipment, extension cords, and office equipment.
Limit Arson Exposure
- Illuminate the church building and its entrances.
- Keep trees and shrubs near the church trimmed.
- Use adequate locks on all doors and windows.
- Don't give vandals easy access to your roof.
- Keep track of keys and change locks if any keys are lost or stolen.
- Install a burglar alarm system that automatically notifies police.
- Request police patrols and ask your neighbors to be vigilant.
Prevent Mechanical Failure
- Have the furnace or heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system professionally cleaned and inspected annually.
- Turn off electrical items when not in use.
- Replace frayed, worn, or dried-out extension cords.
- Don’t store combustibles in the same room as the furnace or boiler.
- Check the fuse box and make sure all fuses are the proper size for each circuit.
- Analyze the church’s entire electrical system for adequacy.
Nip it in the Bud
To enhance detection and suppression, invest in the following equipment:
- Smoke alarms should be installed throughout the building. The sooner a fire is detected and extinguished, the less damage you’ll suffer.
- Fire extinguishers. Place one in an easily accessible location on every level of your building, preferably one for every 2,500 square feet. Have a professional check them regularly to make sure they’re in working order.
- Sprinkler systems. Automatically extinguish fires as soon as they’re detected.
Plan a Great Escape
Don’t wait until the fire alarm goes off to realize what steps you need to take to protect your congregation—have a well-designed, comprehensive, and practiced evacuation plan in place.
What’s in a Plan?
- Easily understood emergency procedures
- A method to alert emergency services
- Attention to the special needs of congregants and children
Creating Your Plan
Ask the pros. Invite firefighters or paramedics to tour your building so that they can offer tips and suggestions on your plan and become familiar with your facility.
Think it through. Identify all the possible ways people can get out of your building, noting which routes may be inaccessible to the elderly or disabled. Consider buying wagons or sturdy cribs on wheels to help evacuate the nursery.
Assign responsibilities. Clearly define who’s responsible for carrying out each part of the evacuation. For example, certain people should be assigned to notify emergency responders and ensure that the pre-designated assembly area is safe.
Conduct ongoing training. After you’ve developed your plan, train all staff and volunteers on the proper procedures to follow.
Hold fire drills. Conduct drills at your busiest times to identify problems in your evacuation plan that could be prevented and prepare people for the real thing.
Evaluate the plan. After holding a drill, determine whether the plan was effective.
Provide information. Make sure every member of your congregation knows about your emergency procedures through announcements, specific discussions, church bulletins, visitor packets, and handouts for parents.
- U.S. Fire Administration—www.usfa.fema.gov
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security—www.ready.gov
- U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency—www.fema.gov
- Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency—www.pema.state.pa.us
- American Red Cross—www.redcross.org
- Institute for Business & Home Safety—www.ibhs.org
- U.S. Small Business Administration—www.sba.gov