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Human Behavior in Fire: Petersburg Hospital Case Study

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Updated: May 17th, 2021


The pregnant women, cancer clinics, and the cardio clinics for the cancer patients are all located. These are majorly people in the middle age group and those in their late sixties and above. The elderly and the critically ill patients are provided with wheelchairs and stretchers to facilitate their movement as deemed appropriate. Being a major hospital in the town, the number of patients housed never goes below eight hundred. In case of calamities such as a bomb blast or fire incident in another location, the number can increase to full capacity.

Lastly is the more volatile group of visitors. This group has no particular limit to its number. It includes the patients’ relatives and friends who are there to provide them with emotional and financial support during the entire process of healing. Secondly, there are those visiting the staff and still those coming to make inquiries for future treatments. Every floor has a large waiting area where the visitors wait before being permitted to view their sick relatives and friends.

There is a large car park provided to take care of the staff and visitors’ needs both on the front and exterior location of the building (see diagram 3). In addition, the number of occupancy at the hospital at night is usually less than that during the day. The visiting hours end at 10.00 pm at night and the majority of the staff have retired to their homes. Activities and uses

Numerous activities are carried out in the hospital simultaneously. From these, fires may result due to negligence and carelessness or be purely accidental. First, we have the nurses handling all the inflammable chemicals in their administration of treatment as designated by the doctors. Oxygen therapy is normally conducted as a medical intervention in chronic and acute patient health complications. Oxygen is required for body metabolism, and the amount naturally available (21% of room air) may not be sufficient for the patient. This amount is boosted to about 30-35% by nasal cannula. In case 100% is required, it is delivered to the patient’s body by a tight-fitting mask. Petersburg applies three methods of storage of this gas: liquid gas storage tanks, compressed gas storage tanks, and instant usage. The supply ducts pose a great fire risk due to the rapid combustion of oxygen.

Patients require time to relax outside in the open, away from their rooms every now and then. It’s the duty of the nurses to decide when and where it is perfectly safe for them to do so. At times the wheelchairs are provided to aid in the process. In addition, there are set visiting hours for the patients. The normal visiting hours begin at 7.00 am and end at 10.00 pm in the evening. These are meant to provide the patient with the emotional support that could fasten their healing.

The majority of the activities in the hospital require electricity, and electricity interruptions can, therefore, not be afforded. To this effect, the hospital has an automatic generator located in the generator room next to stairwell 3 (see diagram 1). In addition, there is the hospital cafeteria where hospital staff purchases all their meals. It is located in close proximity to the hospital building to facilitate. Here, the main sources of energy used in the process are gas and electricity. The cafeteria relies on the hospital generator in case of electricity interruption. Any of these activities could easily result in the accidents that cause a fire outbreak. In readiness for this, the management pays a firefighting course for its vital staff members where they learn how to react and to use the fire gadgets provided.

Evacuation Plan

The building evacuation plan is as indicated in diagram 2 in Appendix A. The arrows indicate the direction of movement in order to easily exit the building. Owing to the huge size of the building, the designated safety areas on the exit of the building are the parking lots on either side of the long stretch of the building. The location of the hospital in close proximity to the road creates an easy entry route for the fire department to access the building. For efficient results, the site manager, fire chief, or supervisor is given the sole responsibility of making the appropriate decisions at the building in case of a fire. It is required that they notify the front desk to put the evacuation alarm having sounded the fire alarm. These directions given should include the safe route for evacuation and the destinations. None of the two hospitals’ escalators should be used in the escape process. To differentiate the fire alarm from the evacuation alarm, the hospital makes the alarm sound resonate faster than the earlier alarm.

The nurse in charge should have a prepared list (prepared daily) of all the patients in the hospital and their present health complications. In addition, the evacuation method for each patient is then identified, those in need of assistance noted, and their destination on evacuation specified. All the other members of staff should concentrate on ensuring the patients are evacuated and relocated to a safe area. If members of the fire department are not busy, they should also assist in the evacuation process but under the instructions of the nurse in charge.

