Oct 02 2015

Do Table Top Exercises Count as Fire Drills?

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

 Q: Do table top exercises count as a fire drill? We are updating our old policies and traditionally it has been allowed to have tabletops count as a fire drill, as long as half of them were actual Evacuation Fire Drills.

A: No, table top exercises, while they can be very helpful in the planning phase, are not an acceptable substitute in lieu of actually performing the fire drill. The reason why is you are required to perform multiple functions during a fire drill:

  • Evaluate staff’s response to a fire situation, both at the point of the alarm and away from the point of the alarm
  • Evaluate the building’s response to the fire alarm
  • Evaluate the fire alarm’s response to the drill
  • Confirm that the alarm signal was transmitted to the fire department during the drill

In short: How are you going to confirm and evaluate all of that if you do not perform the drill?

Actual fire emergencies are usually an acceptable substitute in performing a fire drill, provided you still are able to make all of the evaluation and confirmations. However, that is not easy to do when you and your staff are responding to an actual alarm.

Sorry, but you still must perform the required amount of fire drills in your facility. And by the way, many accreditation organizations have changed the way they define time. The phrase ‘quarterly’ used to mean you could perform the fire drill anytime during the calendar quarter. Now, Joint Commission and HFAP will require you to perform a fire drill 3 months from the previous drill, plus or minus 10 days. That will require more planning and organization on your part.

Sep 25 2015

Extra Fire Drills for ILSM

Category: Fire Drills,ILSM,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: Joint Commission standard LS.01.02.01, EP 11 requires the hospital to perform an additional fire drill during periods of Life Safety Code deficiencies that cannot be immediately corrected or during periods of construction. This standard goes on to say that the need for additional fire drills is based on the criteria in the hospital’s ILSM policy. Let’s suppose that a hospital has deficiencies in the Life Safety Code that lasts only for two, three, four days or maybe even a week. Would the hospital still be required to perform an additional drill for such a short duration of Life Safety Code deficiency? What if the hospital’s Safety Committee decides to state that as part of their ILSM policy criteria, it won’t conduct an additional fire drill per shift per quarter unless the Life Safety Code deficiency lasts beyond a certain amount of time, say maybe a month. It seems to me that a Safety Officer would be on the hook for an additional drill per shift per quarter if ILSMs are only in place for a week is overkill and would serve only to further desensitize staff to its fire alarm system.

A: Joint Commission’s standard LS.01.02.01, EP 11 is not prescriptive, meaning they choose not to specify when the extra fire drill needs to start to compensate for a certain deficiency. They don’t even tell you which deficiency the extra fire drill is even required. That is left up to you to decided and state in your ILSM policy.

I tend to think like you, in that the extra fire drill per shift per quarter does not make sense for a short-term LSC deficiency. But when is a LSC deficiency short-term and when is it considered long term? Perhaps a better approach is to ask: “When will the extra fire drill per shift per quarter be required?” Once you decide when the extra fire drill is required, that should help you decide how soon you need to implement the extra fire drill.

When I was the Safety Officer at the hospital where I worked, I felt the extra fire drill was needed when an exit was obstructed or the access to an exit was obstructed. The reason I believed this, is when you do a fire drill one of the items you are assessing is that staff knows the proper way to evacuate patients (using simulated patients, of course). If the path is obstructed, they need to know the alternative path and be able to demonstrate that. The extra fire drill should assesse the staff’s knowledge on evacuation routes.

Some LSC deficiencies aren’t as obvious so you need to ask yourself “Should I conduct an extra fire drill for this deficiency?” for all of the possible scenarios of LSC deficiency that you could have. Set up a Q&A for all the potential LSC deficiencies that you may encounter at your hospital, then ask yourself is an extra fire drill necessary. Here is an example:

  • Failed fire dampers?                                                   I would say no.
  • Obstructed exit?                                                          I would say yes.
  • Unsealed penetrations in a fire/smoke barrier?          I would say no.
  • Fire alarm pull stations not working?                         I would say yes.
  • Smoke detectors not working?                                  I would say no.
  • Obstructed access to an exit?                                     I would say yes.
  • An inoperative fire pump?                                         I would say no.

