Fire drills and the safe re-opening of schools
FIRE DRILLS AND THE SAFE RE-OPENING OF SCHOOLS
August 3, 2021
This communiqué replaces Fire Marshal’s Communiqué 2020-15, issued on September 4, 2020 which is now rescinded. It provides references to the revised Fire Marshal Directive 2020-001 and the deletion of a question and answer referring to quad-mesters.
Ontario continues to reopen the province and gradually lift public health measures implemented in response to COVID-19. As there is still a risk of COVID-19 transmission, it is important to continue to follow public health guidance. For the 2021-2022 school year, it is essential to plan for procedures to conduct fire drills aligned with public health guidance. As such, the flexible and balanced approach undertaken during the 2020-2021 school year will continue to be required when conducting fire drills in schools, including private schools, to reduce the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19 among staff and students.
Requirements in Section 2.8 of Division B of the Fire Code (Ontario Regulation 213/07, as amended) require that schools and private schools conduct total evacuation fire drills at least three (3) times in each fall and spring term while school is in session, with additional fire drill requirements applying to schools operating in the summer. Fire drill requirements also apply to extended day programs or third-party programs, and to day nurseries (i.e., child care centres) that are operated in schools and provide services to children that are pupils of a board (e.g., before-and after-school programs). In addition, the Fire Code requires fire drill procedures to be prepared in consultation with the Chief Fire Official.
While a “total evacuation fire drill” is not a defined term under the Fire Code, there is a general understanding that during this type of fire drill all building occupants are expected to evacuate simultaneously. As a result, total evacuation fire drills commonly result in the converging of building occupants in hallways, exits, and at designated meeting areas outside of the building. The overcrowding generally associated with total evacuation may lead to an increased risk for COVID-19 transmission. Therefore, it is critical that when planning for the 2021-22 school year, procedures for conducting total evacuation fire drills be aligned with guidance provided by public health officials. As such, Fire Marshal Directive 2020-001 (revised August 3, 2021), Total Evacuation Fire Drills in Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic has been revised by extending requirements to the 2021-22 school year. The directive ensures that procedures not typically undertaken during a total evacuation fire drill, but currently necessary to ensure physical distancing, will be deemed to comply with Fire Code requirements for school fire drills.
Finally, while best practice would anticipate all students and staff participating in the three mandatory total evacuation fire drills per term required by the Fire Code, in circumstances where modified school attendance may be necessary in response to safe re-opening, fire departments are encouraged to work together with school administrators to maximize, as best possible, participation of all students.
Fire departments are encouraged to work together with administrators of schools, extended day programs, third party programs and day nurseries (i.e., child care centres) to ensure a continued level of fire safety for school occupancies. The Office of the Fire Marshal acknowledges that there may be compliance challenges and will work to support fire departments in their efforts to ensure fire safety.
For assistance with evaluating options to address fire safety, please contact your local fire protection adviser.
Questions and Answers:
Fire Drills and the Safe Re-Opening of Schools
- Does everyone need to evacuate during a total evacuation fire drill?
Yes, a total evacuation fire drill requires all occupants of a building to evacuate.
- Does public health guidance apply during a total evacuation fire drill?
Recommendations and instructions of public health officials play a critical role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and their guidelines will apply during a school total evacuation fire drill. Fire Marshal’s Directive 2020-001 (revised August 3, 2021), Total Evacuation Fire Drills in Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic, ensures that procedures not typically undertaken during a total evacuation fire drill but currently necessary to ensure physical distancing, will be deemed to comply with Fire Code requirements for school fire drills by assistants to the Fire Marshal.
- What is best practice with respect to total evacuation fire drills in schools when students are unable to participate due to an adapted in-person teaching model?
When a school board is operating under an adapted in-person teaching model and students are attending school on alternate schedules, a fire drill will only involve the participation of staff and students present on that day. In this scenario, fire departments and school administrators are encouraged to work together to ensure that fire drills are scheduled to maximize the best possible participation of all staff and students during the fall and spring terms.
- Is advance notice of a fire drill permitted?
Fire drills are not required to take place without notice. In fact, advance planning, scheduling and notification are beneficial to mitigate operational concerns. Within the context of the safe re-opening of schools during the 2021-22 school year, advance planning and notice of total evacuation fire drills will facilitate the implementation of practices that comply with public health guidance.