Heeding on-scene evacuation orders

Following an evacuation order is about saving lives, not concluding interior “play time”


Every fire department should have some sort of on-scene evacuation rules that are covered in their standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs). The reason we have evacuation procedures is to give firefighters the needed signal that it’s time to get out of the structure, whether it’s a single-family house or a massive commercial building. The key questions: Does everyone know what to do when it comes time for an evacuation and will the SOPs/SOGs be followed?

Detroit Fire department evacuates the structure

In our corresponding video, we see and hear an evacuation signal at a structure fire. We witness a fire department that knows when to call for an evacuation and then responds to it. What makes this so unique? The fact that when the evacuation signal is given, all personnel exited the structure. Although we often review the domino effect of events that occur when something goes wrong, this month we’ll review the domino effect that comes with following orders.


First, the evacuation signal (heard at 1:52) is a simple blast from the air horn from the outside trucks. This type of signal is very easy to hear and unmistakably telling firefighters to get out. Along with this simple signal can be a radio dispatch signal and message to alert others via the SCBA communication system, with each firefighter acknowledging the alert. As technologically advanced and beneficial as these other components may be, simple is best. Every fire truck has an air horn, and it will sound very loudly when needed. When the firefighter is technology-overloaded, the simplest system is the best.

Second, when the signal was given, all personnel evacuated. There was no debate with the incident commander over the order, there were no crewmembers trying to stay inside, thinking that they can finish their job. No, all of them came out. They actually responding to the evacuation!

Third, it’s important to remember that when an evacuation is sounded, it doesn’t mean that this will be a defensive fire for the rest of the event. In this case, it became a defensive fire initially, but once things were brought under control to a certain point, an offensive strategy was then reinstated. Many firefighters think that when they must evacuate, their interior “play time” is over, making it hard for them to leave. This can be far from the truth. Evacuation equals saving lives, stepping back, regrouping and then attacking once again.

Evacuation procedures: Crew talk and action

After watching this video with your company, take the following steps to reinforce the good behavior for similar incidents in the future:

  1. Review your department’s current SOPs/SOGs to see if the procedure for an evacuation is easy to follow and implement.
  2. Conduct a training session to reinforce the evacuation signal, so that all personnel will know what it is and what to do when they hear it.
  3. Have a dinner table discussion with your crew to ensure there is buy-in related to evacuation procedures so you know that every firefighter is in full agreement with the importance of responding to such orders.

Bottom line: The next time you hear an evacuation signal, make sure to respond accordingly. It could mean the difference between life and death.

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