On Monday, our architects had a surprise fire drill. No big deal, right? Periodic rehearsal leads to safe evacuations. What about in senior living communities where residents have varying degrees of difficulty with activities of daily living? What does a fire drill look like at an assisted living facility? What difference does it make?
Our parameters included wheelchairs, walkers, bad hips, dementia, impaired vision, etc. Our task: to make it to the other side of the building, down the stairs, and across the street to the far side of the adjacent parking lot in 13 minutes. Score? Well, most of us made it. But we were surprised by several real-world consequences that went beyond the codes:
Considerations for Slow Evacuation vs Impractical Evacuation in Assisted Living facilities:
- Implications of wood frame vs non-combustible framing in multi-story assisted living is bigger than the cost savings of the structural frame.
- Impact on residents of a fire drill like ours, at their age and abilities, several times a year (falls, rain, ice, heat, increased confusion).
- Initial savings of omitting a generator—without it the elevator cannot be used as an accessible means of egress.
- Encourage everyone to consider ignoring the exception to omit areas of refuge in sprinklered buildings. It’s not just about those in wheelchairs.
- The our nations fire fighters are being relied upon more and more to aid in evacuating more and more people from communities while also being tasked with fighting the fire.
- Marketing challenge – Those who cannot evacuate on their own in a building classified as Slow Evacuation must be discharged. Those unable to evacuate on their own in the first place must be referred to another facility.