The most appropriate route to aid in the evacuation of the patients is the main corridor that opens to the car park on either side. If the fire happens to block the passage in this corridor, the stairwells and openings on the extreme sides of the building should be used to exit the building. Ambulatory patients should be covered with bed blankets as they are moved from their rooms to avail them of the necessary warmth and may be useful in case the blanket-drag method is necessary for evacuation. The non-ambulatory patients should be evacuated by means of the blanket-drag method after being lifted out of their rooms by the bottom sheet. Visitors are also evacuated together with the patients.

To move non-ambulatory patients down the staircase, the patient carries, or a fireman’s carry, should be used. The patient should be held from behind, under the arms, and pulled gradually down the stairwell. In case manually held stretchers are used, caution should be exercised, and enough personnel provided. To mark the rooms from which all the patients have been evacuated, the door should be closed and marked with red tape to differentiate it from the rest of the rooms. Moreover, the evacuation teams should ensure they check the washrooms and under the beds for frightened patients who are bound to seek refuge in these places.

Once outside, one or two members of staff should be assigned the responsibility of staying with the evacuated patients. The person’s duty will be to ensure the patients do not wander away, prevent the ambulatory patients from re-entering the structure and ensure the patients do not disrupt the emergency vehicles or the fire department officials. Lastly, once all the patients in a particular department have been evacuated, the leader in the department should do a headcount of all the patients and staff in that department and ensure they report that to the person in charge of the entire facility.

Fire scenario 1

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, 2006) has a prescribed scenario of a fire typical for the occupancy. According to the specifications provided, the fire has to consider the occupant’s activities, the number and placement of these occupants, the room dimensions, furniture in the room, fuel properties, and the origin of the fire. The ventilation conditions and how this influences the fire should all be topics for discussion. The leading cause of fires in such situations is intentional. However, for this scenario, the adopted cause is an oxygen leak from the oxygen ducts supplying the entire hospital with oxygen. The oxygen leak occurs in a room (418) with an overheating dialysis machine that has previously been repaired by a technician. By sheer accident, the technician failed to insulate the power supply cables, and a slight adjustment of the machine’s positions by the nurse or patient causes the wires to spark.

The patient under dialysis is asleep and happens to shift slightly in his sleep, causing the dialysis machine to spark. At the time, oxygen has slowly been streaming into the room without notice. On the shelves close to the dialysis machine, there are numerous prepping agents such as aerosol adhesives, tinctures, Merthiolate, and degreasers such as ether. When the sparks, the oxidizer, and small drops of a prepping agent that had poured close to the machine combine, a small fire begins to glow. The rounds by the nurses are scheduled to happen at intervals of 90minutes, and having the patient asleep at the moment allows time for the fire to build up.

The room is 3-by-3 meters, and everything is therefore compacted together. The linen curtains and the beddings are the first to catch fire. The huge supply of oxygen readily catalyzes the fire causing it to spread faster. The heat level and smoke in the room begin to build up and awakens the patient. The smoke penetrates into the next room through the small gapping between the wallboard and the slab. By now, the patient in room 416 is choking with smoke and cannot cry out for help. The fire is now ferocious and reaches the heat level of 167°F, thus setting off the two sprinklers on either side of the room. Simultaneously, the fire alarm goes off and alerts the entire hospital of the prevalent occurrences. The nurses and another staff rush to the concerned room just after the sprinklers have managed to contain the fire. However, due to the oxygen leak, they still have to intervene to prevent the spread of the fire to other rooms of the facility. The design fire is set to occur during the evening hours when the majority of the staff are present, and the visitors are still allowed to visit their hospitalized relatives or friends so long as the doctor allows it. In this scenario, the doctor had instructed the patient should be left to rest until the following day.

Pre-movement behavior

This scenario can be analyzed on the people’s immediate reaction on receipt of the fire alarm. At the time of occurrence of the incident, business is as usual at the hospital, and therefore the alarm should be loud and clear for all to hear. The annunciators are located at the extreme ends and middle part of the building. These are sufficient to trigger a reaction from the occupants. If the evacuation process is to occur, there are various limiting factors in this scenario. The commitment concept and the consequences of the immediate evacuations are numerous. For instance, an operation in the theatre cannot cease immediately since should the threat of fire be containable, as in, in this case, life may be lost in the process. The surgeon in charge has to ensure the patient is in the right condition for evacuation. In certain instances, the patient has to be carried along with the equipment helping with their breathing, which might become cumbersome, particularly at the stairwells.

