Fire Safety in Educational Institutions

According to the latest available data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), United States fire departments responded to approximately 7,632 fires in educational buildings from 2018-2022. Taking action to improve fire safety measures in your school is crucial to keep the property and, most importantly, all occupants safe from harm.

The Importance of School Fire Safety

It’s impossible to overstate just how important fire safety in schools is. Taking a proactive approach to emergencies like school fires helps prevent injury and loss of life if and when disaster strikes.

On average, school fires from 2018 to 2022 resulted in 47 civilian injuries and one fatality. Implementing a comprehensive fire safety solution can help your school minimize that risk by:

  • Providing students and staff with the tools they need to respond to fires quickly.
  • Equipping school buildings with fire suppression equipment.
  • Eliminating hazards such as flammable objects and blocked exits to prevent excessive damage.

Ensuring your school complies with key fire safety standards and relevant building codes is essential for any fire safety initiative.

Required Fire Safety Measures in Schools

When it comes to building fire safety for any industry, the NFPA is the best place to turn for guidance. This organization has published more than 300 standards and codes for fire and electrical safety across many different building types.

NFPA 101, also known as the Life Safety Code, is the most comprehensive fire safety standard for new and existing buildings. While it’s similar to NFPA 80, the two focus on different aspects of a fire safety program. The Life Safety Code addresses the following areas:

  • Minimum building requirements for smooth evacuation
  • Fire-safe construction materials and techniques
  • Building maintenance requirements
  • Requirements for emergency exits
  • Emergency signage and lighting guidelines
  • Important practices for keeping building occupants safe

Although NFPA standards are technically guidelines rather than legal requirements, many states and municipalities have incorporated them into their building codes.

Compliance with NFPA 101 requires all multi-classroom educational buildings larger than 1,000 square feet to meet the following criteria:

1. Fire Protection System

Every school should have a fully functional fire protection system installed to alert occupants of a fire, suppress the fire and help people get out of the building. According to NFPA guidelines, a comprehensive fire protection system includes the following components:

  • Fire alarm systems
  • Sprinklers
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fire-rated doors and curtains
  • Illuminated emergency exit signs

Your fire protection system should also undergo regular inspections and maintenance to ensure everything is working as it should be. Bringing in a professional inspector is one of the best ways to confirm that your system complies with NFPA requirements and local or state regulations, as they have extensive experience dealing with these standards.

2. Multi-Story Evacuation Planning

Setting up a school for easy evacuation ensures everyone has the best chance of quickly exiting the building and getting to safety. When it comes to multi-story school buildings, part of that planning involves determining which groups to place closest to the exits.

For example, early childhood education facilities should ensure all preschool through first-grade classrooms are located on the ground level for easy evacuation. Second-grade classrooms should be on either the same floor or the next floor up, and so on.

Every classroom should also have a clear map of all evacuation routes posted on the wall for quick reference.

3. Regular Fire Drills

Fire drills help simulate real emergencies, giving students and staff a valuable opportunity to practice the evacuation plan so they know what to do if a real fire breaks out. Everyone in the building, including all administrators and staff, must participate in the drill.

NFPA 101 requires schools to conduct at least one planned fire drill per month, though best practices also include running unexpected drills to acclimate students to the alarms and prevent them from panicking in the event of a real emergency. You should also establish a safe zone several hundred feet away from the building where classes should meet for roll call.

4. Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Implementing fire life safety precautions does more than prepare your school for disasters. It can also help you improve indoor air quality and protect building occupants from harmful gases like carbon monoxide (CO).

Because CO is odorless and invisible, it’s nearly impossible to detect without specialized equipment. According to NFPA 101, any room containing fossil fuel-burning appliances — or any room immediately adjacent to such equipment — should have a working CO detector. Some examples include:

  • Rooms next to fuel-powered HVAC systems
  • Rooms near attached parking structures
  • Science laboratories
  • Kitchens

You should also inspect and test your CO detectors at least once per month to ensure they’re working.

5. Classroom Fire Hazards

While teachers should be able to create a welcoming, comfortable environment for their students, excessive decoration can quickly become a problem. NFPA guidelines recommend placing restrictions on certain classroom decorations, such as:

  • Hanging items: Anything hanging from the ceiling can interfere with the sprinkler system’s effectiveness, potentially allowing fire to spread within a classroom.
  • Wall decorations: Art, flags, posters and other wall hangings can block exit signs and other emergency signage, which could prevent building occupants from evacuating in time. According to NFPA 101, teachers must limit wall decorations to 20% of the classroom wall space. 
  • Freestanding objects: Flammable loose items such as sculptures and stacks of papers can cause fires to grow, potentially causing more severe damage. 

Establishing rules regarding classroom tidiness can help you address these common fire hazards and keep your students and staff safe.

Important Fire Safety Practices

Fire safety involves more than building design and firefighting equipment — the policies and practices you follow also play a significant role in keeping building occupants protected.

Some examples of best practices for improving fire safety in schools include:

  1. Educate students: Comprehensive fire safety education prepares students and staff to respond to fires quickly and calmly, which is essential for keeping everyone safe.
  2. Keep the school neat: Cluttered classroom walls, overgrown landscaping and overfull trash receptacles can easily spread fires if they come into contact with an open flame.
  3. Invest in security: Arson is a leading cause of school fires, which is why installing and maintaining a campus security system is crucial for preventing disasters. CCTV cameras, motion-activated lights and intrusion alarms can significantly reduce your school’s risk. 
  4. Perform frequent inspections: Professional fire safety testing and installation services can help you ensure your building is up to code so you can minimize the risk of damage if a fire breaks out.

Count on Alliance Environmental Group for Fire Life Safety Services

School fire safety is critical for keeping your students, faculty and staff safe. Alliance Environmental can help your school create a more proactive fire safety strategy with comprehensive fire life safety services for every building on campus. 

We have extensive experience working with educational institutions at various levels, including primary, middle and secondary, so you can rest assured knowing we’re on the job. Contact us today to request your free quote.

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