Fire safety and emergency procedures


Fire must be taken seriously by all; it may happen at any time.  It can result from spontaneous unpredictable events but also from acts of carelessness, criminal intent, neglect, or a lack of knowledge or awareness of the hazards and implications.  Active fire safety management must remain a central part of the University culture.  All persons must play their joint part in preventing fire, maintaining fire safety features and knowing how to respond to an emergency. The fire safety design and provisions of a building can easily be compromised by a lack of management and awareness.

The overriding principle behind fire safety legislation is that life must come before property. All fire safety features incorporated into buildings, and all fire precautions and procedures set up by management, should have the aim of protecting people. Such provisions will usually maximise the protection of property as well but the primary concern must be the protection of people.

This safety note is intended to assist Heads of School/Department in discharging their duty to maintain all features and procedures relating to fire safety in the area under their control.

Summary of management duties

Under current fire safety legislation, responsibility for fire safety, including the safe evacuation of all building occupants to a place of ultimate safety, rests fully with management rather than the Fire and Rescue Service. 

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 introduces the concept of the “Responsible Person”, who has overall responsibility for fire safety.  In simpler organisations this is the employer or person in control of a building.  In the University, top management shares some of this responsibility but the prime Responsible Person for each building is:

  • for buildings occupied by a single school/department, the Head of School/Department
  • for all buildings containing sleeping accommodation, the Director of Kent Hospitality
  • for buildings occupied by more than one school/department and/or tenant organisation, the Director of Estates.

In those buildings shared by several schools/departments and/or other "management units" (for example, the Colleges) the following also have responsibilities under fire safety law and must co-operate and co-ordinate with one another to ensure that uniform practices and common or complimentary procedures are followed by all occupants:

  • Head(s) of School(s)/Department(s)
  • top management of any tenant organisations (who are also Responsible Persons, as above, in relation to their own operations).

Legislation requires all buildings (and e.g. organised events) to be fire risk assessed.  Building Fire Risk Assessments are generally conducted and reviewed by the Fire Safety and Environment Adviser, who is also available for support and advice.

Fire Risk Assessment requirements include provision of a comprehensive, documented Fire Emergency Plan providing for the full evacuation of all persons to final assembly points under all reasonably foreseeable circumstances (and for verification of full and successful evacuation to be confirmed positively to the Fire and Rescue Service, wherever and whenever practicable).  These are compiled jointly by the Fire Safety and Environment Adviser and the Responsible Person’s school/department via a process of consultation with relevant personnel.

All directors, managers and supervisors have a duty to ensure that fire safety measures as described within this and other University guidance documents are in place and fully implemented within their own areas.  In particular they must ensure that

  • Building Fire Officers are nominated and trained as appropriate,
  • Suitable written Fire Emergency Plans for each building are available and implemented (including provisions for the evacuation of persons with disabilities),
  • all staff and students are trained, instructed and informed as appropriate on the action required should they discover a fire or hear the alarm,
  • all staff and students are sufficiently aware of fire prevention measures,
  • all escape routes and fire exits under their control are kept clear and available for use at all times whilst the building is occupied,
  • there is a means of raising the alarm in the event of a fire (most, but not all, buildings have a fire alarm system installed),
  • Sufficient Fire Marshals and deputies are nominated and trained,
  • Where necessary, sufficient Door Wardens and other designated persons are nominated and trained,
  • Sufficient persons are nominated and trained in the use of fire extinguishers, as appropriate to the risks in each area,
  • routine maintenance and inspection) are carried out in accordance with the University’s policy (e.g. weekly informal fire safety inspections; monthly recorded checks of fire fighting equipment; annual testing and maintenance of alarm systems, emergency lighting, extinguishers etc),
  • Fire Risk Assessments are reviewed by the University’s Competent Person whenever any significant change is proposed or made to buildings or their use, in advance of the change.

 The remainder of this document elaborates upon these duties and gives advice on how to discharge them.

