1. Whitlock, Martha E. RN
  2. Boone, William R. PhD

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SAFETY HAS A HIGH PRIORITY in any healthcare facility, and communication is an essential part of any safety program. Making sure that all employees know the specific fire plan for their department is essential to successfully executing that plan in an emergency.


This article presents our ambulatory unit's simple process to improve evacuation in a fire-related emergency. This process has helped us to ensure the safety of not only our patients and visitors but also our department's employees.


E is for Evacuate

The universal terms RACE and PASS are part of fire safety training term in every medical setting. (See Putting out fire safety acronyms.) Our fire safety process focuses on the letter E, which stands for Evacuate in the acronym RACE.


How do you know that everyone's been evacuated? What if someone's been left behind? What if a visitor didn't know what the alarm meant and stayed behind or, worse yet, didn't even hear the alarm? Our process addresses these concerns.


Quick action

In our department, which comprises many facilities, rooms, and hallways, we initiated a simple but effective way to quickly confirm that all the rooms have been evacuated. Once the fire alarm sounds, the staff goes into action. Every door is opened, the lights are turned on, and the room is inspected for people according to our fire plan. Once everyone has left the room, a small magnetic sign kept on the inside doorjamb in every room (including rest rooms and storage closets) is placed on the outside doorjamb in a visible spot. Finally, the door is closed.


The 3.5 in 2 in (about 9 cm 5 cm) magnet says "ROOM CLEAR" in bright red boldface type on a white background. This magnetic sign notifies the staff that the room has been checked and no one needs to reinspect it. This greatly accelerates the evacuation process and reduces the time that staff might spend reinspecting a room with a closed door that's already been cleared. Within seconds, anyone can easily look down a hall and see whether all the rooms have been cleared or not.


After our first fire alarm using the new "ROOM CLEAR" magnets, many employees commented on how much more organized the department's evacuation process had been. Construction workers on another floor had set off the alarm, and although it turned out to be a false alarm, everyone responded appropriately. The visual aid was simple to use and interpret.


Making a difference

Some people may say, "We've never had a real fire, so what difference does it make?" Once that real fire alarm does go off, our knowledge of what to do will make a difference. Our response can make the difference between everyone getting out safely and someone being left behind.


Putting out fire safety acronyms

RACE is a mnemonic for the steps to take in a fire emergency.


* RESCUE anyone in immediate danger.


* ACTIVATE the alarm.


* CONFINE the fire (close the door).


* EXTINGUISH small controllable fires or EVACUATE.



PASS is a helpful reminder of the steps to follow when using a fire extinguisher.


* PULL the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.


* AIM low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire.


* SQUEEZE the handle to release the extinguishing agent.


* SWEEP from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the area. If the fire reignites, repeat the aim, squeeze, and sweep steps.



Source: U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool.




1. pGreenville Health System Safety Coordinating Committee. Fire Safety Management Plan. Greenville, SC: Greenville Health System; 2013.


2. National Fire Protection Association. NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, 2000 Edition.


3. U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool.