University Backtracks on Fire Safety Guidance for Self-Isolating Students

The University has changed its fire safety guidance to self-isolating students, after an public outcry over the request that students stay in their rooms in case of fire.

(Image: University of York / Alex Holland)

The University’s fire safety guidance, issued to all self-isolating students, has been updated, after an earlier version suggested that students “stay in [their] room for one minute” in case of a fire alarm activation.

A snippet from the document has been circulating on social media this week.

York Vision has verified that the snippet is genuine, and is taken from the University’s “generic Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for any resident who may be in ‘Self Isolation’ within any University of York residential accommodation.” The guidance reads:

If you are self isolating and the fire system in your accommodation building is activated please follow these procedures to ensure your safety:

When the alarm sounds; stay in your room for one minute then make your way to the nearest refuge (this will allow non-isolating individuals to exit the building).
Contact Security Services by activating the refuge alarm which will allow you to communicate with Security Services.
Explain that you are ‘self isolating’ and give your details to the Security Centre.
You will be instructed by Security Services to remain in the refuge area.
Security Services will attend the building and carry out an initial investigation into the cause of the fire alarm, you will be informed through the refuge comms as follows:
Security Services will confirm ‘No Fire’ and you will be instructed to return to your room when the audible alarm is turned off.
Alternatively, Security Services will instruct you to evacuate the building using the staircase, on exiting you should then make your way to a sterile area away from the other residents. The attending Security Services staff will then give you further instructions depending upon the incident.

After an outcry on social media, the University changed its advice, stating that “in the event of a fire alarm, all students (including those who are self-isolating) should evacuate as quickly and safely as possible. Once you are outside the building, go to the Fire Assembly Point for your accommodation block, observing social distancing rules and wearing a face mask.

“You should remain at the Fire Assembly Point until given further instructions by a member of the University Security Team. It is critical that you follow this instruction and do not return into your building until told to do so. When you get back into your flat please wash your hands thoroughly.”

This guidance was issued to both students self-isolating after a positive COVID-19 test, those living in their flat or house, as well as those quarantining after arriving from abroad.

At the time of writing, 288 students or staff members had tested positive and were isolating, along with their households.

The metadata of the document suggests that it was written as early as March 19, and has been in place until this week.

The guidance refers to “secure designated refuges” within staircases, constructed to a higher standard of fire safety and with an intercom link to the Security Centre. These refuges are intended to be used by disabled people who cannot evacuate without help.

However, not every accommodation block has these refuges, in particular house-style accommodation in colleges like Halifax and Goodricke.

An advice note from the National Fire Chiefs Council, dated 9 April 2020, reads: it is essential all occupants leave a premises and go to the pre-determined Assembly Point in event of fire to ensure their safety. Whilst social distancing may be impacted during evacuation, this can be managed by following government guidelines on maintaining hygiene at the Assembly Point.”

The North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service tweeted: “our Business Fire Safety Team were made aware of this yesterday and contacted the University who will be issuing new guidance.”

A University spokesperson said to the BBC:

“Our advice and guidance has been updated and changed.

“We take the health and safety of our students and staff extremely seriously.

“All students are required to undertake a mandatory fire safety induction and this clearly states that all students should evacuate the building immediately, meeting at the designated fire assembly point.

“Students are reminded that in gathering at the fire assembly point, they should adhere to social distancing guidelines.”