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Fire procedure

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by backstageguy, Mar 9, 2007.

  1. backstageguy

    backstageguy Member

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    Hiya guys,
    I'm a stage manager at my school and the director of our theatre is presently attempting to change the way we would deal with a potential fire. As he is more of an actor than a technician, I would like to get a more technical opinion on this.
    Our theatre has aproximatley 160 seats, and is part of one of our school buildings, apart from the rooms we use as our dressing rooms, the block has roughly 13 other classrooms. The plan of our director is for ever show to turn off the sounders for our fire alarm and instead rely on the small beacon we are going to install in our tech booth. In the event of the beacon going off
    our technical director is going to go downstairs into the foyer where our fire control panel is, find out the zone of the possible fire, then return to the tech booth where our sound technician will make an announcement saying "mr sands is in XandX location" and from this the FOH team will decide on the safest route to
    evacuate the audience.
    Ok, well my problems start with this, our Fire Officer is very strict and so considering that someone could have sneaked into one of the 13 rooms, I dont think he will allow us to silence the sounders which in many cases is understandable. Ok so assuming we were allowed to go ahead with the plan, during a show, a small blinking light is extremely likely to just not be noticed and overlooked, the next problem I can see is that the TD is going to have to run down stairs and work out what zone this 'fire' is in, at this stage, he would be closer to the FOH managment then the actual tech booth, so it would seem more sensible to just go straight to the FOH manager and tell them where the fire is. However in line with the plan, our guy returns and tells the sound technician who then procedes to make his announcement. Next problem is that the actors will still be unaware of whats going on, and so the FOH person will have to struggle to hear a muffled anouncement from someone running sound whilst actors are speaking over them.

    Basically I would like to see some other people's opinions, I know I've been a bit biased there, but I just think the standard procedure of a SM going and making an announcement would work much better?
    Thanks for all your help and opinions.
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2007
  2. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Disabling the sounders is an extremely moronic, no offense intended. What is he thinking ? "Oh I don't want to interupt the show."? I feel, your fire panel should be tied into the "Panic" circuit of your dimmers when and alarm is triggered this automatically brings all circuits to full, which is a good indicator to the actors onstage, that there is a problem. You should have reporters, <strobes and alarms> on stage as well. You should also have a well developed evacuation plan monitored by the stage manager, and Adult Supervisor of any activity. For help in developing this plan visit
    www.ready.gov
     
  3. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    It many states, it is the responsibility of the house manager to point out the exits in the event of a fire or other emergency before the show even starts. If there is a fire, there should be no human interaction in getting the audience out. If a fire is detected, the fire alarm should go off, and typical escape routes should be used. Period. The alarm should NEVER be silenced unless it is being silenced by the fire department. If an alarm goes off, get out of the building. If you have a fire curtain and the fire is on stage, pull the fire curtain and get out. If you need escape plans, that is the responsibility of the health and safety officers of your school along with the fire marshal. Most venues have plans in place if a fire occurs, such as everyone FOH helps get the patrons out, all stage crew makes sure that everyone backstage is out, etc... My personal rule, unless the fire is small enough to stop with one fire extinguishers, I will not even attempt to go at it, I get the hell out.
     
  4. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    If the local fire department inspector found out you were shutting off the alarms in the theater he would shut down your production. Don't do it. Like everyone else said, there should be no decision process or human interaction. The alarm goes off and everyone leaves. The only human judgment call is where to restart the show after the fire department declares the building safe to re-enter.

    Does your theater director actually think that you can keep the show running in the front half of the building while the back half is burning?!?!?! There's this stuff called smoke that travels down hall ways and kills people. He might want to look it up.

    If they have half a brain your school administration and or custodial/maintenance people should shut this "brilliant" idea down quick.
     
  5. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    Don't disable the alarms (sorry to belabor the point.) Imagine the headline.

    Bad plan anyway - what if the fire/smoke traps off the director from the booth after he gets to the panel? Or he succumbs before he gets to it?

    Joe
     
  6. What Rigger?

    What Rigger? I'm so fly....I Neverland.

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    Two words: GREAT. WHITE.
    Two more: THE. STATION.
     
  7. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    What Rigger? likes this.
  8. ricc0luke

    ricc0luke Active Member

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    i know i am just sounding like a broken record, but that is a horribly stupid idea for a school.

    i mean, its stupid for other reasons too, but the bottom line is you really can't do that.
     