Inability to achieve reasonable movement without the aid of a second party is another factor that could complicate the evacuation process. In the hospital, there are bound to be many disabled patients who have to rely on a wheelchair so as to move to and from different parts of the hospital. The evacuation team will have to devise means to carry these to safer locations outside the hospital. The commitment issue will also arise in a case where a relative is visiting a patient, and the scenario occurs. It might be difficult convincing the visitor to leave the patient under the care of the evacuation team.

The visitor role also plays a crucial part in such an institution. Since the event is scheduled to take place during the day, there are definitely many visitors in the hospital who are not familiar with the emergency exits in the facility. These may get lost in panic and even tend to move to the more dangerous parts of the building. A designated member or members of staff familiar with the location should make frequent rounds in the hospital to ensure there are no such persons in the building. Having all the factors acting in unison implies the fire alarm may not be sufficient to kick-off a full-scale evacuation process. Other measures may have to be taken before all the people are evacuated from the building (Proulx, 2001).

Travel Behavior

Once all the evacuation process kick-offs, there are factors that will determine the speed of the evacuation process. Social affiliation is one such great determinant. Patients are bound to have curved friendship bonds with fellow patients in the hospital, particularly for those patients who have spent a long time at the hospital. They will therefore attempt to ensure their friends are safe before moving out. Visitors also often come in groups and may try to assemble together before they exit the building. Their evacuation speed is bound to be that of the sluggish member of the group. Once the movement speed of the individual groups is affected, so is the evacuation speed for the entire facility (Sime, 1980).

Familiarity with the building is another major factor. Most patients and staff are bound to be familiar with particular parts of the building, given its huge size. A patient would be expected to know the way in and out of their current location but may not be familiar with other exit locations on other floors. Some patients are even brought to the hospital while unconscious and may not have the slightest idea about their present location. Patients familiar with the exits next to the room on fire may experience difficulties using the other safer exits. The smoke from the room may readily blur their vision or choke them, leading to unconsciousness as a result of the toxic gases inhaled. The occupants will therefore be compelled to follow others blindly, hoping to secure the right main exit at the middle of the building. The process of forcing their way through the smoke for patients next to room 418 will result in numerous injuries due to blurred vision. According to Proulx (2002), many people will navigate through smoke as they try to find the safest location away from the threat of fire.


Earlier on, the building characteristics indicated the time within which the slabs can withstand the high fire temperatures before giving in. These calculations are meant to help evaluate the success of the evacuation process in ensuring all the occupants of the building are safe before the building gives in should all the attempts to put out the fire proved futile. Calculations can be divided into the recognition time (RecT) and reaction time (RespT). The two make up the pre-movement period before the start of the evacuation.

In order to make an almost accurate calculation, we rely on a fire report at the hospital conducted by the NFPA in conjunction with the Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA). Much has not changed in the hospital except for a few infrastructural changes that have been made. The initial building still stands, and only a few extensions to create more bed capacity have been made. The report is therefore relevant for the calculations below. According to the report, the pre-movement time before the evacuation process began was about 11minutes (NFPA, 1994).

The occupant number acts as a major contributory factor at which the hospital is evacuated. The measured travel time for a healthy being from the extreme part of the building to the main entrance located at the middle of the building is roughly 20-30mins. This only happens at a speed of 15- 20m/ min. The farthest room is on the ninth floor and is about 300metres from the main entrance. Extra time is allowed to cater to the time spent at the staircase that does not translate directly to any horizontal displacement. In this calculation, it is assumed that the person does not find a closer exit in the evacuation period. Conversely, the shortest distance one would be required to travel is from the patient room on the first floor to the main exit/ entrance. The closet patient room (room 5) is about 20 meters from the main entrance. The movement time (MovT) for the occupants can be calculated by dividing the distance to be covered by the travel speed of the occupant.

