Planned Evacuation for Century-Old Dunkirk School
“GET THE CHILDREN out first! Worry about the fire after,” says former Dunkirk, N. Y., Fire Chief Donald Loeb. To this end the young fire official in this western New York city of 18,000 developed an evacuation plan in case of fire at the 104-year-old No. 1 School. Recently former Chief Loeb accepted a position with a fire rating organization, but his plan continues as standard operating procedure for the Dunkirk Department.
There are many schools throughout the country that are potential fire hazards and even worse, fire traps. Constructed usually of brick and/or wood, they do not have the benefit of modern built-in fire protection features. For such buildings, there should be a plan by the local fire and school officials as to exactly what will be done when an alarm is sounded. Should it ever become necessary, the Dunkirk department has its plan ready for immediate operation.
School No. 1 in Dunkirk was constructed in 1857, with several additions at later dates. The two-floor, Tshaped structure has a brick exterior and wooden interior. Approximately 200 school children, averaging in age from five to ten, use this old building.
A basement houses offices for the city elementary school science, music and art departments. All art supplies for elementary schools are also housed here. In addition, there are kitchen facilities, including electric and gas ranges for PTA activities and other functions, the boiler room and coal storage.
The first floor is situated about 7 feet above the entrance level. Two classes, kindergarten and first grade, are housed on this floor. In addition, there is a combination gym-auditorium, principal’s office, another office, lavatories and a storage room.
The second floor consists of another first grade and Grades 2, 3, 4 and 5— five classrooms in all. A cloakroom also is found on this floor, as well as a storage area behind two of the classrooms which is very seldom used.
Changes to building
The wooden interior, open stairways, age of building and young children have all made this school a serious fire risk. The first and most immediate project was to install fire escapes from the second floor, with each escape serving two classrooms. These have been installed so that no children must enter the hall or move down any stairs to reach them. Access to all fire escapes are through connecting classroom doors in direction of travel. Doors do not have locks, eliminating the possibility of exits from one room to another becoming traps.
All interior doors with glass windows were removed and replaced with solid wood doors. Plain window glass within 6 feet of all fire escapes was removed and replaced with wire glass. The solid doors are intended to prevent fire or gases from immediately entering classrooms from the halls, thus providing sufficient time to exit. In addition, school regulations provide that no classroom door be allowed to remain open during sessions to prevent smoke and gases from coming into the rooms while the children are proceeding to the fire escapes. Finally rate-of-rise detectors are installed on all floors and in the basement with interconnection to the school and municipal fire alarm systems.
Fire department plans
If an alarm sounds for No. I School, the immediate, and most important goal of the plan developed by Chief Loeb, is to get the building evacuated and rescue operations into high gear. While all fire fighting equipment in the city, in response to a special school alarm number, is converging on the scene, evacuation is under way from the second floor via the fire escape and guided by teachers previously instructed in how to lead without panic. From the time the alarm is sounded at fire headquarters, two minutes are allowed for the rescue, ladder and two engine companies to arrive on the scene. Predetermined routes have been carefully established, eliminating heavy-traffic streets. Part 2, also set for a two-minute time interval, contemplates the school will be completely evacuated within 120 seconds.
First-grade-classroom windows face the front entrance and the ladder track and rescue company report to this side. An aerial can be used successfully only on the front due to the closeness of houses to the left of the building, iron pipe fencing to the rear and windowless walls on the right. Engine Companies No. 1 and 2 are detailed to the rear of the building which houses the kindergarten.
As the rescue and ladder companies report, they remove 16-foot extension and 8-foot attic ladders, separating the 16-foot ladder into two 8-foot sections. Only one fireman is needed to carry an 8-foot ladder and he immediately places it at the kindergarten and first-grade windows so that temporary fire escapes are established against all first-floor windows leading from classrooms. This outdated structure, with an 8-foot drop between the first-floor window sills and ground level, makes jumping extremely dangerous for children five and six years old.
These temporary fire escapes are immediately placed into operation, regardless of corridor conditions. Everything is done on the assumption the halls are untenable. A fireman goes up each ladder, while rescue men climb the fire escapes to the second floor if necessary to assist students who are being evacuated from this floor.
While this is going on, windows over basement stairways are removed in order to permit gases and smoke to escape to the outside, rather than moving from the basement to the first and second floors. Firemen equipped with gas masks enter the building and check the kindergarten and first-grade rooms to see that no stragglers have been left. Others climb the temporary ladder escapes, after helping the last child down, enter the room to search for stragglers and make contact with the men who entered the structure through other means. This is considered a double last-minute check for anyone left behind.
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Two minutes are allowed for this final evacuation. Timing, training, planning and precision are important. All men have been instructed in the rescue operation and each man knows his duties. From the time the alarm is sounded, two minutes are allowed for the arrival of a rescue unit, ladder truck and two engine companies. Two more minutes are allowed for the final evacuation. Four minutes from the time the alarm sounds, all 200 students are expected to be out of No. 1 School.
Two additional engine companies, No. 3 and 4, are now arriving, one three and a half and another four minutes after the alarm. The additional time alloted for their arrival is due to the fact that they must come from distant points within the city.
If these companies are not detailed to rescue operations, each reports to separate sides of the building and two 2 ½-inch lines are stretched to designated hydrants. By the time this is accomplished, the original two engine companies involved in the rescue operations are assumed to be free to stretch additional lines for covering exposures. If the fire progresses beyond the capabilities of the four hand lines, master streams and the ladder pipe are placed in operation. Horizontal and vertical ventilation will be carried out as the situation requires.
Chief Loeb also recommended that a sprinkler system be installed in the entire building, realizing as a professional fire fighter, that temporary measures are not the full answer to the situation. A series of exits from firstfloor classrooms have been considered, but no decisions have been reached because of costs and other factors, and even the sprinkler system may not become a reality, due to the possibility of abandonment. The rescue operation plan has met the immediate challenge, but abandonment as quickly as possible is the logical move.