By Carlie Connolly
This week’s fire prevention week has many learning about safety and what to do in cases when fire is involved. Schools are especially cautious when it comes to teaching kids with drills and different safety measures in case of an emergency.
Prairie Rose School Division has many procedures and protocols put in place for any sort of emergency, and does a lot of work with the staff and students around that.
Janine Tolhurst, the health and safety operations coordinator for the division said that they have an online emergency preparedness program in which they pay close attention to.
“It actually addresses pretty much any emergency situation you could conceive of,” she said.
At the start of each year, everyone gets a classroom orientation and school orientation to know what the drills look like in the school and what emergencies they can prepare for. They comply with Alberta Fire Codes.
There has to be a minimum of six fire drills in the school year. Three must take place in the beginning and three in the second part of the school year.
The schools have a lot of different things they do to discuss fire drills and safety in the classroom.
“When we talk about fire drills, we do specifically talk a lot about fires but we actually call them evacuation drills, because you could be leaving the school for a number of different reasons, and they may not always be a fire.” Tolhurst said.
A basic fire routine occurs right when the bell goes off. The school uses the approach of teacher first, teacher last. Teacher first goes to the door, scans the hallways for hazards and selects the appropriate route (primary evacuation route or a secondary route if need be). The teacher will then hold the door until the entire class goes through, leading off with their most calm and responsible student. Students are then taught to watch for hazards as they go, to lightly touch doors before they open them if they have to go through. The teacher counts the students as they exit the room and makes sure everyone is out and they then leave the room last (teacher last part). When leaving, they leave the door closed; they leave the lights alone because if it’s a gas leak, it could cause an explosion by activating an electrical switch. They take their emergency classroom folder with them that has all their emergency information and they have a status card that they leave outside the door on the floor to indicate the status of that room for emergency responses coming in later.
Students all meet outside of the school at their various muster points. Students line up in their gathering area while teachers take attendance using the status card to report whether they are all there (missing people, extra people), and they then wait for further instructions from the incident commander.
They use the ICS (Incident Command System), which is used to help manage emergency incidents and planned events. All of the schools’ emergency procedures are based on this. They don’t use terms like teacher, principal or librarian. They use incident commander or student supervision leader, which are the same sort of terms that emergency services use globally and throughout North America.
In terms of fire prevention week, they do talk a lot about fires but also prepare students for other scenarios like a gas leak to evacuate for.
Emergency evacuation refers to the idea of: It’s safer to be outside the building then inside the building.
Teachers go through all of the different reasons for evacuation with the students, like discussing scenarios of gas leaks or a bad storm that causes roof damage to the school where it may no longer be safe for students to be in.
After all of these different drills are complete, Tolhurst receives the log sheets after fire drills, evacuations and lockdowns. One copy is kept at the school, and one is given to her. These are if something went wrong, like if they needed to change their procedure, if muster points aren’t working or if the PA system is down to help keep the drills maintained properly and safely.
Tolhurst said students get really involved with the drills and everything has been going smoothly so far.
“From the stories that I’ve heard, they even come up with ideas on their own. They really want to take it to that next level all the time to make it more real and more believable.”
The teachers and leaders talk to students a lot about, “don’t practice for the drill, practice for the real situation,” and students have been responding best to that.