  9. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I miss stated something earlier, the word I was looking for was "Anunciator" not reporter. Sorry, brain fart. A lot of systems have littel speakers built into the strobe light mounts and a pre-recorded voice comes on and says something like " Alert, a fire alarm has triggered. please proceed to the nearest emergency exit." Course I was in an exhibit hall once when some riggers set off a smoke alarm. 4,000 Nike employees wandering around all over the place completely oblivious to what those flashing light were, and you couldn't here the announcement over the sound of the crowd.

    BTW I'd love to hear your directors justificiation for disabliing the alarm system in the first place. I just can't figure that one out.
     
  10. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    That's easy Van... The show must go on!! I don't care if the back half of the building is on fire, the front half looks fine to me.
     
  11. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I'm afraid you might be right.:(
     
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  12. What Rigger?

    What Rigger? I'm so fly....I Neverland.

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    Van, you're getting to be my hero. Sometimes in this world, it's good to know that I'm not the only hard-ass about safety.

    And yeah, if I had a nickel for every director who says "It'll be fine. I'll take responsibility." Well, I wouldn't need to gig for the Mouse anymore.
     
  13. DarSax

    DarSax Active Member

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    Yeah pretty much what everyone has said-DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! We always do an announcement about where the exits are located; they're lit like in theaters as well, anyways.


    My question is though, what's with "Mr. Sands?" Is that like, theater code for "oh snap theres a fire, lets use code so the audience won't know?"
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2007
  14. backstageguy

    backstageguy Member

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    Hiya,

    Thanks for all of your responses, and I'm glad to see that you all agree its a ridiculous idea as well. The justification for it all, returns to the idea of don't panic the audience. Like in bigger theatres where you have like about 1000 audience members, where you have to ensure they aren't panicked so as to prevent a stampede for the exits. He kind of has his head in the clouds and his aim behind it all is to make everything 'more professional' (yeah...right).

    The Mr Sands thing, is basically to let the FOH people know, so that they can then react without panicking the audience, in reality when a fire alarm last went off during a show, there was no stampede and everyone walked out happily and without any real panic. In some of the bigger theatres I have been to, I have known them use a similar system, but only in the backstage areas, so an announcement on intercom like:
    "Mr Sands is in the building" would mean a possible fire, but they wouldn't actually evacuate until a potential fire had been inspected, and this would be announced backstage by a:
    "Mr Sands is leaving the building." Which when you have a fully fledged fire crew, security team, and someone sitting at Stage Door constantly monitoring the fire panel, might be fine but in a school I agree that it is innappropriate.
     
  15. Chris15

    Chris15 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Now now now. There are SOME instances whereby the EWIS could be put into modified behaivour. (Sorry, I'm using the jargon I'm used to. Ask me to explain it if need be.) BUT, let me put it simply. I severely doubt that you will EVER be in a position to do this in a school or community theatre or the like. It is done in large venues that have 24/7 security control rooms who are immediately notified of the location of any fire alarm. These places can set their EWIS into a so called performance mode which I believe does not trigger audible sounders in the theatres. This is then coupled with TRAINED staff and DOCUMENTED procedures. When they make the call to evacuate, it gets down in a calm and controlled manner by people who know what to do. There are properly trained fire wardens and by the time that the theatres start to be evacuated, the fire brigade will be halfway there. Not to mention systems such as sprinklers cutting in. And these places do isolate the fire alarms where appropriate for specific performances, but this goes hand in hand with the trained people and what not. They may have the automatic alarms off because of fog or the like, but by George, if there is a fire, then that place will get evacuated and the fire alarm set off manually.

    Oh and as for the jargon that is meant to leave the crowd in the dark, down here it is that the General Manager is required in the Green Room as prepare to evacuate and the General Manager to the Red Bar to go to a full scale evacuation. That would lead FOH to open all the exits and for an announcement to be made from the stage that technical difficulties are being experienced and to evacuate via the nearest exit.

    So, unless you have trained people who are solely assigned to fire type duties, there is NO grounds to allow an EWIS system to essentially be disabled.

    And Rigger, I too take a hard line on Safety and hope that the above statements do not contradict that.
     
  16. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    It really simply comes down to your local fire code laws. You'll find that the systems like Chris is discussing above do exist but have very specific fire department training and approval to operate that way. There is NO WAY your local fire department will ever go along with the drama teacher deciding to shut off the alarm.

