On the 18th November 1987 a fire broke out at around 7.30pm in London. Nothing unusual about that you might think, except this was at king’s cross tube station. 100 people were injured, and 31 people lost their lives that night in a fire that may well have been able to be prevented if fire safety measures had been put in place. And it was from that event that we developed the role of the fire marshal. This meant someone was assigned to check and monitor the escape routes and assist in the fire safety evacuation of a building.

The first problem is most don’t respond to a single stimulus. We’ve all done it. You sit there, you discuss it with the person at the next desk, you might even stand up to see if anyone else is moving. Then you settle back down until a fire marshal comes in and tells you to leave. Studies have shown that people need at least a couple of methods of warning. Not just to confirm that’s it’s genuine but also because the next thing that happens is people always leave a building by the route they entered. Which may not be the safest way and often they will pass a fire exit to go the route they know!

Understanding this can help your company to plan a quick safe Fire Evacuation plan. In addition to this regular fire evacuation drills are vital. These should be done every six months. Every employee should have one every 12 months according to the Fire Safety in the Workforce page on the GOV.UK page.  If you have a high staff turnover, you may need to carry them out more often. Whether you tell them about the upcoming Fire Drill is dependent on your Fire Risk assessment. A large majority of Fire injuries result from the evacuation so we would advise telling (at least) the dedicated Fire Marshals of the drill so they can assure the safety of staff.

This drill is the chance to see if you can keep everyone safe. Run it and get someone to time it and observe it. Then review it. If you are not completely happy and are still concerned about your fire safety compliance speak to Siren about how we can help.

But in real evacuation things get more complicated. The lifts are off limits, so we have the problem of how to evacuate someone that can’t get down the stairs. This is when we go for a piece of kit called the Evacuation chair. This chair is like a wheelchair except that it will go downstairs. Now you’re thinking any wheelchair would go down stairs but that’s a terrifying experience for the occupant. Well, these ones different. Using tracks that look like caterpillar tracks on a digger they grip the staircase nosing’s and allow you to control the speed of the descent. It’s an easy bit of kit to use. But very necessary if you have individuals who would pose a risk to others in a regular evacuation drill (ie, have mobility issues).


First, decide who goes in it. Consider not just people who can’t walk easily but those who may struggle in an emergency. Like asthmatics, people with heart conditions, those prone to panic attacks. Then show them the chair, let them see it assembled and demonstrate it.

Allow them to decide if they want to use it. Then consider visitors to the building. Are there regular visitors onsite that may need help in an emergency? How can you let them know? A sign at reception advising them to make any conditions that may require assistance in an emergency is a good idea.

The chair itself is very straightforward, simply pull the seat down, pull up the handles and put the person into the chair in wheelchair mode. You can then push them to the staircase and with a quick change to the position of your hands on the handles the chair will easily descend the flight of stairs.

It is a little scary the first time. Every instinct is reminding you and the person about to trust you with their lives that wheelchairs don’t go downstairs very well, so get a person to talk and reassure the occupant the whole time. It’s the moment you go over the first step, it does take a lot of trust, but remember this chair has been designed to do this job. There are a few models on the market but the chairs all basically do the same. But if you wanted advice contact us for helping to choose the right chair, then let us come and train you in how to use it. Or if you’ve already got one make sure the staff have been shown how to use it. Our courses not only demonstrate the chair but we can also advise and or develop on your evacuation plans and fire safety drills.

Learn more about Fire safety

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