Do We Need Fire Wardens?
Prior to the devastating fires of last year, many considered the Australian Standards for emergencies, the Work Health and Safety Regulation (WHS) requirements, and suggestions for emergency fire warden training as a pure formality. Some even called it a “necessary evil”. Today such voices are no longer heard. The Australian Standard (AS) 3745 “Planning for Emergencies in Facilities” governing emergencies is widely accepted. Fire wardens are no longer the “necessary evil”. We all appreciate that having an emergency plan, the necessary training, some specialised staff, and fire and emergency preparedness are key for minimising the damaging effects of fires and emergencies. All regulations regarding fire/emergency planning, procedures, and warden training stem from the above Standard.
Today fire wardens, or as now coined “emergency wardens”, are present in every business. The emergency wardens of one office represent the “Emergency Control Organisation”, or ECO for short. These are the people who will be the first respondents in times of emergency. They will also be the ones to ward off (now you know where the word comes from) evil until the specialised services arrive on site. No one doubts anymore that fire/emergency wardens as many as possible, as properly trained as possible, as well organised as possible will reduce with millions the material damages caused by fires and, most importantly, save many lives.
How Many Wardens
Officially there is no legal requirement to have fire/emergency wardens at all. However, each “person conducting the business” is required to plan and take all necessary precautions and draft the procedures to prevent and react to emergencies (Art. 43 of the WHS Regulation).
So having a plan is required and having the following procedures in place is required:
- Evacuation procedures
- Notification of emergency services
- Medical treatment
- Effective communications
- Testing of emergency procedures
- Information, training, and instruction to workers in relation to implementing the emergency procedures.
Hence, although not spelled out, the above functions need to have a dedicated person to draft, communicate and enact the said procedures. Something more – lack of dedicated wardens in an undertaking, in the event of a fire, maybe considered by insurance companies as lack of efforts to mitigate the risks and hence refusal for indemnity settlement. Hence wardens are somewhat compulsory.
The number of wardens, within a business, depends on the size of the business and the number of people employed. Without a specific numeric requirement, a nationwide unwritten rule is to have one fire/emergency warden for every 20 employees or tenants. For example – a small bakery employing only ten people will have only one emergency warden (responsible for all of the above procedures), and eventually a second trained person to take over when the warden is on holiday. While a large enterprise may have many wardens – more or less specialised within an assigned area (floor) or activity (first aid), e.g.:
● Chief Warden
This is the main warden who is responsible for the overall coordination of the activity of the ECO;
● Deputy Chief Warden
As in the example above, this is the warden who will take over the responsibility of the Chief Warden when he is away (vacation, sickness, or similar);
● Communication Officer
This is the person responsible for establishing communication inside the ECO and between the ECO and the remaining staff, as well as proprietor of the business;
● Floor Warden And Area Warden
These are necessary for larger enterprises and are the wardens responsible for a given floor/area;
● First Aid Officer
As the name suggests this is the paramedic of the ECO responsible for rendering first aid to whoever needs such.
What Are The Responsibilities?
The training necessary for fire/emergency wardens is needed in order that they are able to execute their responsibilities. These include the following:
- To facilitate the draft of the Emergency Plan;
- To prepare and conduct drills;
- Regular inspection and testing of fire equipment;
- Regular inspection of fire exits and routes;
- Sounding alarms in case of emergencies;
- Summoning emergency services when necessary;
- Applying first response fire-fighting prior to emergency service arrival;
- Communicating, assisting, and monitoring the evacuation of the rest of the employees;
- Applying first aid when necessary;
- Preparing reports on incidents.
What Training Is Necessary?
Fire/emergency wardens are regular employees of an organisation who have undergone some specialised emergency fire warden training. This is necessary in order for them to be able to execute their responsibilities as fire/emergency wardens. All of the above members of ECO have to complete fire warden training in Australia at least once every six months.
There is no specific length of the training defined, and these usually are daily courses and from fairly recently available also as online courses. However, it is important that these courses are AS3745 compliant and that the trainer is an accredited one (not all are)!
It is important to mention here that specialised training is also required for general employees, the Emergency Planning Team members, and Emergency Response Team members (be it at different intervals). The idea is that all members of a business/undertaking shall have some responsibilities and should have passed on a regular basis the necessary training.
Following her emergency fire warden training a fire/emergency warden should have been trained in the following:
- Entry training in the Australian standard requirements, first attack training, and training in the use of fire extinguishers;
- In-house activity training once every six months. This can be a drill, a desktop use case, an inspection of the fire regulations’ compliance of the facilities, or some other similar activity;
- Review the business Emergency Plan and enact an evacuation drill of all wardens and regular employees every twelve months;
- First attack training knowledge will provide wardens with the knowledge to use competently fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire hoses, and five reels. They will also physically extinguish a real small fire;
- Training of Chief Wardens and Deputy Chief Wardens will build on the knowledge of all wardens and prepare for the full competent management of all processes and procedures within the emergency plan.
Adequately trained fire/emergency wardens are necessary and they will reduce risks and damages caused by fires.