Building Fire Officer

A Building Fire Officer should be a suitably competent person whose duties will be to oversee the day-to-day management of fire safety provisions within the building, and (typically) to take charge of an emergency evacuation until the arrival of Security and/or the Fire and Rescue Service.  Deputies must be appointed to cover absences.  The nominated persons should normally work in the building, and receive suitable instruction and training.

In some buildings it may be impracticable to nominate a single fire manager (and deputies) to oversee the whole building.  In these cases a clear strategy should be devised to ensure that uniform practices and common or complimentary procedures are followed by all occupants, and apply to all areas of the building.  This will involve co-operation and co-ordination between all schools/departments and organisations occupying the building, and should be described in the building Fire Emergency Plan.  The Fire Safety and Environment Adviser should be consulted in such cases.

Day-to-day management of fire safety arrangements in a building must include fire safety inspections (see last bullet point in section 2 above).  Building Fire Officers and line managers must ensure that local staff undertake these (typically Fire Marshals, although arrangements may vary). 

Duties and actions of Building Fire Officers (and others) will vary from building to building and are specified in Fire Emergency Plans.

Emergency evacuation procedures

Each Head of School/Department must ensure that all staff and students under their control are familiar with the procedures set out in Fire Action Notices displayed throughout the Campus buildings. Everyone, though, has some responsibility for the safety of others; staff, in particular, should be instructed to check their immediate work area and to encourage other staff and students, and to assist visitors to leave the building promptly when the alarm is raised. Supervisory staff in the immediate control of junior staff, students or visitors have a particular duty to ensure the prompt and safe evacuation of those in their charge.

Similar or equivalent arrangements should be in place in relation to other visitors.  Visiting organisations should be given suitable information and instruction, and they should co-ordinate their own arrangements with those for the building so that their own employees, delegates and/or visitors are suitably informed, instructed and trained as appropriate.

In most buildings Heads of School/Department must appoint a suitable number of people as Fire Marshals, with specific duties (these will vary from building to building and are specified in building Fire Emergency Plans) – typically, checking the full evacuation of a designated area near their work place and reporting that information. The most suitable people to be appointed as Fire Marshals are those such as administrative staff whose duties do not normally take them away from their work place.  Fire Marshals must receive training for this task – in particular, as with any emergency response role they must be able to assess and safeguard their own safety whilst carrying out such tasks.  Typically, Fire Marshals will also be assigned local fire safety inspection tasks but this may vary from building to building. Guidance to Fire Marshals' duties is outlined in the document Fire marshalling - Getting started

Identification of personnel: arrangements may vary between buildings, but in general it is suggested that Fire Marshals, Door Wardens, persons nominated to assist those with disabilities, etc. should wear a distinguishing garment such as a yellow arm band or orange jacket, whereas the person in charge of the building in the early stages of evacuation (depending on the building arrangements, this might be the Building Fire Officer, Receptionist or Chief Fire Marshal) should wear a yellow jacket.  The Security Supervisor (who will usually arrive within a minute or two) usually wears a red jacket. These garments are relatively cheap and the Safety Health and Environment Unit can give details of suppliers.

Depending on the building it may also be appropriate to appoint Door Wardens whose task will typically be to guard the entrances to the building to prevent anyone unauthorised from entering until the emergency is over; in some buildings this can be accomplished without formal appointments if a system involving the issue of cards with instructions to responsible individuals as they leave the building is used.

Sufficient deputies should be appointed to all the above functions (Fire Marshals, Door Wardens and those involved with disabled people) to ensure that a full compliment of nominated persons is present at all times in order to fully cover  requirements of the building Fire Emergency Plan.  It may be necessary for Heads of School/Department to co-ordinate planned absences to achieve this.

Building Fire Emergency Plans will invariably include the rapid attendance of Campus Watch who will take over various roles and responsibilities as described above and below; documented plans should reflect these handovers.

