Fire Marshal Directive 2020 – 001 (revised date: August 3, 2021)
TOPIC: Total Evacuation Fire Drills in Schools During COVID-19 Pandemic
This directive is issued under the provisions of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, (FPPA) S.O. 1997, chapter 4, clause 9.(1)(b). It is the responsibility of every assistant to the Fire Marshal to follow the Fire Marshal's directive as set out in subsection 11.(1) of the FPPA. Further, under clause 9.(2)(b) of the FPPA, the Fire Marshal has the duty to advise municipalities in the interpretation and enforcement of this Act and the regulations.
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 for schools operating in the summer. These 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. 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 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 school building. Therefore, it is critical that when planning for the 2021-2022 school year, procedures for conducting total evacuation fire drills should be aligned with guidance provided by local public health officials. As such, a flexible and balanced approach will be required when undertaking total evacuation fire drills.
For the 2021-2022 school year, assistants to the Fire Marshal are directed to deem the following procedures to be compliant with the requirements of total evacuation fire drills as set out in Article 220.127.116.11. of Division B of the Fire Code for schools, private schools, 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:
- On the scheduled Fire Drill day, a one-time sounding of the fire alarm during an all-school announcement in order to familiarize all students and staff with the sound of the fire alarm.
- On the same day following Item 1, evacuation of individual classrooms in a manner that is consistent with guidance provided by the Ministry of Education and public health officials. As only a few classrooms may be able to evacuate simultaneously, the total evacuation of the school may extend over the course of the school day. The teacher/supervisory person may use a cell phone ringer, a bell or a similar type of device to commence the individual classroom evacuation, at the scheduled time.
For clarity, these allowances are only for purposes of undertaking a total evacuation fire drill and only where needed to ensure compliance with public health guidance. Where a fire alarm sounds outside the scope of a planned fire drill, the total evacuation of the school shall proceed as per procedures outlined in the approved school Fire Safety Plan.
During the 2021-2022 school year, the term “total evacuation fire drill” must allow for procedures that will ensure fire drill evacuations can be conducted safely, in accordance with public health guidance, to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Ontario Fire Marshal
August 3, 2021