Are you neglecting the planning for a serious threat?
As I was pondering what would be the subject of my next article, I browsed through past issues of circuit magazine. What I found to my surprise was that there were no articles on fire safety matters. In my opinion, knowledge of fire safety must be a fundamental skill in the close protection officers tool kit. I personally think that fire safety is one of the top threats that my principal may encounter in his everyday life. Just think about it, depending on the scale of your protection assignment you have to plan for and know how to deal with fire emergencies perhaps in the private residence of the principal, but most certainly in the principal’s corporate headquarters, hotels, business meeting sites, restaurants and so on.
Fire is a high priority threat`
When discussing executive protection topics with somebody not working in this field of expertise, the threats to the principal are often expected to come from rare incidents such as stalkers, snipers, explosions and so on. As professionals we know that the most significant and likely threats come from car accidents and health issues, then, next in line are serious fire emergencies. Don’t just take my word for it, a quick look at the statistics show just how frequent and deadly fires are in US.
Trends in fires, deaths and injuries. (US)
- Fires 1,345,500 in 2015
- Deaths 3,280 in 2015
- Injuries 15,700 in 2015
According to NFPA (national fire protection association) on average, U.S. fire departments responded to:
- A fire every 24 seconds
- A structure fire every 66 seconds
- A home fire every 90 seconds
- An outside or unclassified fire every 48 seconds
- A highway vehicle fire every 182 seconds
In addition to the numbers shown here, on average, fires claimed nine lives every day in the US. After learning these figures, the need to plan for fire emergencies should become apparent. In Finland, were I operate, the situation is even more critical. The number of deaths by fire is the highest in Nordic countries and even on a European-wide scale the numbers are very high. Every year around 80 people die from fire. That’s why I prioritize fire emergency procedures high in my executive protection planning. q
Inside an apartment block or office building, fire spread incredibly fast. Life threatening deadly smoke rises quickly and fills the room. In just a few minutes the smoke will reduce visibility to zero making an escape very difficult. In apartment fires, typically, you have as little as 2-3 minutes to evacuate before it’s too late. The temperatures inside a building on fire are extreme and far beyond what the human body can tolerate. The alveoli starts to perish at around 150 degrees Celsius but the temperature of fires can go up to 800-1000 Celsius. The heat from fire is only the start of your problems, combustion gas is poisonous and deadly and will quickly cause a loss of consciousness. Between 60-90% of fatalities in fires are a result of poisonous gases. This is also the reason why such a high number of people die in they sleep. Deadly gasses fill the room very quickly and if there are no fire alarms installed then your chances of survival diminish rapidly.
Actions in fire emergencies.
There are three simple actions you must take in the result of a fire:
Save those in danger. Make sure you are safe first and able to evacuate. Now is the time to make those emergency procedures come to life.
Alert the fire brigade and surrounding people. Make sure no one goes to the burning section of the building to prevent additional casualties.
Extinguish the fire – if it is save to do so. Use the tools you have at your disposal like fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
Actions on fire emergencies must be carried out fast, you have only few minutes to evacuate if there is fire. That is why it is important to plan and practice these procedures in advance. Remember: smoke fills a room fast reducing visibility. Smoke rises upwards and then will start to descend down, filling the room from ceiling to floor, this why it is best to crawl along the floor when exiting.
If there is smoke in the corridor or along the approach you are heading, stop and go back, close all doors and seal any cracks. This procedure will prevent smoke from entering the room and buy you valuable time.
The instructions above are standard procedure, however, as executive protection specialists there will be some additional expectations that we must fulfil. First off, in a fire emergency we must to action to save ourselves, naturally, and then quickly turn our attention to the principal, who will be expecting you to direct them on where to exit and how to evacuate the building. Second, we must ensure we have adequate training to be able to deal with fire emergencies. Theory training and safety planning are all good and well, but it is also essential to learn the practical skills in order to be able to effectively use equipment like fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire hoods and so on. This type of training should be mandatory and continuous in our profession.
Planning for fire emergencies. `
Here in the Nordic countries, which is my primary operating environment, the safety planning of commercial buildings and even private residences is regulated tightly by law and so is the safety planning of any event where people gather. Clearly, this is a good thing as our jobs are made easier when, for example, conducting an advance on an office building, restaurant or any public venue, where a mandatory safety manual exists, listing all the info you need such as exit routes, fire emergency procedures and other useful information to supplement your own security planning. The main purpose of mandatory safety planning is to recognize the different threats, preempt accidents and guide the right procedures in emergencies.
The safety planning manual should, at the very least, include:
- Location of all fire exit doors/routes.
- Assembly point(s).
- Rescue routes for the fire department and ambulance.
- Location of first aid equipment.
- Fire alarm system in use.
- Location of all fire extinguishers.
- Extinguish system in use.
- Speaker system.
With these pieces of information you are many steps ahead when putting together any security plan for your executive protection assignment.
Advances and traveling. `
When traveling to different countries you become aware that things are not necessarily the same everywhere you visit. For example, in some developing countries the standard of fire procedures and planning could be basic to non-existent. Wherever you might find yourself conducting an advance, make sure to plan for fire emergencies. Get yourself familiar with the premises’ safety guides. Locate your exit routes and fire equipment. In hotels familiarize yourself with emergency routes and how they warn the occupants of fire. Choose the location of hotel rooms wisely. Remember from your basic training to get a hotel room high enough from street level so that street noise is reduced and making it more difficult to climb or throw anything through windows, but also low enough so that the fire department can reach it should a rescue need to be performed. It is of course best to book known and established hotels that have mandatory safety rules in place. Give high priority to hotels that have a sprinkler system installed.
Remember that your own emergency planning should be specific to executive protection so there are some additional points you may want to consider that are not necessarily the same as in the general safety planning of the location you are at. One thing to consider is that in the event of a fire alarm everybody will leave the building through the nearest exit to proceed to the designated assembly point. With a high profile principal you may want to avoid that. You might not want to take your principal to a location where possibly hundreds of people gather, spot your client and start taking pictures or asking for autographs. Remember, that while it comes secondary to ensuring their safety you are also charged with protecting the image of the principal as well.
Another thing to consider is that someone can set the fire alarm off deliberately and with malicious intent, perhaps to create confusion or maybe with more deadly aims such as to get people to move and congregate on mass in a single location where an explosive device could be positioned or an ambush ready and waiting. Remember: information regarding safety procedures and assembly points is available to anyone.
Now that you fully understand the risk and the implications of a fire emergency, give thought to the equipment that you take with you on a protective assignment. Consider including items such as a rescue kit for fire emergencies, additional smoke detectors, fire hoods and so on.
It is the responsibility of the executive protection specialist to know how to use fire safety equipment, to know how to plan for fire emergencies in different locations and to know when your role might demand you to differentiate between the general emergency procedures of the premises you’re in.
Fire Safety in Executive Protection
By: Wille Heino
Gambeson is a security training & consulting company based in Finland specialized in Executive Protection services & security training.