As a general rule, the overall emergency plan should allow for the building to be ‘swept’ or checked for full evacuation (normally by the Marshals as they themselves exit, so long as they do not put themselves at risk, as covered by their specific training).  The Fire and Rescue Service does not expect to search for and rescue occupants as a matter of routine as this puts firefighters at unnecessary and unknown risk.  They will, however, search parts of the building which for some valid reason it has not been possible to sweep: this information must therefore be relayed from the Marshal to the person in charge of the building (e.g. Fire Officer or Security Supervisor) and then to the Fire and Rescue Service on arrival.  Note that searches must not be made merely to salvage personal or University property.

It is potentially dangerous to use a lift during an emergency evacuation (unless the Fire Risk Assessment, building Fire Emergency Plan and sound authorised knowledge/decision at the time of the emergency expressly permit this) and therefore any passengers who are in a lift when the fire alarm sounds must stop the lift at the next floor, if possible, and leave the building using the stairs. Anyone trapped in a lift should press the alarm button to attract attention so that the Fire and Rescue Service can be informed when they arrive.

It may also be necessary to assign persons to co-ordinate and assist the evacuation of disabled people in various ways, depending on the building Fire Emergency Plan (similarly for Young Persons if/when present).  Disabled people may have difficulty in evacuating a building promptly, or may impede others evacuating.  Standard evacuation plans must be made available (as described in building Fire Emergency Plans) to enable safe evacuation.  For regular building users, these provisions are discussed with disabled persons, as appropriate, and Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans drawn up where necessary, so that assistance suitable for their individual needs is pre-planned, reliable and familiar to them. See Section 5 for further advice.

When the alarm is raised

Upon hearing the fire alarm, all building occupants and the person(s) who causes or finds the fire must follow the correct procedures as informed, instructed and practised in fire drills.

Fire Marshals assist the rapid and controlled evacuation of the building, directing people as needed towards appropriate exits and correct assembly points, also ‘sweeping’ the building where safe to do so.  Persons assigned duties relating to disabled people follow relevant plans or leave the building if not required.  Fire Marshals and/or Door Wardens prevent persons from re-entering the building until the Building Fire Officer or Fire and Rescue Service declare it is safe to do so.

Under arrangements for most buildings, the Receptionist and/or Building Fire Officer and deputies must go to the main entrance of the building (around the outside of the building if necessary); one of them will take charge of the proceedings until the arrival of Security and/or the Fire and Rescue Service. The action to be taken is specified in the building Fire Emergency Plan.

Safety of disabled people

Generic provisions for the evacuation of disabled people should be set out within building Fire Emergency Plans – these are known as Standard PEEPs (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans).  Since disabled people have individual needs, actual evacuation may require these generic provisions to be combined with specific aspects as Individual PEEPs where required.  For all disabled people who are regular users of a given building, an assessment of their needs must be conducted, in many cases involving an interview with appropriate trained personnel, to explore the various measures available and specific requirements.  This is both for the person’s own information and instruction and to enable emergency planning to accommodate their safe evacuation.

(Link to PEEPS procedure to follow)

The following examples are by way of general guidance and illustration, are not exhaustive, and do not in themselves satisfy or replace the above requirements.

5.1 Wheelchair users and those with impaired mobility

In order to maximise the safety of all occupants, wheelchair users should move on the same level within the building (sometimes with the assistance of a colleague or other available person) until a place of relative safety or "refuge", for example an enclosed staircase landing, is reached. Refuges usually have communication devices to enable the person to alert e.g. Security to their presence.  The movement of others leaving the building should not be obstructed. Further decisions will then be taken depending on the building Fire Emergency Plan and the individual’s PEEP – for example, transfer to and evacuation in an ‘Evac’ chair by nominated trained staff - but the action taken must have the full consent of the wheelchair user.

Depending on the building Fire Risk Assessment and local procedures, and unless immediately threatened by the fire, it may be safer for him/her to remain temporarily in the refuge along with a companion until the nature of the emergency is determined and further action is then taken.

Should evacuation plans fail and a wheelchair user remains in the building, this information must be given to the Fire and Rescue Service on their arrival.

