Exit Plan

19Jun17

Exit

Exit signs are in the wrong place.

It’s hard to imagine the true horror of what people must have gone through in London’s tower block fire. For the people who were trapped inside it must have been hell.

I’ve never had to find my way out of a burning building. From what I’ve heard, the biggest problem is smoke. As well as making it hard to breath, it makes it hard to find your way out because you can’t see anything.

The closest I’ve had to having to find my way out of a smoke filled room was when I had to find my way out of a room filled with steam.  I worked for a maintenance contractor at Marsden Point oil refinery in New Zealand. One day, we got a call saying that when they turned on the taps in the men’s toilets in the electrical department, steam came out.

A thermostatic valve had jammed wide open, over-heating the hot water and a relief valve that was supposed to vent excess pressure had failed. If it kept going, the tank would have exploded.

I needed to vent the pressure quickly so I opened all of the hot water taps. The room filled with steam and I had hard a time finding my way out. It was a square room and I knew where the door was but it took me a while to find it.

Obviously, what I went though is minor compared to being trapped in a burning building but the thing I learned is that in a situation like that, exit signs are useless. Steam, like smoke, fills a room from the top down. Why are all exit signs placed up high? I’ve seen them above doorways. In a fire, that’s the first place that’s going to be obscured by smoke.

The advice the fire brigade give you when trying to get out of a smoke filled room is to get down low. Why aren’t signs pointing to the nearest exit placed on skirting boards or painted on the floor?

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