Do Schools Need Fire Wardens

Fire in the building - emergency exit

Fire Warden Training for Schools

We all remember fire drills at school. Filing out into the playground with our teachers as the head stood with a stopwatch timing how quickly everyone had reacted to the alarm. What we didn’t see was how much more was going on behind the scenes, as appointed fire wardens swept each floor of each building for stragglers,closing vital windows and doors to stop the fire from spreading as they moved.

Fire marshals are an essential part of the school safety team, both during a fire alarm, and on a day-to-day basis to promote and maintain fire safety, and reduce the risk of fire.

The cost of school fires

There is a real risk of injury, and even loss of life, for pupils and staff caught up in a fire. But even if everyone is evacuated safely, a school fire can still have devastating consequences.

According to the NUT Fire Safety Briefing, there are around 1000 school fires every year, which cause disruption to the education and assessment of as many as 90,000 pupils across the UK.
School fires are estimated to cost as much as £58m per year. However, the impact of a school fire goes well beyond the significant disruption caused by the loss of a building or other facilities. For example, with many subjects assessed via coursework, rather than a final exam, the loss of such work due to fire can have a significantaffect on a pupil’s progress.

Clearly it is important for all schools to do everything they can to prevent fires and to minimise their impact if they do occur. An important part of this process is the appointment and training of fire wardens (also known as fire marshals).

Do schools need fire wardens?

Some schools do not think they need fire wardens, as teaching staff will always be present to oversee the safe evacuation of pupils when the alarm sounds. However this is exactly why fire wardens are required. With teaching staff busy looking after their own class, you need additional fire wardens to sweep the buildings to check for stragglers and help strugglers.

Furthermore, with the workload on teachers increasing all the time, they simply do not have the time for the fire prevention and fire safety measures thatarerequired from a fire warden.

By appointing non-teaching staff, such as administrators and caretakers, as fire wardens, you are adding both an extra layer of fire protection to help keep your school safe on a day-to-day basis, and supernumerary staff to provide trained assistance in an emergency situation.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) states that the school must appoint a Responsible Person, who is in overall charge of fire safety. This is normally the head teacher, or the chair of the board of governors. It is their duty to make sure that the school premises are safe for all users, including staff and pupils, by carrying out a fire risk assessment and appointing and training the recommended number of fire wardens. They are also responsible for creating an evacuation plan and testing this on a regular (at least one a term) basis by staging fire drills.

How many fire wardens does my school need?

There are many differences between individual school sites, and the RRO does not mandate a specific number of fire wardens required. It is up to the Responsible Person to decide on the number of fire wardens, based on a fire risk assessment.

Schools represent a uniquely complex environment, with a wide range of fire hazards present, including lots of combustible paper and books, electrical equipment and computers. Schools also have cloakrooms full of coats, storage rooms full of gym mats, and many other hazards. Furthermore, the walls of school buildings are often covered with posters and displays of work, increasing the fire risk. All of these need to be considered when assessing the fire risk and the number of fire wardens required.

Fire Risk Assessment

A fire risk assessment is a formal process, required by law, which is designed to assess the risks right across the school premises, including the range of buildings, the uses of these buildings and the fire risks that occur as a result of different school activities.

For example, a small village school with just one main building on one level, may only need one fire marshal, whereas a larger high school, with multiple buildings with multiple floors may need many more fire marshals to provide adequate cover.

Higher risk areas, such as science labs with flammable chemicals and gas lines for Bunsen burners, cookery rooms with stoves,and metalwork shops with welding equipment,will also need to be considered, as will any on-site cafeteria or canteen with cooking facilities.

Generally, you will need at least one fire warden for each floor of the main school building, and each separate ancillary building, with extra cover in high risk areas. You will also need additional fire wardens to cover for sickness and other absences.

The results of your fire risk assessment should be recorded in your fire logbook, along with details of the date and performance of fire drills,dates of fire marshal training and fire safety equipment testing and any other details relevant to fire safety within the school.

The Government provides a complete guide to carrying out fire risk assessments in schools to help you with this process.