Slowest travel Time = Distance/ speed:

  • Travel time = 300m/ (15m/min) = 20minutes
  • Travel time = 300m/ (20m/min) = 15minutes
  • The fastest travel time = Distance/ speed:
  • Travel time = 20m/ (15m/min) = 1.33minutes
  • Travel time = 20m/ (20m/min) = 1 minute

The calculations above do not readily evaluate the number of people passing through the exit door at the time as that is subject to numerous other factors. For an efficient and fast evacuation process, the occupant density at the exit door should not be optimal to avoid more injuries. Controlling the panic levels among the occupants is one of the known ways of ensuring organized evacuation at the exits. The safety areas have been identified as those located on either side of the middle part of the building. Since the main entrance/ exit is located at this place, there is bound to be congestion. This is due to pressure from the inflow of the evacuation team and the fire department officials, and the outflow of occupants escaping the fire. Since the main entrance is about 2metres, the approximate number of persons moving through the doorway is two persons/seconds. The total number of exit doors available, including the main ones, is six. At full capacity, the hospital is estimated to have 2500 occupants. In this scenario, the hospital is assumed to be at full capacity. The total time taken to exit through the door can therefore be calculated.

Occupant load at each doorway = Total number of occupants/ Total number of doors = 2500/6 = 417 persons per door

Total time required to exit all the occupants through the doorway= Occupant load per door/ rate of outflow of persons through the door = 417/2persons per second = 208.5seconds (3.475minutes)

These figures are not very precise as delays are bound to occur before the evacuation process. Moreover, the inflow and outflow of the rescue team greatly alter these findings.

The total of the calculated 3.475 minutes and the fastest time becomes the approximate movement time (MovT). The movement time thus lies between 4.475 and 4.808 minutes. The sum of the RecT, RespT, MovT gives the Evacuation time (EvacT), also termed at the Required Safe Escape Time (RSET).

RecT+RespT+MovT = EvacT

(>11) + (4.475) => 15.475 minutes

(>11) + (4.808) => 15.808 minutes

Finally, the last calculation would be the determination of the margin of safety. This is the time available for evacuation before the building gives in. In the case of this scenario, the fire was easily contained, and the evacuation process was not necessary.

Impacts of the scenario

The impacts of this scenario can be analyzed on the basis of the effects on the building infrastructure and the different occupants. As a result of the fire, the patient room walls were filled with soot, and certain sections of the wallboard burnt to ashes. The dialysis machine and the oxygen supply ducts were destroyed considerably and had to be repaired by a technician before they rendered their normal services. As a result of the incident, the concerned room and the adjacent rooms have to be fixed and then repainted.

For the patient, the incident causes numerous burns to his body. The patient has leg complications and was helpless when the beddings caught fire. Similarly, when he inhales a lot of carbon monoxide until he becomes unconscious before the medics can reach him. He sustains burn injuries on the left leg and hand due to his position at the time of the fire. Other patients will develop a fear of the gadgets used and demand the reduction of the time between different rounds by the nurses. Moreover, they might also demand some form of alarm that can be used to create attention in case one cannot talk due to their medication condition.

The management of Petersburg Hospital is impacted by the incident in different ways. First will be the direct costs involved in restoring the hospital to its condition before the fire and the installation of any other better safety measures deemed fit. Secondly, once the news of the fire spread to its customers, their attitudes to the hospital will shift from positive to negative. This is bound to reduce the hospital’s returns substantially. The administration will have to devise new ways to win back customer confidence. In addition, it has to institute new measures to prevent such occurrences in the future. These could include cutting down the time taken between different rounds, particularly in the case of critically ill patients, or technological advances such as the use of the 360° camera to monitor each patient room from a particular location. These measures are bound to come with tied costs. The ability to contain the fire may indicate the hospital’s preparedness in case of fire disasters and offer a chance to make the relevant adjustment to avert any future fires.

Fire scenario 2

This fire design is based on NFSA 101 (2003) fire scenario three, which states that the origin of the fire is in an occupied room, which later spreads to other parts of the assembly occupancy and endangers the lives of the present occupants. The fire in this scenario should therefore be self-ignited, and the scenario should address how it affects the occupants of the building.

The area of concern to us, in this case, is the generator room located on the second floor. The generator used by Petersburg hospital is automatic and therefore does not require the physical presence of any of the subordinate staff. Normally, the room is only visited when fuel refill is necessary and only happens after it has been in operation for more than twelve hours. Since it is only on in case of an electric interruption, a considerable time elapses before any refill is necessary. Any other checkup is only made in case of a technical fault. Since smoke and heat are common in the room, all the smoke and heat detectors have been deactivated. The fuel load in this situation is the container of petrol placed in the room and a huge carton box for the machine as it has recently been purchased. The fire scheduled to occur on a Friday evening after the visiting hours and when a large number of members of staff are absent. The occupant number at the time can be pegged at 1000.

