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Fire Procedures

The Department Code of Practice is here.

The Department has Fire Wardens whose job it is to ensure that their allocated part of the Department has been cleared when the fire alarm sounds. The Fire Warden Handbook (2015) is here.

Fire Precautions in the Department of Physics


This page outlines the main precautions in the Department to prevent fire, the detection system, and the systems that have been devised to minimise the probability of loss of life in the event of fire or the loss of property. A second document, the Cavendish 'Fire Wardens Handbook', is issued to Fire Wardens, giving them more information about their role.


1. Reducing the Risk of Fire
  • Housekeeping
  • Space heating and lighting
  • Flammable liquids
  • Gas stores
  • Electricity
  • Grinding, welding, etc
2. The Fire Precautions in the Building
  • The electronic system
  • Smoke/heat detectors
  • Compartmentalisation
  • Escape routes
3. Procedure in the Event of Fire
  • Alarms
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Calling the fire brigade
  • Evacuation and assembly areas
  • Visitors (short-term) to the Department
  • Persons of impaired mobility or other significant problems
  • The role of the fire wardens
  • The role of the staff at reception
  • The role of the emergency team
  • Lecture theatres
4. Special Procedures
  • Fire practices
  • Examinations and special events
Appendix A Instructions to staff
Appendix B Fire extinguisher chart
Appendix C Plan of the site showing assembly areas and emergency exits
Appendix D Visitors Card
Appendix E Examination procedure

1 Reducing the Risk of Fire

1.1 Housekeeping

The biggest contribution that you can make to the prevention of fire is in your approach to housekeeping. Make sure that you:

  • Are tidy in your workplace
  • Remove all combustible waste promptly (e.g. packing materials, used tissues)
  • Do not keep empty packing cases for longer than is strictly necessary. Do not leave them in the corridor, on the tops of cupboards, conduits, etc!

1.2 Space Heating and Lighting

Many fires are started by portable heaters. Ensure that the heaters you use are the approved type, which are properly guarded. Place them where they cannot be knocked over. Ensure that nothing can fall onto the heater and become overheated - never hang clothes or dishcloths over the heater.

Electric heaters draw a considerable current - ensure that the lead is adequate, and that if you use an extension lead you do not overload it, or coil it up, thereby causing it to overheat and set light to the carpet!

Lighting in the laboratories is by fluorescent tube, but many people will have ordinary electric light bulbs at their home. These are capable of igniting materials such as card or paper, if these are placed too close to the bulb - keep paper and cardboard boxes well clear of light fittings.

1.3 Flammable Liquids

Liquids that are flammable or highly flammable should be stored in purpose-built flammable liquid stores. These are generally metal cabinets, with a clear label on the outside. The shelves of these stores usually have a rim, so that the contents of broken bottles do not spill out - this gives the shelf the appearance of being 'upside down'. Don't turn the shelf up the other way!

DO NOT place oxidising substances, or other chemicals, in the same store. Unfortunately, the symbols are easily confused.


(left) These are the symbols for an oxidising substance


which have these symbols (right)






Only have the minimum quantities of such liquids out in a room at any time - a wash-bottle full or, if you are a large user, roughly what you need in a day.

Never store more than an aggregate of 50 litres of flammable and very highly flammable liquids in any workroom. In calculating this aggregate, you must include any waste.

When you are using flammable liquids, ensure that you limit the amount that you can spill - use a tray or bunded area for transferring large quantities. Keep containers closed when not in use. When you carry flammable liquids, make sure they are in closed containers. (There have been several serious accidents due to people accidentally spilling highly flammable liquids from open containers when carrying them about).

1.4 Gas Stores

Gases that are not in current use should be stored in the purpose-built gas store adjacent to the Link building. There are rules regarding segregation in this area:

  • Fuel gases and oxygen should either be separated by a fire-resisting wall, or separated by at least 3 m.
  • Hydrogen should be separated from other fuel gases by a distance of 1 m.
  • LPG in excess of 50 kg should be 3m or more away from any other compressed gas.
  • Empty cylinders should be stored separately from full cylinders, but still segregated by type as above.
  • NEVER place oil, paint, petrol or corrosive liquids in the gas store.
  • There must be no smoking or naked lights in the area of the gas store.