Ask yourself: “Would the staff benefit from an extra fire drill if this feature of life safety was not working?” I would say obstructed exits, obstructed access to exits, and inoperative fire alarm pull stations are easy to say ‘yes’ to… but the others? I’m not so sure as I don’t think the staff would benefit from an extra fire drill for an inoperative fire pump, or a failed fire damper. The next question is: “When do I begin the extra fire drills?” Well, if you have defective pull stations or an obstructed exit, you are going to do education and awareness training to the staff affected by these deficiencies. The purpose of the extra fire drill is to assess the staff’s knowledge of these LSC deficiencies after you have conducted the education and training. So, what is reasonable for an obstructed exit? A month after the exit became obstructed? I would say not. Maybe a week after the exit becomes obstructed, but I would say not any more than a week. The sooner the better, as you (the Safety Officer) want to know for sure that the staff knows about the LSC deficiency and takes appropriate alternative action. But this is my opinion, and you need to take this to your Safety Committee and let them offer their suggestions before you finalize your policy. Document this assessment in the form of a matrix, spread sheet or a written narrative in your ILSM policy, and have your Safety Committee review it and approve it. Then the surveyor can only hold you to what your policy says you should do.

Just as a reminder… The extra fire drills for ILSM purposes need to be conducted in the area(s) affected by the LSC deficiency. That means if you have an obstructed exit discharge due to construction, you need to perform the extra fire drills in all areas affected by the deficiency. That may mean you are doing multiple extra fire drills per shift per quarter, until the LSC deficiency is resolved. Also, each fire drill needs to activate the building’s fire alarm system, but during the hours of 9:00 pm and 6:00 am you are not required to activate the audible signals on the fire alarm system.

Sep 14 2015

Fire Drill Observers

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: We are getting ready to complete our fire drill schedule and need clarification. When conducting fire drills how many remote fire zone/smoke areas are required to be observed and findings recorded? We could not find anything specific in the standards that address this.

A: You won’t find the answer in the current edition of the Life Safety Code or the accreditation standards because it isn’t there. It used to be in the standards back years ago, but the requirements to have observers in other zones during fire drills were dropped. What is now required for fire drill observation is generally identified as staff who work in buildings where patients are housed or treated must participate in drills according to the hospital’s fire response plan. That does not mean a fire drill has to be conducted on every unit. It means staff must participate in fire drills according to your fire response plan. Most hospitals use the acronym R.A.C.E. to describe their fire response plan, which requires staff to confine the fire by closing doors. So, if the fire is on the 4th floor west wing, staff on the 1st floor east wing can only close doors based on the fire response plan. How do you confirm that staff participated in a fire drill on a particular unit? By sending someone to walk through and observe if they closed the doors. Since the standard does not say all staff must participate in all drills, then I see no reason to have observers in every unit during every fire drill. I see a more realistic approach of having a program of observing every unit at least once per year. Depending on the physical size of your hospital, you might be able to observe every unit once per year with just a couple of observers per drill. So, the bottom line is you still need to confirm that staff participated in the drills, which usually equates to having observers… it’s just that the accreditation standards do not specify how many units need to be observed during a drill.

Jul 06 2015

Fire Drills at Offsite Blood Draw Locations

Category: Business Occupancy,Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 1:00 am

Q: We were recently cited by a surveyor for not conducting annual fire drills at our offsite blood draw locations. I have reviewed the Life Safety Code for business occupancies and we have only 4 employees at these offsite locations, which is less than the 100-person threshold required by the LSC to conduct drills. These locations are rented inside commercial buildings. Do you think we have to conduct fire drills at these locations?

