Fire Safety in an Assisted Living Community

The California State Fire Marshal and local fire departments oversee and monitor compliance with fire safety regulations by assisted living communities across the state. Fire-related regulations can be placed in a pair of categories.

First, there are fire safety regulations that apply to all assisted living facilities in the state of California. Second, there are certain regulations that are only applicable to assisted living facilities with over a specific number of residents. 

Having made mention of these regulatory issues, the primary focus of this article is on fire safety more broadly in an assisted living community. While regulatory compliance does play a role in this discussion, we are more broadly focuses on those practices and protocols that exist to keep residents of assisted living communities as safe as possible when it comes to fire risks.

Assisted Living Fire Drills

One important practice to ensure optimal fire safety in an assisted living community is regular fire drills. Ideally, an assisted living community has at least 12 fire drills each year. Specifically, the objective should be to have these drills undertaken during the various shifts in place at a particular assisted living community. For example, if a facility has three shifts (which is a common practice) four fire drills per shift annually and at a minimum would be the recommended course of action.

Each fire drill at an assisted living community should be documented in this way:

  • Date and time of drill
  • Location of simulated fire
  • Escape paths used
  • Notation of residents and staff who resisted or failed to participate in the drill
  • Notation of employees that did participate in the drill

Fire Extinguisher Training 

State and local regulations govern how many as well as the placement of fire extinguishers within an assisted living facility. Fire extinguisher training is largely left to individual assisted living communities to figure out themselves.

The reality is that most people believe that the use of a fire extinguisher is not a challenging matter. These typically are the very same people who have never been called upon to operate a fire extinguisher. In fact, fire extinguishers can prove to be a bit challenging when it comes to their use, particularly among people who have had no training whatsoever.

Local fire departments as well as local fire marshal offices tend to offer assistance when it comes to training and the proper use of a fire extinguisher. By arranging for such training, an assisted living community can be in a position to ensure that its staff is well-prepared to use a fire extinguisher should the need to so ever arise.

With proper training, the PASS method can be utilized when it comes to using a fire extinguisher in an assisted living setting. The PASS method sets forth the proper way to use a fire extinguisher in an emergency:

  • Pull the pin
  • Aim the extinguisher
  • Squeeze the handle while holding the extinguisher upright
  • Sweep back and forth to extinguish the fire.

Responding to a Fire Emergency

Training of staff members in regard to assisted living fire safety must include responding appropriately in a fire emergency. In addition to initial training, refresher instruction regarding responding to a fire emergency also needs to occur. 

While it’s not possible to dive into all of the ins and outs of a fire emergency training course in this article overviewing assisted living fire safety, there is an acronym used when teaching responding to a fire emergency: RACE. RACE stands for:

  • Rescue those in immediate danger
  • Activate alarm
  • Confine the fire (close all doors)
  • Evacuate/extinguish

Fire Emergency Action Plan

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has developed a fire emergency action plan that is suitable for long-term care facilities like assisted living communities. The plan is multifaceted and provides detailed steps when fire is erupts.

When fire is discovered in an assisted living facility:

  • Activate the nearest fire alarm (if the facility has an alarm system in place)
  • Notify the local fire department by calling 911
  • If the fire alarm is not available, notify the site personnel about the fire emergency by the following means (check applicable):
  • Voice communication
  • Phone alert
  • Radio
  • Other available communication system

Fight the fire only if:

  • The fire department has been notified and is on the way
  • The fire is small and is not spreading to other areas of the facility
  • Escaping the area is possible by backing up to the nearest exit
  • The fire extinguisher is in working condition and personnel are trained to use it

Upon being notified about the fire emergency, residents of an assisted living facility must:

  • Leave the building using the designated escape routes
  • Assemble in the designated area a safe distance from the facility (specify location)
  • Remain outside until the competent authority (designated official or designee) announces that it is safe to reenter or provides further direction

Designated official, emergency coordinator, or supervisors must:

  • Disconnect utilities and equipment unless doing so jeopardizes safety
  • Coordinate an orderly evacuation of personnel
  • Perform an accurate head count of personnel reported to the designated area
  • Determine a rescue method to locate missing personnel
  • Provide the fire department personnel with the necessary information about the facility
  • Perform assessment and coordinate weather forecast office emergency closing procedures

Area or floor monitors must:

  • Ensure that all employees/residents have evacuated the area or floor
  • Report any problems to the emergency coordinator at the assembly area

Assistants to physically challenged should:

  • Assist all physically challenged residents in emergency evacuation

A final note on a fire emergency action plan. This plan was developed by fire emergency experts. With that said, it is designed to be adaptable to the specific requirements of the physical premises of an assisted living facility. It is also capable of being adapted to meet the unique needs of residents in an assisted living community. 

Role of Fire Suppression Systems

Fire suppression equipment is defined as equipment that manually or automatically discharges water, inert gas, or chemicals for the purpose of stopping or controlling a fire in a facility, including in an assisted living community. 

Fire suppression systems used in assisted living and other similar types of facilities are:

  • Chemical fire suppression 
  • Inert gas fire suppression 
  • Water fire suppression

Chemical Fire Suppression 

Chemical fire suppression agents are fast-acting and classifies as people-safe in their formulation. Chemical fire suppression agents aid in avoiding ancillary damage that exists when water sprinkler systems are used to suppress a fire.

Inert Gases Fire Suppression

Inert gases used in fire suppression include:

  • Nitrogen
  • Argon
  • CO2
  • Combination of two or more of these gases

Inert gases used in fire suppression are designed to reduce oxygen levels to a point where combustion cannot be sustained. These gaseous agents used in fire suppression are deemed safe for both people and the environment.

Water Sprinkler or Water Mist Fire Suppression

Water sprinkler systems or water mist systems are designed to provide a continuous flow of water to combat and suppress a fire. 

In conclusion, as was stated elsewhere, we are providing general information in this article. A particular assisted living facility needs to ensure compliance with state and local fire safety regulatory schemes.