With the current multi-storey evacuation protocol to leave behind people with mobility impairments during an emergency, it’s more important than ever before for evacuation chairs to be compulsory in every Australian high-rise building.
Individuals with disability are reportedly 4.2 times more likely to die or be injured during a fire than the general population and yet prior to evacuation chairs, the only option for people with a permanent or temporary mobility impairment was to be placed in a so-called ‘safe place’ until emergency services rescued them.
There's no defined 'safe place'
Unknown to most, there are no defined requirements for the design of a ‘safe place’ that can be used during an evacuation. If this is the case, why should anybody be left behind while everyone else evacuates the building?
Individuals are essentially abandoned while they wait for emergency services to carry them down the stairs, and it should not take a tragedy to occur before legislation is changed.
In multi-storey buildings, individuals in wheelchairs must be carried downstairs, with each individual requiring on average four firefighters, and a backup crew may be required so that crews can be rotated every few floors.
But this process is a waste of resources, as an evacuation that takes potentially eight emergency personnel could instead be undertaken by one or two individuals.
It’s not just individuals with disability at risk
People most likely to benefit from the provision of evacuation chairs include people with disability, pregnant women, elderly and infirm individuals and individuals with medical conditions such as heart conditions, obesity, asthma, arthritis or claustrophobia.
These temporary or permanent mobility impairments may prevent an individual from using the stairs to evacuate a building in an emergency and lifts within most buildings are generally unable to be used during an evacuation.
The best part is, evacuation chairs are very easy to use and only require introductory training. They also do not create a manual handling risk for operators due to their design.
Reducing the risk of fatalities in high-rise buildings
It’s recommended to have one evacuation chair per stair per floor to cater for visitors and additional chairs for staff with a mobility impairment. Management in high-rise buildings can implement simple strategies to reduce the risk of fatalities and injuries.
These simple strategies include the preparation of personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for everyone needing assistance and using evacuation devices in evacuation drills to train staff in their use.
At the end of the day, it shouldn’t take a fatality for the protocol to change, and nobody should ever be left behind, but it’s a frightening reality for many Australians.
Bruce Bromley is a member of the Standards Australia Development Committee and a former member of the Fire Protection Association Australia Technical & Advisory Committee.