Some people may have limited mobility but are not confined to a wheelchair. These people should make their way to a staircase but in most cases should then wait there briefly: it may be much safer for them (and others) if they descend an uncrowded staircase.  In such cases they should be requested always to wait until the main flow of evacuating people has subsided (this instruction will be a feature of their Individual PEEP).  They may require the provision of a person to assist them.

5.2 Those with impaired vision

It is useful if a member of staff with a sight problem works near a normally-sighted person who can then assist them in an emergency. The sighted person should normally lead the way during the evacuation, inviting the other person to take their arm; on a staircase, the helper should descend first, with their colleague's hand on their shoulder. Staff should offer assistance to visually-impaired students, if necessary, and lead them to the assembly point.  Individual PEEPs may specify persons who will provide assistance, or may require the person themselves to make others in the area aware of their needs and to enlist and direct the necessary assistance when required.  This is an example of a “buddy system”.  It will be important to nominate a deputy “buddy” and make reliable arrangements to ensure that a “buddy” is available at all times.

Note that specific provisions may be necessary within the building, such as appropriate stair markings.

5.3 Those with impaired hearing

People with impaired hearing may have difficulty in hearing a fire alarm. However, they may not be completely insensitive to sound and many people with severe impairment have sufficiently clear perception of some types of conventional audible alarm to require no special provision. Where this is not the case, in most situations there will be people about who can alert them to the need for evacuation and it will be reasonable to rely on these others to give the necessary warning (possibly as a specific “buddy system” as above).  In the Colleges, though, special arrangements and/or equipment may need to be made to alert (sleeping) residents known to have hearing problems.  Again, Individual PEEPs may specify persons who will provide assistance, or may require the person themselves to make others in the area aware of their needs and to enlist and direct the necessary assistance when required.

Note that specific provisions may be required within the building where not yet provided, such as flashing beacons or induction loop signals.


It may be possible to make a roll-call for very small buildings but, for most University buildings, this is both unreliable and impracticable due to the large flux of people into and out of buildings (especially students and visitors).  Building emergency procedures should allow for confirming full evacuation of the building insofar as is reasonably practicable, by other means such as ‘sweeping’ (positive co-ordinated checks of all areas by Fire Marshals) and collation of that data by the person in charge of the building.

Accounting for visitors is the responsibility of the host.

Those in charge of classes etc. have a responsibility to ensure the evacuation of their students, and should report that information to the person in charge of the building.

Means of escape

All means of escape – including routes, exits and places of relative safety (including designated refuges) should be available for use and kept clear of obstructions at all times.  Their design dimensions must be maintained at all times: fixtures, fittings and other items must not encroach into the designated spaces and walkways – full width (as per both leaves of cross-corridor fire doors, final exits etc.) must be maintained throughout, and wheelchair users must not be subjected to undue changes of direction.  All doors leading to, along, and at the end of escape routes should be kept unlocked during the time the building is occupied.

Legislative guidance requires that escape routes are maintained in a suitably fire-sterile condition.

There is no longer a distinction between designated escape routes and other thoroughfares – all circulation routes are regarded as escape routes.

As a general rule, siting or use of the following particular items in corridors, refuges etc. is not acceptable, and the Fire Safety and Environment Adviser should be consulted if such changes are contemplated:

  • combustible items such as furniture
  • use of electrical equipment such as printers, photocopiers, refrigerators, vending machines
  • any items that could be easily knocked over so as to obstruct the means of escape

Readily combustible materials such as paper recycling bins should not be present in escape routes under any circumstances.

Corridor display boards, poster areas, literature racks etc. should be minimised and carefully managed.  Ideally they should be covered with transparent fire-resisting material.  If not, then paper postings should be fixed down at all four corners, and prevented from accumulating – a regular programme of removing obsolete items must be implemented.  Open pin-boards, displays and racks etc. should be well separated one from the next, should occupy only a minority of the lengthwise space available and should not be on both opposite facing sides of a corridor, to prevent flame spread.