A: Yes I do, because your accreditation organization says you have to. I think the accreditation organization standard is very clear: “The hospital must conducts fire drills annually from the date of the last drill in all freestanding buildings classified as business occupancies and in which patients are seen or treated.”  The building you described sounds like a business occupancy, and the act of drawing blood from a patient is certainly ‘treatment’. So, they got you from two different angles. I would agree with the surveyor that a fire drill should have been conducted annually at the draw stations, regardless of their size or number of employees. This is an example where the accreditor’s standards over-ride the requirements of the Life Safety Code. It’s one disadvantage for the hospital having their own staff and quick draw station, rather than sub-contracting it out. The cost to manage the Environment of Care at these offsite locations is extensive, and probably wasn’t considered when the hospital opened them up. A fire drill is not an easy proposition at these types of small locations, situated within another building. The Life Safety Code requires the activation of the building’s fire alarm system whenever a fire drill is conducted. This would have to be coordinated with the building owner.

Jun 22 2015

Fire Drills with the Local Fire Department

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 1:00 am

Q: I am new to this position and I am working on updating my management plan on fire safety. Currently it states “The fire department’s Fire Prevention Bureau will conduct at least two fire drills annually”. Is it a requirement to have the local fire department participate in two of our fire drills, annually?

A: No, it is not. The accreditation organizations and CMS do not have standards that require the local fire department to participate in the healthcare organization fire drills. The Life Safety Code and the other NFPA standards do not as well. It may be possible that there is a local or state regulation that requires the involvement of the local fire department in your drills, but there is no accreditation or certification requirement to do so. However, having the local fire department present during fire drills can be a good thing as it creates positive interaction with them. You can never have too much good will with the local fire inspector and his department. But if it is not required, and it becomes a burden to continue to involve them, take it to your Safety Committee and discuss the issue with them. Ask them if it is okay to stop including the local fire department, and see what they think.

Apr 22 2013

Fire Drills

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 6:00 am

Q: Do we have to conduct a fire drill in every department and unit at least once per shift per quarter throughout our hospital? Some staff is telling me that unless we do so, we are not meeting the Joint Commission requirement for fire drills. Is this true?

A: No, you do not. This is a frequently misunderstood aspect of the Joint Commission standard EC.02.03.03. The performance elements of this standard say fire drills must be conducted once per shift per quarter in each building (not each unit) that is defined as a healthcare occupancy. Where the misunderstanding comes in is the requirement for staff to participate in fire drills in buildings where patients are housed or treated, in accordance with the hospital’s fire response plan. At the source of the fire alarm staff has multiple requirements, but on units and floors away from the origin of the fire, there is little for staff to do other than close doors and be on alert. You may ‘spot-check’ your staff’s participation on units away from the origin of the alarm by having observers make note of the staff’s reaction. These observers may be individuals from your safety committee, or they may be managers of their respective departments.

Jun 17 2012

Unannounced Fire Drills

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 5:00 am

Q: How would you define unannounced when it comes to fire drills? There doesn’t appear to be anything in the standard that explains what this means. What do you say?

A: The standard you are referring to is the Joint Commission Environment of Care standard, which limits unannounced drills to no more than 50% of all drills. This is not a life safety issue as the Life Safety Code does not address it. In lieu of asking Joint Commission what they meant, I would define announced fire drills as having a published schedule of future drills which is shared with others. Another example of announced drills is having the switchboard operators announce overhead “This is a drill” when the fire alarm is activated. The reason announced drills are undesirable, is staff will react less than optimally when they know the fire alarm is only a drill.

Dec 01 2011

Fire Drill Participation

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 9:26 pm

Q: Are we required to conduct fire drills on every unit and in every department once per quarter per shift in our hospital? Are we required to make sure everyone in the hospital participates in the drill? We have some engineering managers at our hospital who say we must conduct fire drills on every unit once per shift per quarter. That can mean over 300 fire drills per year for us.

