Ask a Firefighter

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2003

Editor's note: The Peninsula Clarion is expanding its "Ask a Trooper" column to include the emergency service agencies in the central Kenai Peninsula area. This includes the Kenai and Soldotna police departments, Central Emergency Services, Kenai and Nikiski fire departments, as well as Alaska State Troopers. If you have a question about safety issues, state law or general emergency information, send it to the Clarion by e-mail to, mail it to P.O. Box 3009, Kenai, AK 99611 or drop it by the Clarion offices in Kenai or Soldotna. Questions will be forwarded to the appropriate agency.

Today's question is answered by the Kenai Fire Department.

Question: If I am in a public building and there is a fire, what should I do?

Answer: The deadly nightclub fire in Rhode Island has brought to light many fire safety issues.

As with any life safety concern, it is essential to recognize the hazards. It became apparent even as flames were climbing the walls of the Station bar, not everyone was convinced this was a dangerous situation and as the atmosphere within the bar deteriorated, fear and panic prevailed.

As the crowd began to comprehend the severity of the situation and started to empty the building, something devastating occurred that resulted in exits being blocked and lives being lost.

It is human nature to exit the same way a person entered an establishment. In an emergency, this may not be the fastest or safest way to get out.

As was witnessed in a Chicago nightclub, emergencies in crowds lead to panic, and panic leads to injury or worse.

When in a public building that you may not be familiar with, find alternate exits. If the crowd grows to the point you don't feel safe, leave! There is no reason to feel fear when out for an evening. Decide what you are comfortable with and whether you feel safe.

Feeling safe and being assured of your family's well being is partially a personal responsibility in restaurants, nightclubs or any business where large crowds gather.

Local commercial buildings are inspected regularly. They are given a limit for occupant load that determines how many people can safely gather compared to the number of exits. Educate yourself on where those exits are and stay aware of what's happening around you. The contractor can put them there, the business can keep them clear, but if patrons do not take notice of them they are useless.

Emergencies and evacuation of the workplace also involve personal responsibility. Don't take it for granted that there is an emergency plan in place and that everyone knows the drill. Talk to your employer about the possibility of an emergency happening during the work day. Have safety meetings with all employees, including part time help. Discuss a plan for safe evacuation of your business, and include a meeting place outside. Discuss and post emergency phone numbers for notification of key people.

Take responsibility to be sure that emergency exits are clear for you and your patrons. Ask questions of local officials. Talk with your local fire department about your building and problems they might encounter if there was a medical emergency, fire or even a carbon monoxide or smoke detector going off.

All these measures will add to your safety.

Today's question was answered by Kenai Asst. Fire Chief Mike Tilly. He can be reached at or by calling 283-7666.

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