Managing fire evacuations – fire wardens

Actions required

Heads of department are responsible for ensuring appropriate fire evacuation procedures are in place.  As part of this process, heads of department are asked to:

1.  Identify, as part of the department’s fire risk assessment process, an appropriate method for managing evacuations. 

For the majority of buildings this will involve fire wardens, so any assessment must identify the number of fire wardens required to manage the evacuation.

 If the use of fire wardens is impractical, then the assessment must identify a suitable alternative, such as the use of roll calls or signing in/out registers. 

 The University Safety Office or area /divisional safety officers can assist with this assessment.

2.  Departments based in multi-occupancy buildings must collaborate with each other and other relevant parties, eg Estates Services Facilities Management or external organisations.  If there is no clear person(s) appointed to develop and implement the plans for a building, then representatives from each department must liaise with each other in order to produce and then implement an effective fire evacuation plan for the building as a whole.   

3.  Where appropriate, appoint a sufficient number of fire wardens to ‘sweep’ a building during an evacuation

4.  Ensure those undertaking the role of fire wardens are appropriately instructed or trained.

5.  Record the arrangements (eg within departmental statements of safety organisation or local instructions) and ensure everyone within their department are made aware of the evacuation procedures.

6.  Test the arrangements during a fire evacuation drill and amend, as necessary.

7.  Ensure this is regularly reviewed as part of the annual fire risk assessment or when significant changes occur to the layout of the building or the people involved.

Due to the risks associated with poor fire evacuation management, departments are asked to develop an action plan to ensure these requirements are implemented as soon as is possible and by no later than the end of 2019.  The action plan must be recorded and agreed by the head of department.

Background information

The health and safety policy statement on fire safety is currently being updated as part of the University’s Health and Safety Strategic Plan 2018 – 2023.  It will be issued in the coming months and will address a number of risks identified during last year’s external audit of fire safety management.  One of the risks identified related to the safe evacuation of people from buildings.  The risk is considered significant by the University and as such, departments are asked to appoint fire wardens to assist in the building’s evacuation procures or identify a suitable alternative.

Arrangements for ensuring evacuation is successful

During an evacuation, the fire and rescue service will want to know if there is anybody left in the building when they arrive to fight a fire.   As such, it is necessary that appropriate methods are identified that can reasonably determine who is left within the building.  The University considers the use of fire wardens as the most appropriate method by which this can be done.  Trained fire wardens can sweep their areas of the building and report back to a designated fire coordinator which areas are clear.  However, it is recognised that in some buildings where there are a higher number of transient staff or students present, that the appointment of fire wardens would be difficult.  In these areas, alternative methods can be used, such as the use of roll calls or signing in/out registers. 

Use of fire wardens

Where fire wardens are used, a sufficient number must be appointed to carry out this function.  This can be a combination of volunteer staff and/or facilities management in teaching, research, office, public buildings and embedded spaces.

The fire wardens should report which areas have been checked to the incident coordinator at the assembly point. The incident coordinator should have a method of recording which areas have been checked.

A plan of the premises showing who is responsible for each section and a corresponding list, colour coded if necessary, is a good way of verifying which areas have been checked.

Plan showing search zones with corresponding colour coded list

 Search zones for fire wardens

Check areas for fire wardens  

Arrangements for out of hours

Between 17.00 hours through until 08.30 hours the following day, non-residential buildings are deemed to have insufficient management staff available to determine whether the fire service is required or not. During this time period the University Security Services will immediately inform the fire service that the fire alarm and detection system has activated, and that the building is ‘unmanaged’. Confirmation to the fire service that the building is unmanaged will action an immediate attendance.

It should be noted that University Security Services have no management responsibilities for University buildings out of hours, apart from calling the fire and rescue service and providing a key-holder response.

As a condition of allowing out-of-hours access, when staff or facilities management are not on duty, occupants must be briefed on how to respond to a fire or evacuation signal and communicate with the fire service and University Security Services.

If an event is held out of hours, particularly when visitors are present, sufficient staff should be kept on duty to manage an evacuation.

Lone working out of hours should be in accordance with the University’s lone working policy outlined in University’s policy statement S5/08 – Risk Assessment

Fire warden training

Departments will need to determine if those undertaking the role of fire wardens require additional training.  For many offices, instructions and training in the local procedures can be given by the departmental fire officer, eg where fire wardens are simply sweeping the adjacent offices as they leave a building during an alarm activation.  For more complicated buildings and arrangements, it is recommended that fire wardens attend the University’s extinguisher training course provided by the University Safety Office.  This course has been updated to include the duties of fire wardens and outlines examples of procedures already adopted across the University. Bespoke training can also be provided by the University Fire Officer for buildings facing particular problems on request.

The training includes the following instructions for staff and fire wardens

What to do if you discover a fire:

  1. Raise the alarm using the break glass call point.
  2. Evacuate the building.
  3. Call the fire service by dialling 999 giving as much information as possible for full response.
  4. During normal working hours the fire service will NOT attend alarms unless they are called.
  5. Outside of normal working hours they will only send a minimal response – contacted by University Security Services.

On hearing the fire alarm:

  1. Exit building unless fire warden.
  2. Go to fire point and put on blue tabard.
  3. Sweep your nominated floor or area, making sure everyone is out as far as you can tell.
  4. Go to the assembly point and report to incident coordinator, University Security Services, or the fire service that your area is clear (or that it has not been swept for whatever reason).
  5. Report knowledge of any incident.

Additional information

Further information on the appointment and role of fire wardens during fire evacuation has been provided at the departmental safety officers meetings.  Guidance will also be shared with area and divisional safety officers so they are able to assist departments in the implementation of this memorandum.  If you require assistance or clarification, you are asked to contact your area or divisional safety officers in the first instance.  If you still need assistance, please contact the University Safety Office at

S K Emery

Memo updated July 2019