Risk Management: Fire Prevention and Safety at Camp, Part II

by Ed Schirick

In Part One of "Fire Prevention and Safety at Camp," in the last issue of Camping Magazine, you learned some of the regulations and standards that must be considered when developing a written fire prevention and safety plan and you identified potential fire hazards. Part Two focuses on developing a written fire prevention and safety plan and creating an emergency action plan.

Develop a Written Fire Prevention and Safety Plan

Directors are responsible for the big picture, for the overall operation of the business. As a result, it is easy for the director to succumb to the temptation of writing the fire prevention and safety plan for the camp and presenting it to the staff as gospel. Resist this temptation if at all possible! Experience has demonstrated that the more input you get from others on risk management projects like this, the better and more comprehensive the result.

Start a list and share it
Start with the list of fire hazards and risks you identified previously as part of the risk management process. Share them with your key management staff and year-round employees, including caretakers. Ask them to review your list and add to it from their own perspective and experience. The objectives of this process are to:

  • expand everyone's awareness
  • focus on the goal of protecting the camp's assets through an aggressive plan of prevention
  • protect the campers and staff from injuries in a fire.

Once you have a revised list of fire hazards, evaluate the potential for loss and decide how to prevent, minimize, or manage each one. Keep your staff involved in this phase. Get their input on how to handle the fire risks and hazards you have jointly identified, and establish policies and practices. Some of these will be general, others specific to the hazard and risk involved.

An example of a general fire prevention policy might be that no smoking will be allowed in camp. Another might be that you will trim brush back fifty feet from camp buildings to reduce the potential for a fire spreading from one building to another. An example of a specific fire prevention policy could be that you will install an exhaust system, grease filters, and a dry chemical fire extinguishing system over all cooking surfaces in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association standard. In addition, you will have this system inspected and recharged annually by a fire systems contractor.

Put your policies in writing and incorporate the prevention and safety practices into your staff manual and training schedules. Seek input from your seasonal staff as you review this issue with them during staff training. Fire prevention and safety is everyone's job, so the more you communicate and seek help from others in maintaining a safe environment, the better your chances of accomplishing your objectives.

Form a safety committee
One way to enlist staff in the process of managing risk, to assign responsibility for fire prevention and safety, and at the same time to comply with OSHA requirements is to establish a safety committee. The committee consists of employees who help with risk identification and safety promotion and communicate with the staff about risk management and safety. The safety committee can help increase awareness and educate staff and campers about fire prevention and safety. The basis of the safety committee's training and education will come from the risk identification, risk reduction, and control work the director and key staff did earlier.

Create an Emergency Action Plan

No fire prevention and safety plan would be complete without an emergency action or crisis response plan. Planning your response in an emergency should be done in advance when time can be taken to consider the issues clearly and calmly.

Escape procedures and route assignments
Your emergency action plan for fire should include emergency escape procedures and route assignments. The most important task for staff is to make sure that campers are safe. Once this is determined, staff and campers should assemble at some point a safe distance away from the fire. Roll call should be taken to ensure that everyone is safe. Consider that you may need at least one alternate assembly point in case the escape route is blocked or an assembly point puts campers too close to the fire.

These procedures work best when they are practiced and reviewed regularly with the staff. Also, have fire drills a couple of times during the summer when all campers are in camp so they become familiar with the procedures.

Sounding the alarm
You also must decide in advance how you will sound an alarm at camp. Do you have a means of communication that reaches all areas of camp? Is there a signal that will be recognized by everyone as a fire emergency? How will you let the staff know to implement the emergency action plan? Other issues include whether you want your summer staff to fight the fire until the local fire department arrives.

Many camp directors choose not to have counselors attempt to fight the fire beyond discharging a portable fire extinguisher if they are the first to discover the fire. Other camp directors have formed fire brigades and provided training for staff to learn how to keep the fire from spreading. This usually involves wetting down the roof and the outside of the building as well as adjacent buildings exposed to the fire. If you choose to take this approach, realize that OSHA has very specific training requirements for employees who are on a fire brigade. Information on OSHA fire brigade standards may be found at www.osha.gov.

Additional considerations
Ask yourself and your staff these important questions:

  • How will you notify the fire department?
  • Who will meet the arriving fire trucks at the front gate?
  • Where will your command center be?
  • What if your command center is in the building on fire?
  • Who should you call after you call the fire department?
  • Where are the phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and fax numbers?
  • Who will coordinate these activities? If it is the director, what happens if the director is away from camp or injured in the fire?
  • How will you keep campers safe and occupied during the fire?
  • Where will you house campers and staff if the bunkhouses were involved in the fire?
  • How will you feed everyone if the dining hall is damaged or destroyed?
  • How will you notify parents about the incident?
  • How will you manage the media?

Add your own "what-if" questions to the list, and consider all of these issues when preparing your camp emergency action plan for fire. Prepare now before the emergency strikes so you will be better prepared to take confident action.

Originally published in the 1999 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.