1.5 Electricity

While it is unlikely that you will be electrocuted by low voltage, high current supplies, they present a serious risk of fire. Ensure that all current carrying conductors are adequate for their purpose, and that there is no possibility of the current flowing, unintended, through a conductor that is too small - remember, you can light a fire with a torch battery and some wire wool!

1.6 Grinding, Welding, etc

In normal operation, welding, grinding and other work, giving rise to flames, hot material or sparks should only be done in designated areas. These areas will have been designed to have as little combustible material as possible, and the housekeeping arrangements should ensure that this status is preserved. The author has witnessed fires arise from a) grinding operations close to a plastic dustbin filled with oily paper waste, and b) oxy-propane cutting where a broom had been left in the path of the sparks.

Serious fires often arise as a result of maintenance or construction work. Here hot work is often being done away from a designated area, and strenuous efforts must be made to remove all flammable material. Work of this nature may only be done under the conditions of a hot work permit, which will specify the precautions to be taken before, during and after the work has finished. The permit to work system is operated by Keith Matthews.

2 The Fire Precautions in the Building

2.1 The Electronic System

In the reception area, there is the main control panel for the fire system. This panel communicates with several slave panels scattered throughout the site. The system consists of smoke detectors (the norm) or heat detectors (in a few rooms), which are located in virtually every room on the premises.

Except in the Microelectronics and Kapitza (formerly IRC) Buildings, each detector is individually addressed, and once triggered, an audible signal is given off at reception, and the information regarding the location, and the nature of the triggering event is displayed at a panel inside reception and on the main panel in the reception area of the Bragg Building. The slave panels will also be giving off audible signals and showing the information. In the daytime, reception staff will immediately call the Emergency Team to deal with this.

There are four conditions:

  • 'normal', which denotes there are no detected problems.
  • 'fault' - which indicates that a detector appears to be faulty or missing
  • 'pre-alarm' - which indicates a possible fire condition.
  • 'fire' - which indicates the system has detected fire.

If the equipment has gone into 'fault' or 'pre-alarm', it may be possible to prevent the system from going into fire, if the condition can be rectified. The Emergency Team (in daytime) or Security (at night) will respond.

A signal denoting 'Fire' will relay to Security, who will respond, day or night. They summon the Fire Brigade.

The system is tested each Monday morning before 8.30am. From a number of call points within each of the buildings the system is triggered to fire, so that we can establish over a period of time that every point works. The alarms only ring for approximately 20 seconds on these tests, and evacuation is not required at this time. Please report to Jane Blunt or Keith Matthews any part of the system that does not appear to work, or any area where you cannot hear the alarms adequately.

There is also emergency lighting in most corridor areas of the laboratory. This automatically becomes active if the power fails (but not when we switch the lights off). An indication that an emergency light is in good working order is that there is a red indicator light visible. If any emergency light appears to have failed, please notify the Laboratory Superintendent.

2.2 Smoke/heat Detectors

Like all equipment, detectors sometimes go wrong. They may then trigger either a fault condition - which sends an alarm to the main panel and the satellite panels, or if we are unlucky it may trigger a full fire alarm. In the daytime, we can respond very quickly to replace or disable the faulty detector, but this can be more difficult at night. If a fault has developed at night which is setting the alarms off there is no alternative than to leave the building altogether. You cannot remain in a building with a faulty fire system, because you will have no way of knowing whether the alarms are real or due to the fault. Security will be attempting to find the fault, and getting whatever help is needed to rectify it.

Other false alarms are generally due to dust. For this reason, contractors will occasionally 'bag off' a detector with an orange cap (or a latex glove!!). These should not normally be left on overnight. Please tell Keith Matthews if this has happened, and/or Jane Blunt.

2.3 Compartmentalisation

To prevent the spread of fire, the buildings are compartmentalised. That is, there are fire resisting barriers between adjacent areas of the building. At a casual glance it is not obvious where these compartments are, because of the false ceilings, but a compartment boundary would have the wall extend above the ceiling, sealing it off.