A: No and Yes. No, you do not have to conduct fire drills on every unit in the hospital per quarter per shift, and yes, staff is expected to participate in the drills. Allow me to explain: Section of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code (LSC) says fire drills must be conducted in hospitals, quarterly on each shift. It does not say anything about drills that must be conducted quarterly on each shift for each department. Section goes on to say drills are conducted to familiarize personnel (such as nurses, interns, maintenance engineers and administrative staff) with the signals and emergency action required under varied conditions. That is another way of saying staff must participate in the drills. Joint Commission (and other accrediting organizations) has similar language in their standards found in EC.02.03.03. Where people sometimes become confused, is in the language that requires everyone to participate. Well, for the most part, everyone does participate (or should participate) every time there is a fire drill. Those closest to the area where the alarm is initiated follow the acronym for the hospital’s fire plan, which is frequently R.A.C.E. They Rescue, Active the alarm, Confine, and Extinguish (or Evacuate). But those individuals away from the area where the alarm is initiated also participate, but usually the only requirement in R.A.C.E is to Confine the area by closing the doors. Your organization may have other fire response plans for those individuals to respond to the scene of the alarm with a fire extinguisher. So, everyone on that shift participates (supposedly) in one single fire drill, and you can confirm their participation by having observers in strategic areas making sure they closed the doors.

Jul 01 2010

Fire Alarm Activated During Fire Drills

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 4:37 pm

Q: We recently had a consultant advise us to always activate our fire alarm system whenever we conduct a fire drill. We don’t always do that because we perform so many fire drills we think the staff will ignore the alarm when there really is a fire. What do you see as the standard for fire drills?

A: I believe your consultant is correct, with the exception when a drill is performed between the hours of 9:00 pm and 6:00 am. Here is why: Section of the LSC specifically requires the activation of the fire alarm system during drills, along with the transmission of the fire alarm signal. I asked the NFPA to clarify what is meant by the phrase “transmission of the fire alarm signal” and a representative said the intent means to transmit it to the point where you involve everyone in your fire plan. I also asked a representative from CMS how they view the phrase “transmission of the fire alarm signal” and they interpret it to mean the signal needs to go all the way to the fire department for each fire drill. Since the fire department is a large part of your fire response plan, they need to be included. The same section in the LSC also says you do not have to activate the fire alarm system during the hours between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am, as to not disturb sleeping patients. A fire drill is an excellent opportunity to document that the fire alarm transmission signal was received by the local fire department, even if you contract through a vendor to monitor your fire alarm panel. You are required to do so anyway, every quarter. Make sure you document it on your fire drill report.

May 01 2010

Fire Drills Performed on Every Unit

Category: Fire Drills,Questions and AnswersBKeyes @ 4:15 pm

Q: Is every nursing unit in our hospital required to have one fire drill per shift per quarter? Our Director of Quality says we are required to do so, but that seems too many to me.

A: No, I do not see any LSC requirement or Joint Commission requirement for a fire drill on every nursing unit per shift per quarter. What I do see in the LSC is a requirement for drills to be conducted quarterly on every shift, to familiarize the personnel with the signals and emergency action required under varied conditions (see section 18/ The purpose of the drill is to test and evaluate the efficiency and knowledge of the staff in implementing your organization’s fire response plan. This can be accomplished by having observers recording the reactions of the staff in compartments away from where the alarm was initiated. The Joint Commission standards on fire drills (EC.02.03.03) are similar in wording and intent. Drills conducted between the hours of 9:00 pm and 6:00 am do not have to activate the fire alarm notification system, as the intent is not to interfere with patient sleep patterns. Other requirements you may be interested in knowing; every time you conduct a fire drill, the fire alarm signal is required to be transmitted so the fire department actually receives notification. Also, no more than 50% of the drills are permitted to be announced. And having the switchboard operator announce overhead “Code Red: This is a drill” every time the fire alarm is activated for a drill constitutes an announced drill, in my opinion. In summary, most hospitals that I visit conduct 12 fire drills per year; one drill on each shift per each quarter. Each drill evaluates the staff’s response in many different locations throughout the hospital utilizing trained observers.