Designated fire/smoke doors, i.e. those marked with blue and white signs such as “Fire door - keep shut" or “Automatic fire door – keep clear”, are provided as essential safeguards against the spread of smoke and fire.  The use of wedges or anything else (other than holdback devices which release automatically on activation of the fire alarm system) to hold open these self-closing doors, even temporarily, must be prevented.  A regular programme of checking the efficacy of self-closing and release devices is undertaken by Maintenance staff.  Any problems noted in between these checks should be reported promptly.

All the above matters should be checked on a weekly informal basis.  Defects should be recorded and reported for immediate corrective action.  These inspections are typically assigned to Fire Marshals.

Further guidance is available in the document 'Escape routes - advice and guidance'

Fire alarm Systems

All major buildings on campus have a fire alarm system installed which is subject to routine checking at a set time on a weekly basis by the Maintenance staff.  Alarm sounds vary and building users must be familiarised with them. Staff, and students where appropriate, must be aware of this routine testing.  In the unlikely event that an emergency coincides with the routine test, the alarm will continue to sound; hence, the occupants of the building must follow the evacuation procedures if the ‘test’ takes longer than usual.

In small buildings where there is no installed fire alarm system, the Head of School/Department must ensure that a suitable method of raising the alarm is used.  The use of a whistle or a handbell might be appropriate if shouting is considered an insufficient warning.

The fire alarm system in most buildings is connected to the Security control room.  In buildings NOT connected (this information will be contained in the building Fire Emergency Plan) a telephone call on Ext. 3333 must be made to summon Security and the Fire and Rescue Service in an emergency.

Fire-fighting equipment

All buildings have been provided with suitable fire-fighting equipment - portable extinguishers and/or fire blankets as appropriate.  Some hose reels remain but are being progressively removed as a matter of policy.  Although it is thought that an adequate supply of the correct type of equipment is available in each building, change of use of an area or the introduction of new equipment may necessitate a review of the fire extinguisher provision.  In such cases, the Fire Safety and Environment Adviser should be consulted.

It is obviously vital for safety that all fire extinguishers should be maintained in a state of immediate readiness and it is the duty of Heads of School/Department to ensure that this is so for the areas under their control.  Extinguishers which have been discharged must be recharged or replaced as quickly as possible (this is carried out by the Maintenance Section) and there must be a local reporting procedure to accomplish this; building occupants must be familiar with the procedure.  Vandalism is regrettably occasionally a problem and all University members should be aware that they have a duty to discourage this practice and to report anyone interfering with any fire equipment.

A programme of regular maintenance is required to help ensure that all extinguishers are in good working order.  Maintenance staff arrange annual testing and maintenance of all fire equipment.

University policy also requires that Heads of School/Department arrange for monthly recorded inspections of their portable fire extinguishers. This  inspection is not of a technical nature and requires confirmation that:

  • the extinguisher is in its correct place;
  • it has not suffered from any obvious damage or deterioration;
  • its tamper-evident seal or tag, and pin, are intact;
  • its dial gauge, where fitted, displays the correct pressure;
  • it feels about its "normal weight" (most types of extinguishers are substantially lighter after discharge); and
  • the last test/maintenance recorded was within the previous twelve months.

A record of the inspection should be made; any defects should be noted and reported through the usual channels (including Estates Helpdesk and Fire-Related Incident Report form).

In addition, nominated persons (typically Fire Marshals) should make similar weekly informal checks in the areas they are responsible for.  These weekly checks are unrecorded unless a defect is found.

It can be dangerous to use some types of extinguisher on certain types of fire.  Brief details of fire extinguisher use are given in the Addendum.

Instruction and training

Instruction and training for all building occupants is a vital component of a fire safety programme and detailed advice is given in Safety Note "Fire safety instruction and training

Fire prevention methods

Good housekeeping, fire safety awareness and sensible fire precautions will reduce the likelihood of a fire occurring.  Most fires can be prevented and the common causes include arson, electrical equipment which is faulty or misused, smoking materials, accumulation of combustible rubbish, cooking and carelessness by people whether they be employees, students, contractors, etc.