A hole as small as 50 mm can breach the integrity of a compartment and allow fire to go from one area to another virtually unimpeded. It is therefore important that all building work and alteration must be agreed with the Laboratory Superintendent, and finished to a suitable standard.

Most of the buildings have large doors in the corridors, held back by magnetic catches. Once the fire alarm sounds these doors are released and should close automatically. It is important to avoid obstructing these doors by placing ladders, fire extinguishers, etc, against them.

2.4 Escape Routes

Corridors, fire exit doors and other means of escape must be kept clear at all times. You should avoid placing readily combustible items, such as paper recycling bins in the corridors.

Out of hours, most doors are closed with magnetic locks, but these can be opened in an emergency. The magnetically locked doors are opened by pressing the glass in the green boxes. Emergency fire exits can be opened by following the instructions printed on them (e.g. 'press bar to open').

3 Procedure in the Event of Fire

3.1 Alarms

If the system has detected a fire and already triggered off the alarms, then personnel need take no further action except to evacuate the building in a prompt manner and go to an assembly area.

However, any person finding signs of fire, such as smoke which cannot be explained, flames, etc, should immediately take action by breaking the glass at a Fire Call Point if the alarms are not already sounding. They should then leave the building by the shortest route, and report to the Duty Officer at the reception area of the Bragg Building to inform him/her of what has been done. (This helps in completing the investigation later). The instructions to staff are in Appendix A.

3.2 Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are, in general, positioned on the escape routes. They are usually close to Fire Call Points, the red boxes that have a break glass for setting off the fire alarm.

You should only use a fire extinguisher if all the following apply:

  • The alarm has already been raised, so that everyone else is leaving the building.
  • There is a safe exit route so that you can get away in a hurry if you need to.
  • You have the correct fire extinguisher.

It is a good idea to go on a fire extinguisher user's course, because you will learn to handle the equipment correctly, and you may discover just how limited it is.

If you do use an extinguisher, and succeed in putting out a fire, then well done! Stay on the scene to ensure that it does not re-ignite. If you extinguish a flame and leave immediately it is not safe to go back - in the meantime the fire could have started again, and you could be killed.

See Appendix B for a Fire Extinguisher user chart.

3.3 Calling the Fire Brigade

If the system has detected 'Fire' there is an audible signal at reception, and a message appears on the panel in reception, the main panel and the slave panels. The Fire alarms in the building affected immediately begin to sound.

The Fire Brigade must be called. This is done by Security once the alarm has been raised.

3.4 Evacuation and Assembly Areas

Personnel are asked to leave the building by the most direct route (and this may well involve operating a 'break glass' point) and go to the Assembly areas (See Appendix C). These are relatively close to the building, but have been chosen so that personnel are not standing in the roads that the Fire Brigade may use.

If it is a false alarm or a practice drill, you will be told as soon as possible, so that you may re-enter the building.

If it is a real emergency (e.g. fire, escape of gas, etc) you will be informed, and actions will be decided upon. For instance, it may be safe to allow you to go into neighbouring buildings. However, in the event of real fire, it may be necessary not only to ask you to go some distance away (e.g. to the Vet School), but it may also be necessary to evacuate the adjacent buildings. In taking these actions, the Emergency Team will be guided by the Fire Brigade. If everyone is at the Assembly areas, and no-where else, this makes the planning of the next stage much easier.

3.5 Short Term Visitors to the Department

Short term visitors to the Department should sign in at reception, and be given a visitor's badge. They will also be given a leaflet which gives them information on the Department, how to obtain help if they need it and what to do if the fire alarms ring. Their host should help them to make their exit by the nearest safe route, and take them to the Assembly Area. A copy of the leaflet they are given is in Appendix D.

3.6 Persons Who May Need Additional Assistance

There are several reasons why people may need help with evacuation. They may be unaware of the alarm, or they may have difficulty in moving about the laboratory. There may also be injured persons.

Hearing impairment: People here for relatively short times who might be unable to hear the alarms should be part of a 'buddy' system. For example, an undergraduate in this position would be the responsibility of the head of class, lecturer, and/or other staff in the area. They have to ensure that the student is aware that the alarm is sounding and should therefore leave the building. For a person at the Cavendish on a more permanent basis, there are various technological means for communicating emergencies - such a person should seek the advice of the Safety Officer or the Laboratory Superintendent.

