Child care centers are vital hubs for children’s development and learning. Alongside their essential educational role, these facilities carry a significant responsibility for ensuring the safety and well-being of children, particularly during emergencies. Fire evacuations, in particular, require thorough planning and preparation to ensure everyone’s safety. Fire emergencies are a very real threat for child care centers, and the statistics paint a sobering picture. In the United States, there are approximately 1,200 fires in daycare facilities each year. These fires result in an average of three child deaths and more than 100 child injuries annually. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the critical aspects of fire evacuation preparedness for child care centers.
Table of Contents
- What Are the Fire Evacuation R.A.C.E. Steps?
- Special Plans and Accountability for All Children
- Knowing Safe Areas, Evacuation Routes, Temporary Shelter, and Transportation Plans
- Standard Drill Guidelines for Child Care Centers
What Are the Fire Evacuation R.A.C.E. Steps?
In the unfortunate event of a fire occurring in a child care center facility, the presence of a well-defined and organized response plan is of utmost importance. The R.A.C.E. acronym offers a straightforward and efficient framework for individuals to adhere to when facing a fire emergency.
While these are in order of priority, these should be done at the same time by multiple staff members. Ideally they all happen simultaneously but if we have to choose, we must go in order of priority.
Let’s delve into the R.A.C.E. steps and grasp their importance in guaranteeing the safety of both children and staff:
The first step in the R.A.C.E. procedure is “Rescue.” In the event of a fire emergency, this step emphasizes the immediate removal of individuals from the area where the fire is located. In a child care center, this involves both the children and staff members.
Why is it important?
Speed is Critical: Fires can spread rapidly, and every second counts. Removing individuals from the vicinity of the fire as quickly as possible is paramount to their safety.
How to Implement Step 1:
Calm and Orderly Evacuation: Maintain a sense of calm during the evacuation process. Ensure that staff members are trained to lead children in an orderly fashion, without causing panic. You should have special plans for evacuation for infants, toddlers, and children with special needs.
Account for Everyone: Staff should account for each child and ensure no one is left behind. Establish a clear system for tracking children during an evacuation.
Designated Meeting Point: Have a predetermined assembly point at a safe distance from the building where everyone can gather after the evacuation. You should have a primary and secondary plan. Meaning having a plan A (usually the playground) and plan B (usually the parking lot).
The second step in the R.A.C.E. procedure is “Alarm.” Once the evacuation process has begun, it’s vital to ensure that the alarm is pulled promptly and that all individuals within the child care center are alerted to the fire emergency. While this also calls 911, in most cases it is important to also call 911 yourself to verify they got the alert and answer any questions they may have.
Why is it important?
Alerting Everyone: Sounding the alarm serves to alert the occupants and start the evacuation. Allowing everyone to know at the same time. Additionally, calling 911 will get help on the way.
How to Implement Step 2:
Use Fire Alarms: Modern child care centers are equipped with fire alarm systems. If the alarm has not gone off from a smoke alarm or other trigger, you can pull the alarm manually.
Considerations for Child Care Centers:
Regular Maintenance: Ensure that fire alarm systems are regularly inspected and maintained to avoid malfunction. You are required to have it professionally maintained once a year.
Training: Staff should be trained to operate alarm systems and understand when to activate them.
Communication: Establish a clear system for staff members to communicate with each other to confirm the alarm has been raised.
The third step in the R.A.C.E. procedure is “Contain.” This step involves efforts to Contain the fire by closing doors and windows, where possible, to prevent its spread. In a child care center, this is a crucial step to limit the fire’s reach.
Why is it important?
Containment: By confining the fire, you prevent it from spreading to other areas of the facility. This containment buys time for evacuation and firefighting efforts. This works by cutting off the flow of oxygen to the fire, which is one of the components of the fire triangle. This also can help with preventing the spread of fire damage, helping to save more of the building. As you can see in the picture below, a simple closed door can help significantly.
How to Implement Step 3:
Close Doors and windows: Staff should close any door and window as they pass by in their evacuation. This will help contain the spread of the fire. If you have fire doors in your building, they must be never be propped open unless you have hardware that will close the door automatically if the alarm is pulled.
Do Not Lock Doors: While doors should be closed, they should not be locked. This ensures that firefighters and staff can re-enter rooms or areas if necessary.
Considerations for Child Care Centers:
Fire-Resistant Doors: Consider installing fire-resistant doors in critical areas to delay fire penetration. Additionally, if you want to prop these doors open, you will need hardware that is connected to the fire alarm so they can be closed automatically.
Clear Evacuation Routes: Ensure that evacuation routes remain clear and unobstructed for safe passage.
The fourth step in the R.A.C.E. procedure is “Extinguish.” While extinguishing a fire is typically the responsibility of trained firefighters, child care center staff can take initial actions to extinguish a small, manageable fire if safe to do so.
Why is it important?
Immediate Response: For small fires, quick action can prevent the situation from escalating.
Safety: It’s important to remember that personal safety and the safety of children come first. Only if it’s safe and manageable should you attempt to extinguish the fire.
How to Implement Step 4:
Use a Fire Extinguisher: Child care centers should have fire extinguishers accessible. Staff trained in their use can attempt to put out small fires. P.A.S.S. Method: Remember the P.A.S.S. method when using a fire extinguisher: Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep from side to side.
