Fire Exit Drills
The purpose of the fire exiting drills is to ensure the sufficient and safe utilization of available exiting facilities, be they fire towers, corridors, or exterior exits discharging to grade. Proper drills familiarize occupants to orderly exiting which is controlled as well as help to prevent panic in the event of an actual emergency. Speedy evacuation of buildings, while desirable in primary stages of emergencies, is not in itself the prime objective, rather it is secondary to the maintenance of proper order and discipline. At times, as pointed out later, all routes of egress may be blocked by smoke, toxic or super-heated fumes, or fire, At those times, it is safer to await aid in a life supporting environment rather that blindly striking out through the corridor or down a stairwell subject to the effects of combustion.
The usefulness of a fire exit drill and the extent to which it can be effected depend upon the character and demeanor of the occupancy and occupants respectively. The drill is most effective where the occupants maintain discipline and are subject to habitual control. James Madison University offers the possibility of more highly developed and useful fire exiting drills than other types of occupancies where persons may not be as familiar with the physical layout. Examples would be multistoried apartments or motels and hotels with transient populations.
Just keep in mind, fire is most always unexpected. If the drills are always conducted in the same way a the same time of the day under similar conditions, they loose much of their effectiveness. When an actual fire occurs subsequent to such drills "by rote" and it is not possible to follow the usual routine established in previous drills to which occupants have become accustomed, confusion and panic most likely will ensue. Drills should be carefully planned to simulate actual and varied conditions of involvement. Not only should they be held at varying times, but simulated "fires" be placed at varied locations, forcing the occupants to consider and utilize other means of egress. Assume, for example, that a given stairwell is rendered useless due to fire, smoke, or toxic fumes. The occupants must be lead out through alternative routes. Therefore, occupants are forced to become familiar with means of egress not habitually used during normal times of occupancy.
It is imperative to remember that if fire exit drills are conducted and considered as routine exercises from which some persons may be excused or about which they are forewarned, there is a grave danger that in an actual fire, previous drills will have failed in there intended purpose.