Impaired mobility: Impaired mobility is not confined to wheelchair users. There are many people in good health working at the Cavendish who have great difficulty in negotiating stairs. One lift only, the glass lift in the Pippard Lobby area, is suitable for fire evacuation. People entering the Cavendish who have impaired mobility need a personalised evacuation plan, and a support network to ensure that they are taken care of in emergencies.

There are two main options for people who have difficulty with stairs:

  • If they are on the first floor of the Bragg/Mott complex, they could move to use the lift in the Pippard Lobby area. If this option is chosen for someone in the Mott Building, it is important that they check with reception first, to ensure that the reason for the evacuation is not that the Bragg building is on fire!
  • If it is not possible to move across to another building at the same level then it is imperative to take into account the risk of injury to the person concerned during evacuation using the 'Evac Chair'. These 'Evac-Chairs' are designed for transporting people down stairs quickly and safely, and they are stored at the tops of all major staircases. First aiders are trained to use these chairs. However, it is recognised that certain persons might find it difficult to be transported in these chairs. In the event that a person needs to be evacuated this way, call 37499 to summon a first aider, unless someone familiar with these chairs is already to hand. If, by the time that help has been obtained, it is clear that there is no fire or other life-threatening emergency, then it is permissible to make the decision not to evacuate the person, if it puts them at greater risk.

Persons who are injured: If there are injured personnel, do not move them unless they are in immediate danger to life. Call 37499 immediately to summon a first aider. If their injuries appear extremely serious, call 1-999 to summon an ambulance, then make the 37499 call.

3.7 The Role of the Fire Wardens

The primary role of the Fire Wardens is to assist in evacuation. They are not expected to do anything else, nor are they expected to place themselves at risk. Each has an area of the building on a laminated floor plan, and is asked when the alarm goes off to quickly check whether their area is empty. They should:

  • Check every room that can be opened without a key - noting if possible those that are locked.
  • Knock on locked doors loudly, and call out.
  • Encourage people to leave - and take note of anyone who refuses.
  • Take care before opening any door - e.g. smoke coming under a door, a hot door handle, would be signs that it is not safe to open a door.
  • Leave the building and liaise with the Safety Officer or other member of the Emergency Team, who should be near the reception area, regarding any uncertainties about people left in the building, location of smoke, etc.

Fire Wardens are also asked to help in relaying messages about the 'all clear', etc.

Fire Wardens have more detailed instructions in a 'Fire Warden's Handbook'.

3.8 The Role of the Staff at Reception

As soon as the Fire Panel displays the message 'fire' reception staff call the Emergency Team using the pager system to notify them of the status and the location. If a fire is confirmed they should also make a confirmatory call to the fire brigade.

Reception staff also deal with any other emergency calls, calling first aiders, or any other persons needed to deal with the situation.

Whenever the panel indicates a fault, the reception staff call the Emergency Team using the pager system, so that the fault can be dealt with.

More detail is in the Fire Warden's Handbook.

3.9 The Role of the Emergency Team

The emergency team (Peter Norman, Jane Blunt, Keith Matthews and Alan Turner) is called using the looped mobile phones whenever the fire panel indicates a fault or fire. They immediately respond to discover the cause of the problem and take action.

If the emergency team can confirm that there is no fire, then it is sometimes possible to call the Fire Brigade and ask them to stand down. If this is done, then the Emergency Team will silence the alarms and give the all clear. In all other cases the Fire Brigade will authorise the all-clear.

If the alarm is false, they may use the opportunity to patrol the affected building to check that everyone has left. Any person found inside, who has not made an effort to leave, can expect to be asked to leave, firmly.

3.10 Lecture Theatres

When the sounders operate in the Lecture Theatres, it is the responsibility of the Lecturer, or Chairperson of a meeting, to ensure that everyone is reminded to leave and go to an Assembly area. The sounders make communication difficult, so the Lecture Theatres have two overheads, one to be displayed as people are congregating at the start of the meeting, which shows the exit points. The second overhead simply bears a message telling people to leave by the nearest exit.