Special circumstances to consider

Schools with pupils who have physical disabilities, or other special needs, must include these pupils in their fire risk assessment and prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) for each pupil. The PEEP will include who is responsible for executing the plan, which may be a nominated fire warden. It will also outline any special training required to operate evacuation equipment. Even if they are not directly responsible for executing the PEEP, fire wardens should still familiarise themselves with all PEEPs, and the equipment involved, within their area of responsibility in case they need to take action.

How to choose fire wardens for school

As discussed earlier, school fire wardens should not normally be members of the teaching staff, as they have their own responsibilities in an emergency situation. Fire wardens should be appointed from admin and other school staff. In most circumstances, a call for volunteers will normally be enough, with the extra responsibility and the extra training to boost their CV, enough of a reward for most staff.

If there are not enough volunteers, individual staff may be asked directly, but should not be coerced into the role. Under the RRO, fire warden appointments should be made in consultation with staff and their representatives.

Duties of a school fire warden – day to day

The day-to-day responsibilities of a fire warden are to reduce the risk of fire within the school and ensure that emergency routes and equipment are appropriately maintained. This includes:

  • Identifying and removing fire hazards on school premises
  • Ensuring escape routes are kept clear of obstruction
  • Checking fire doors are clear, both inside and outand are never locked
  • Ensuring appropriate maintenance and servicing of fire fighting equipment
  • Maintaining accurate information on fire hazards within their designated area to present to fire fighters in the event of a fire
  • Reporting any problems with the above to the appropriate person and ensuring action is taken

Reducing the risks of arson

According to the NUT, ‘the majority’ of school fires are caused by arson, through a combination of mischief and malice from current and former pupils. The Government’s Building Bulletin 100(Design for Fire Safety in Schools) puts the figure at 60%, with one in twenty schools experiencing a deliberate fire each year. Worryingly, more than half of these attacks occur while the school is occupied.

Fire wardens have a role to play in reducing the risks of arson on school premises by maintaining an awareness of the opportunities for starting fires and reducing these opportunities wherever possible.

Duties of a school fire warden – during a fire

In the event of an emergency, it is the responsibility of individual teachers to evacuate their class. The role of the school fire warden is to support this, providing a second level of protection. The fire warden should:

  • Raise the alarm or make sure it has been raised by someone else
  • Check their designated section of the premises after the main evacuation to ensure no one has been left behind (including toilets and store rooms where pupils may have sought refuge)
  • Execute, or assist with, PEEPs for pupils in needs
  • Shut down dangerous equipment, close windows and shut fire doors where it is safe to do so
  • Use fire fighting equipment if it is safe to do so and they are confident in its operation
  • Liaise with fire fighters as to the location of the fire and the risks specific to that area of the school

Fire warden training for schools

Fire warden training for schools provides appointed fire marshals with the knowledge and information they need to undertake the duties outlined above. The course provides a comprehensive overview of the role of the fire warden, including:

  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
  • Fire risk assessment
  • The role of the fire warden
  • Causes of fire
  • Fire prevention measures
  • Fire extinguishers and other fire fighting equipment
  • Emergency evacuation
  • Fire drills
  • Fire doors
  • PEEPs
  • Fire alarms

The course takes half a day, lasting approximately four hours, and is continually assessed throughout to ensure complete understanding of the principles and responsibilities involved. There is no formal examination at the end of the course.

On completing the course and passing the assessments, you will be awarded a certificate of attendance. This certificate does not expire in the way that a first aid certificate does, however, regular refresher training is highly recommended and should ideally be undertaken every year.

Fire warden training locations

While it is possible to take a fire warden training course at a remote venue, such as a training centre, the fire warden training will be much more effective and feel more relevant if it is delivered in house on school premises.

In house fire marshal training allows fire wardens to see how the principles apply in the actual environment in which they will be used. It also allows trainers to adapt their training to the specific needs of each school, incorporating the unique layouts, hazards and pupil needs of each institution.

What’s more, in house training is more convenient for staff and more cost effective for schools, since there are no training centre costs involved.

Fire wardens make a difference

Fortunately, deaths and serious injuries resulting from school fires are rare, but as discussed above, the impact of a fire can still be significant on both individual pupils and on the school as a whole. By appointing and training fire wardens within your team, you can go a long way towards cutting the number of fires on school premises, and reducing the financial and educational impact of those fires when they do occur.