Safety First: If the fire does not quickly respond to the extinguisher or starts to grow, evacuate immediately. Personal safety should never be compromised.
Special Plans and Accountability for All Children
In a child care center, every child’s safety is of paramount importance. Some children may have specific needs or require special attention during a fire emergency. It’s essential to have individualized plans in place to cater to these unique requirements. Here are key considerations:
Special Needs Children:
Identify children with special needs, such as physical disabilities, medical conditions, or cognitive challenges. Develop tailored evacuation plans that account for their individual requirements. Ensure that staff members are trained to assist these children in a calm and supportive manner. For example, if you have a child with autism due to the noise of the alarm and everything going on, it will be hard for them to evacuate. Having ear muffs for them will help them to focus on getting out. Another example is if someone with epilepsy may have a seizure triggered by the strobe lights. In this case, you need to have a sheet or blanket to do a blanket carry to get the child out.
Communication with Parents:
Maintain open lines of communication with parents or guardians to gather information about a child’s unique needs. Discuss how they prefer to be informed during an emergency, as well as any specific accommodations that their child may require. The best way to communicate is via text. This way, you can send out the same message to every parent at the same time without having to call people individually. Additionally, talking with the parents to know if they have any trauma related to fires is helpful. For example, if their child has been in a fire or been burned, they may shut down emotionally during a fire drill or real fire. Knowing this beforehand allows you to best take care of them.
For children with medical conditions, ensure that necessary medications or medical equipment are readily accessible and that staff members are trained to administer them in an emergency.
Non-English Speaking Families:
In centers with diverse populations, be aware that not all parents or guardians may be fluent in English. Ensure that your communication methods, including written materials and verbal instructions, are accessible to all families.
Develop a robust accountability plan to track the movement and safety of every child during a fire evacuation. Each staff member should be assigned specific roles in this process. A thorough headcount should be conducted at the assembly point to confirm that all children are safe and accounted for. Many centers will use the green card red card system to say if they have all their kids. Then, usually radios to communicate quickly are also helpful.
Knowing Safe Areas, Evacuation Routes, Temporary Shelter, and Transportation Plans
Safe Areas and Evacuation Routes:
In the event of a fire emergency, knowing the safe areas within the child care center and the designated evacuation routes is important. Every staff member should be well-versed in these crucial details. Safe areas are locations within the facility that offer protection from fire, such as rooms with fire-resistant doors and windows. These areas should be clearly marked and free from flammable materials.
Evacuation routes must be planned, posted, and well-known to all staff members. They should be free of obstacles and provide a clear path to safety. The routes should consider the ages of the children, ensuring that they are appropriate for carrying infants or guiding toddlers.
Temporary Shelter and Transportation Plans:
Child care centers should have well-defined temporary shelter and transportation plans. Temporary shelter plans specify the locations where children and staff will regroup in the immediate aftermath of an evacuation. These areas should be safe, easily accessible, and well-protected from the elements. This is usually a business or other building nearby that you can go to. Churches are great options to consider as well. You should ask the facility if they are okay with being a temporary shelter, if an emergency should arise beforehand.
Furthermore, transportation plans should outline the procedure for moving children to a secondary location, if necessary. This may involve arranging buses or other transportation methods in advance. These plans should be tested through periodic drills to ensure that staff and children are familiar with the procedures.
We recommend that as a staff without the kids once a year go over to the temporary shelter as a drill. This will allow you to run into issues when there isn’t a real emergency. Practice makes perfect, and that is no different here.
Standard Drill Guidelines for Child Care Centers
Maintaining a safe environment at a child care center involves more than just having plans in place; regular drills and practice are essential to ensure that everyone knows how to respond in emergencies. Here are the standard guidelines for conducting drills for child care facilities in Georgia:
Fire drills should be conducted at least once a month, and these should be unannounced to mimic real emergency situations. Ensure that every staff member, including support staff, is familiar with the fire alarm system and knows how to lead children to the designated safe areas and evacuation routes. You should vary the time of the drill so you can get better at even the difficult times to do a drill.
Tornado drills should be held at least 2 times a year, ideally during different seasons. Tornado drills are particularly important for regions prone to severe weather. Staff should practice guiding children to the safest areas in the building, away from windows and any potential flying debris.
Off-Site Evacuation Drills:
Off-site evacuation drills should be conducted at one time a year. This is not required but we recommend it. This is staff only. However, we recommend you take the cribs and anything you would take in a real life example. This allows you to run into trouble areas when there isn’t a fire. Ensure that transportation plans are in place, and staff is trained to manage children during off-site evacuations. If you are needing to get in a vehicle, make sure someone is trained to get the keys every time there is a fire drill.
Do You or Your Child Care Facility Need to Take Fire Safety In Georgia?
In Georgia, all staff members of a child care facility are required to take a Fire Safety course every 3 years by Bright from the Start and the Georgia Fire Marshal guidelines.
We have provided Fire Safety training in Georgia for over 23 years that is catered to child care professionals. We have in person and online options to get Fire Safety certified. If you would like to host a Fire Safety class, click here. If you would like to join a class or sign up your team for an online or in person class, click here.