Thursday, January 3, 2013
Unblock Those Exits Please!
Each time I go into a restaurant, banquet hall or other venue that normally provides seating for a large number of people, I quickly scan the room for the emergency exits. It’s an old habit I developed as a retired career firefighter, one that I used to do almost without thinking. These days, however, I find I’m thinking about it a lot more.
Over the recent holidays, I’ve noticed more emergency exits that are blocked by a full set of table and chairs. One was blocked by a large TV monitor on a stand that, though portable, would have taken someone considerable effort and time to move. Still one other blocked exit had a fully decorated Christmas Tree (see above) just to the side which completely hid the only fire extinguisher in the room.
You don’t have to be a Fire Inspector to realize that any location with a required fully lit “EXIT” sign is also required to keep that exit clear of all obstructions as well. National fire codes are full of life-safety related requirements that were written following one of several major tragedies in the workplace, in schools and in places of public assembly. Many of those were written after incidents where piles of burned corpses were found stacked against a locked or blocked exit.
I know I should be more understanding of the restaurant owner trying to maximize profits by filling what would otherwise be an open space, but I’m more concerned about the disregard for customer and employee safety. I’m also disillusioned about the lack of responsibility shown by the many fire service professionals that I’m sure frequent these establishments and turn a blind eye to the hazard.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to pass on a friendly tip to the manager that blocking emergency exits not only puts their customers and employees at risk, but may even save them a visit from the local Fire Inspector. In those areas served by volunteer departments, and not able to support a Fire Prevention Bureau, it falls on the volunteers themselves to extend their dedication one additional step to help educate local business owners who ignore this important safety rule. They’re protecting their own families as well.
These days we’re concerned about guns in public, violence in the workplace and malls, and even dedicate TV news segments on unhealthy kitchens. Why not spend a minute or two to ask local owners and managers to keep our emergency exits clear? Don’t like confrontation? Take a photo with your phone and share with the local FD.
If those responsible for local enforcement won’t do it, you and I should.