Churches should consider seniors in planning fire escape routescomment (0)
October 5, 2006
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
Three years ago this month, the members of First Baptist Church, Fairhope, in Baldwin Baptist Association had an alarming experience during their Wednesday night fellowship meal.
That day, workers had been removing asbestos in the sanctuary ceiling. Though part of the sanctuary was sealed off, prayer meeting was going to take place there as usual.
But in the sealed-off area, workers had stuffed rags into recessed lighting fixtures to keep out dust. When the lights were turned on, the heat ignited the rags, which then dropped to the floor and started a fire that destroyed the sanctuary.
Brent Shaw, minister of education and administration for First, Fairhope, said the evacuation of the building went well and everyone stayed calm.
“We had several hundred people in the fellowship hall adjoining the church, but everybody was pretty much on the ground floor,” he said.
Like many Alabama Baptist churches, First, Fairhope, has a large number of senior adult members. According to Alabama State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk, churches need to make sure the oldest and youngest members are considered in the event of a fire emergency.
“As we get older, it takes us longer to do what we did when we were younger,” he said. Church leaders need to consider how they would evacuate their less able-bodied members, Paulk said.
One way to do this is to locate classes and activities for senior adults and very young children on the ground level to allow for a quicker exit from the building.
A smooth evacuation is essential, Paulk said, because the most common cause of mass casualties in a fire is when someone falls and everyone behind that person gets stopped as well.
To help church members locate exits, churches should install emergency lighting in hallways and stairwells, Paulk said.
Another aid is to post evacuation maps with highlighted exits throughout the church facilities, he noted. These maps can be especially helpful to those unfamiliar with the church’s layout, such as visitors or new members.
Although some might think church fires are rare, there have been at least 150 church fires in Alabama since 1990, according to Paulk.
The string of church arsons in west Alabama earlier this year increased awareness of the importance of fire safety for churches, said Gary Farley, director of missions for Pickens Baptist Association. Farley ministered to some of the pastors of the burned churches in Pickens County and nearby areas. He said leaders in some churches, especially those in rural, isolated areas, installed alarm systems with monitoring services to protect their buildings.
Paulk added that churches should have smoke detectors installed and fire extinguishers available to provide early warning and protection.
Sprinkler systems, fire alarms and extinguishers must be maintained and utilized in order to be effective and ensure the ability of individuals to get out of a burning building, he said.
Another aid to a speedy exit is to properly store items, Paulk said. “So often we go into buildings where people have stored things in hallways or stairwells, and that limits access to those exits.” Although there is little churches can do to avoid fires that are intentionally set, Paulk said accidental fires often can be prevented. Many accidental fires result from improper construction on new buildings or a lack of maintaining existing buildings, he explained. “Church buildings are subject to state regulation, and to that end, they must comply with building and fire codes to ensure the safety of the people,” Paulk said.
Extension cords are another common cause of accidental fires, he said. Extension cords used on a regular basis are easily damaged and so are more prone to overheating.
For more infomation, contact Paulk’s office at 334-241-4166 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.