Assisted Living, News

Fire safety guidance for senior living

This post is an excerpt taken from HCPro’s new title, Disaster Planning, Infection Control, and OSHA Compliance: A Toolkit for Senior Living, a cost-effective, all-inclusive guide to improve safety and satisfaction in your senior living facility.

Fire drills should be done based on your state regulations and/or your facility’s policy and procedures. Staff must be taught to report all fire and safety hazards to the administrator, read the facility’s fire plan and identify the evacuation signs, and know the location of the fire alarm boxes. Staff must also be taught which type of extinguisher to use and how to use it.

Fire regulations are governed by the Uniform Fire Safety Standards for Assisted Living Facilities. The administrator should be familiar with the local fire marshal for clarification of fire safety requirements and assistance in developing acceptable fire safety procedures. Written procedures should detail drills that demonstrate immediate response, evacuation, suppression techniques, notification of the proper authorities, and documentation.

Good fire safety begins with maintaining easy and barrier-free exits from the facility at all times. All exit doors must open outward and be free of obstacles. The administrator is responsible for implementing a system whereby the evacuation capabilities of each resident and employee is established. Evacuation capability is determined by ability to relocate to a point of safety.

The facility should conduct a fire drill 12 times a year at a minimum (preferably four drills per shift). Documentation of each drill should include the following:

  • 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

The administrator must stress to the staff not to take independent action if they are unsure of what to do. All fires must be reported to the administrator.


One of the acronyms used when teaching about fire safety is RACE:

Rescue those in immediate danger

Activate alarm

Confine the fire (close all doors)


All staff on every shift must know how to use the fire extinguisher. They can be trained by using the PASS technique spelled out here:

Pull the pin

Aim the extinguisher

Squeeze the handle while holding the extinguisher upright

Sweep back and forth to extinguish the fire.

***Remember: Don’t let the fire get between you and your exit.

Dealing with a fire emergency

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides the following emergency action plan for dealing with a fire.

When fire is discovered:

  • Activate the nearest fire alarm (if installed)
  • 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):
  1. Voice communication
  2. Phone paging
  3. Radio
  4. Other (specify)

Fight the fire ONLY if:

  • The fire department has been notified.
  • The fire is small and is not spreading to other areas.
  • 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, occupants must:

  • Leave the building using the designated escape routes.
  • Assemble in the designated area (specify location).
  • Remain outside until the competent authority (designated official or designee) announces that it is safe to reenter.

Designated official, emergency coordinator, or supervisors must:

  • Disconnect utilities and equipment unless doing so jeopardizes his/her 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/floor monitors must:

  • Ensure that all employees/residents have evacuated the area/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.

Precautions for extended power loss

In the event of extended power loss to a facility, NIOSH recommends that the following precautionary measures be taken depending on the geographical location and environment of the facility:

  • Unnecessary electrical equipment and appliances should be turned off in the event that power restoration would surge, causing damage to electronics and affecting sensitive equipment.

Communities with freezing temperatures should turn off and drain the following lines in the event of a long-term power loss:

  • Fire sprinkler system
  • Standpipes
  • Potable water lines
  • Toilets
  • Add propylene-glycol to drains to prevent traps from freezing.
  • Equipment that contain fluids that may freeze due to long-term exposure to freezing temperatures should be moved to heated areas, drained of liquids, or provided with auxiliary heat sources.

Upon restoration of heat and power:

  • Electronic equipment should be brought up to ambient temperatures before energizing to prevent condensate from forming on circuitry.
  • Fire and potable water piping should be checked for leaks from freeze damage after the heat has been restored to the facility and water turned back on.

Want more step-by-step guidance, inservices, and interactive training ideas for disaster preparedness, including how to prepare for a hurricane, flood, or active shooter event? Click here!