Everyone should be encouraged to bring hazards to the attention of a suitable person, such as their supervisor or a School/Departmental Safety Co-ordinator.

Electrical equipment

Adherence to the University's policy and advice on the use and maintenance of electrical equipment will minimise the risk of fire (see policy documents "The Electricity at Work Regulations, 1989 - University Policy and Implementation" and Safety Note 7 "Inspection and testing of portable electrical appliances" and the Fire Safety Advice note for all staff).

Combustible materials such as paper, cardboard and textiles must be kept at least ½ metre from all electrical equipment including lamps, photocopiers and printers.

Legislative guidance indicates against the presence of electrical equipment and other sources of heat or ignition in escape routes but, subject to local fire risk assessment by the Fire Safety and Environment Adviser, these may in some cases be tolerated – see “Means Of Escape” above.


Careless disposal of smoking materials is one of the main causes of fire.  Smoking is prohibited in all buildings but care and vigilance should be maintained, both inside and outside buildings, especially regarding general rubbish bins and outdoor ashtrays.

Combustible material

Fire loadings (overall amounts of combustible materials) should be kept to a workable minimum in all rooms.  Books, files, cartons etc. should not be allowed to proliferate and accumulate to excessive levels.

Flammable materials must be kept in approved fire resisting cabinets.  (N.B. their storage and use should also be risk assessed under other safety, and possibly environmental, legislation.)

Escape corridors, stairways, open areas under stairs and lobbies etc. must be kept clear of all combustible material including rubbish and stored furniture etc.  Waste should be removed promptly to avoid accumulations and the bulk waste store should be clear of the building.  See also “Means Of Escape” above.


Contractors must be made aware of the need to avoid blocking escape routes and fire exits with their equipment and to keep fire/smoke doors closed.  They must be informed about the action to be taken in the event of a fire.
Major works may require specific Fire Risk Assessments and Emergency Plans for the duration of the work, depending on its nature and extent.

Building works may require the temporary disabling of parts of fire alarm systems, in particular detectors.  This should preferably be effected solely at the Control Panel so that status is always readily apparent and managed.  However, in some cases it will be necessary to achieve this by sealing off individual detectors:  in these cases it is paramount that all such seals are removed immediately on completion of the work.

Close supervision is essential if "hot work" such as welding, grinding or use of a blow lamp is being undertaken.  The appropriate Head(s) of School/Department must ensure that the location of such work is checked to make sure that all material which could be easily ignited has been removed or suitably protected.  Suitable extinguishers should be readily available.  Checks must be made at the (daily) end of the work, up to one hour after completion to ensure that materials are not smouldering.

Works may require contractors to have dangerous substances temporarily present in a building.  A system should be set up to ensure that full information can be passed to the Fire and Rescue Service in the event of a fire emergency, along with details of any other dangerous substances which are normally present (these details will be identified or referred to in the Fire Emergency Plan).  Appropriate persons (e.g. Receptionist, Building Fire Officer, Security Supervisor, Chief or local Fire Marshal) should therefore be informed of materials, quantities, hazards and locations.  They should also be positively informed when the materials have been removed from the building.

Other emergency procedures

Bomb threats and other building emergencies are detailed in other documentation.

Addendum - Portable fire extinguishers

In addition to the requirement to provide nominated, fully trained persons to use fire fighting equipment as necessary, fire safety legislation and official guidance requires Responsible Persons to give all persons basic information in the principles of use of fire extinguishers – in case they are forced to use one to effect their escape.

There are various types of fire extinguisher and it is vital to ensure that the correct one is used for any given fire.  This is covered in Safety, Health and Environment Unit training courses, but the most immediate way to give this information locally is to point out and make reference to the pictorial icons to be found on fire extinguishers:

suitable for wood, paper, textiles etc suitable for wood, paper, textiles etc.

suitable for flammable liquids suitable for flammable liquids

suitable for flammable gases suitable for flammable gases

suitable for live electrical equipment suitable for live electrical equipment

suitable for cooking oil fires etc suitable for cooking oil fires etc.