4 Special Procedures

4.1 Fire Practices

The objective of carrying out fire practices is to check that all the systems work, which includes the system for evacuating personnel. Personnel are asked to cooperate during fire practices by leaving the building by the shortest route, and waiting at an assembly point for further instructions.

Prior to commencing the evacuation exercise, the Emergency Team will make a call to Security to interrupt the automatic call to the Fire Brigade.

To add an element of realism to fire practices, certain exits may be blocked, so that personnel have to choose another route out of the building.

The results of fire practices - times to evacuation, cooperation, etc, will be reported to the people in the relevant building, via posters.

4.2 Examinations and Special Events


In the examination room the sounders are silenced to reduce the disruption to candidates. In the event of the fire alarm sounding (which they will be able to hear from surrounding rooms) candidates are asked to continue. The emergency team will take positive action to either reassure the invigilators that it is a false alarm - in which case the students will be informed. Alternatively, if the alarm signals a real fire, the students will be evacuated, and measures will need to be taken to deal with the disruption of their examination. The candidates are informed of these arrangements at the beginning of the examination by the chief invigilator

A copy of the instructions to the Chief Invigilator and to the Emergency Team is included at Appendix E.

Special events

From time to time special demonstrations are staged in the lecture theatres and/or the classes areas. If it is anticipated that smoke or dust will be released during the demonstration, the organiser or speaker should undertake a risk assessment and liaise with the Safety Officer and the technician in charge of the area, to arrange for the smoke detectors to be disabled for the duration of the demonstration.

Appendix A: Instructions to Staff

If you find a fire:
  • Raise the alarm (use red 'break glass' boxes)
  • Ring 1-999
  • Leave the building by the nearest safe route
  • In daytime: report to reception to the fire team
  • At night: report to the Fire Brigade in arrival

If you hear a fire alarm:
  • Leave the building by the nearest safe route
  • Go to an assembly area to await instructions
Exception: alarms are tested before 8.30 am each Monday - you need take no action at that time provided the alarm is ringing intermittently. Report any faults in fire warning equipment promptly.

Appendix B: Fire extinguisher chart

Fire extinguisher chart

Appendix C: Plan of the Site Showing Assembly Areas and Emergency Exits

Appendix D: Visitor's Leaflet

visitors card2a Page 1

Appendix E: Examination Procedure

Special procedure for examinations

The fire alarm is turned off in the examination rooms, and replaced by a flashing light. The other alarms in the building are audible to the candidates, but not too intrusive. Candidates are to be informed before they begin the examination that if the light flashes this indicates a fire alarm in the building but that they should stay put and continue, so long as there is no obvious danger. They are to be assured that a message will be relayed to them quickly regarding whether it is safe to continue. The invigilators are informed of the following modifications to the procedure:

If the alarm sounds in the building where the examination is being held:

  1. Emergency Team report to the Master Panel. (For a weekday examination, the call will be via the normal paging process. For a Saturday examination two people must remain within the Bragg building throughout the duration of the examination so that they can react immediately to alarms).
  2. On discovering the source of the alarm, establish as quickly and safely as possible the cause.
  3. If it is established with certainty that it is a false alarm, mute the alarms in the building. (This is a significant departure from normal procedure).
  4. Report the situation to the Invigilators as quickly as possible, so that an announcement can be made to the candidates.
  5. Liaise with the Fire Wardens to establish that the building, apart from the examination room has been evacuated as normal.
  6. Request assistance from the Fire Wardens to prevent other personnel from re-entering the building until the official all-clear is given by the Fire Brigade
  7. Allow people back into the building once the Fire Brigade are satisfied.

If it turns out that there is fire, or if it cannot be established that it is safe:

  1. Leave the alarms ringing
  2. Report as quickly as possible to the examination room and evacuate the candidates to an assembly area. (They should leave their scripts)
  3. Liaise with the Fire Wardens and Fire Brigade, regarding the next steps to take as a result of the fire.
  4. Liaise with the invigilators regarding the next steps to take as a result of the disruption of the examination.
  5. Allow people back into the building once the Fire Brigade are satisfied.


This page was last updated 12  June 2015