    As far as audience panic is concerned, it's a school. Everyone remembers the endless fire drills and prank fire alarm pulls. No one is going to panic because of a fire alarm in a school. They are going to assume its a drill or mistake because that is what they are used to. You might want have a pre-written calm announcement ready to go that someone can jump on a mic and read but that's it.

    Now if you were in my old high school little theater it wouldn't be a problem. Half way through my time teaching there someone in the maintenance department decided the old alarm wasn't good enough. They replaced it with an alarm that blasts at what must be well over 120 decibels (130? 140? 150?). Students would cover their ears and room from the room screaming, hoping their brains wouldn't explode. No problem clearing that space out.
     
  17. rapscaLLion

    rapscaLLion Active Member

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    I work in a professional theatre that seats 1500 at capacity over three levels (half in orchestra, and a quarter each on lower and upper balcony). There are the usual exits at the back and two fire escapes on each side of the auditiorium on each level (for a total of 12 fire escapes plus the usual entrance/exits). The fire escapes lead directly outside onto metal stairways to street level, and can be dangerous for women in high heels because of the spacing of the metal grates. We do not allow exit from these doors of course except in emergency.

    Here is the important difference between our professional theatre and your small high school (and you can tell your director this):
    You likely use a single stage alarm, while we use a two stage alarm. In first stage, the FOH crew has five minutes to locate and verify the existance of a fire, and determine how to best proceed. Evacuation is dangerous and only used if entirely necessary (and has never been done in any of our company's three theatres as far back as anyone can remember). During first stage the ONLY indication of a fire alarm inside the auditorium is a small flashing light in the orchestra pit so they are prepped to evac if necessary. Otherwise the show goes on, and ushers on break return to their duty positions. In-house ushers are notified via our radio headsets of first stage alarm.

    Beyond that, nothing happens. If the FOH manager determines that evac is necessary, she notifies the ushers and uses the building wide annunciator to inform the audience. From there the fire alarm advances to second stage, with full building alarm, e-lights, all the doors in the building close automatically, and some lock from one direction to prevent patron's going anywhere but out. It's all very complicated, and we are regularly drilled on it as well as checking every fire escape before the house opens, etc. This is how the system was designed and how it is professionally maintained. Certainly not for a school to attempt! There's just no need when the small audience is seated on a single level with easy access to safe exits.

    Hope that helps!
     
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  18. Chris15

    Chris15 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Oh, and I left one other thing out. The complex systems I mentioned earlier are almost guaranteed to cost an arm and a leg. So that almost instantly puts it out of reach of most schools.
     
  19. tenor_singer

    tenor_singer Active Member

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    What is concerning me here is that your director is talking with you guys about fire procedure. As a student in a high school, the only "procedure" you should be aware of is what door to go out of if the school's fire alarm goes off. The typical high school student lacks the training for anything beyond evacuation. Heck... I've been teaching for 15 years and have never been trained about fire procedures other than get your kids out safely and quickly. As far as the audience knowing where to go, that should be taken care of with a pre-show announcement... "please proceed camly to the exits in the front and the rear of the auditorium" type of statement.

    Somebody needs to let the administration know that this person is pondering this foolish move. Unplug the alarms??!!?? What the heck.
     
  20. dvlasak

    dvlasak Active Member

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    Not to belabor the point, but as students, do not allow this so called teacher to put your lives or the lives of anyone else in danger. Not only will the AHJ have a major problem with this plan, so will the school's insurance carrier. In some cases, just calling the insurance carrier will be able to get the problem solved. I can't believe that if you calmly talked to the "teacher" about your concerns, he wouldn't see the error of his ways. Perhaps bring up your concerns to the Dept. Chair or the Principal.
    There are several resources that I think can help you. One is Dr. Randall Davidson (known in the industry as Dr. Doom). You can reach him through his company Risk International and Associates. (http://www.riskit.com). He is VERY willing to help out, especially in school situations.
    Another resource is the International Secondary Education Theater Safety Association (ISETSA). this is a group that was formed to help those in schools with safety concerns. The website (www.isetsa.org) does not appear to be working - I'll have to talk with Doom about that!

    PLEASE do not allow this person to put any automatic alarm in a bypass mode!!

    Dennis
     

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