The fire is initiated by an electrical fault in the generator that causes it to spark once there is an electric power interruption.

It sets itself off, as usual, this does not raise any alarm. However, as it runs, it begins to emit sparks close to the power exit area. Due to the volatility of the petrol used by the generator and the huge supply of oxygen from the numerous ventilation on the wall leading to the outside of the building, a fire starts off. An unattended fault in the door that causes it to fail will then swing in place. The electric power supply would resume, and the generator turns itself off, as usual, bring the impression all is well. Large fumes of smoke will begin to seep through the openings into the corridor, and fire begins to consume the wooden parts of the building. The fire would spread to the corridors and activate the sprinklers setting off the alarm. Since it is at night, the fire is easily visible from the outside, and the hospital staff rushes to the scene. The sprinklers manage to contain the fire, but the 20litres of fuel streaming from the generator room complicates their efforts. It is only after the arrival of the staff with the fire extinguishers that the fire is contained.

The generator room is located next to 20 patient rooms and close to stairwell 3. The size of the fire complicates the egress using stairwell three and the corridors next to it. In total, 200 occupants on the hospital floor have to seek an alternative route out of the building since the stairwell at the extreme end of the south wing was under construction and is impassable.

Pre-movement behavior

A delay in the movement of the occupants in this scenario poses great risks to them. The rate of spread of the fuel load streaming from the generator room increases the rate at which the fire consumes the partitions on the corridors. Pre-movement issues in this scenario will border on the concept of commitment, and the presence of others will limit the reaction time. The visitor role will, however, be reduced considerably since the visiting hours are passed. However, the small number of staff present may elongate evacuation time.

Travel behavior

Once the evacuation process has kicked off, different factors will swing into play to limit the evacuation time. First, the occupants in the immediate rooms closest to the generator room will have to force their way through the smoke and endure the heat before securing a safe exit. Some may force their way through the stairwell under repair and injure themselves in the process.

To prevent fire spread through the electric connection, lights are temporarily switched off, leaving the place in complete darkness. The evacuation team and the patients have to depend on other sources of light such as torches or phones. A large number of people and the limited exit routes cause congestion at the stairwell and result in stampede injuries due to a lack of a reliable and continuous source of light. The mobility complications of some of the patients will also lengthen the evacuation time. Similar to the scenario above, the social affiliation will also play a vital role in this case. However, the effect is reduced considerably since the visitors are absent. The assumption made here is that all the patients will manage to navigate through the fire safely, particularly those whose corridors are covered by the large flames of fire. In addition, all the patients in these rooms are capable of physical mobility without the assistance of the hospital staff.


Based on the report in our earlier scenario, the recognition time (RecT) and the response time (RespT) that make up the pre-movement period is taken to be greater than 11minutes. This will be the period between the start of the fire and the start of evacuation. The travel speed is cut down from that in the previous scenario to 10-15m/min due to the absence of light. The last floor is unoccupied and, therefore, the longest distance to be traveled about 180meters. The assumption of independence still holds in this particular situation. Conversely, the shortest distance to be traveled by occupants would be from the room closest to the usable stairwell to the main entrance. The distance is about 50meters. The movement time, therefore, becomes as follows.

Slowest travel time = Distance/ Travel Speed

Travel time = 180/ (10m/min) = 18 minutes

Travel time =180 / (15m/min) = 12 minutes

Fastest Travel time = Distance/ Travel Speed

Travel time = 50/ (10m/min) = 5minutes

Travel time = 50/ (15m/min) = 3.33minutes

The number of occupants in the building has greatly reduced to 1000 from 2500 in the previous scenario. The exit rates and doors remain as in the first scenario. Therefore, the total estimated time required to exit the doorway is as below.

Occupant load per door = 1000/6= 167 persons/ door

Time to exit through each door= 167/ 2persons per second = 83.33 seconds (1.369minutes)

Therefore, the adjusted movement time is between 4.722 and 6.369 minutes. The Evacuation time (EvacT), on the other hand, becomes:

EvacT= RecT+ RespT+ MovT

(>11 min) + 4.722 = > 15.722minutes

(>11min) + 6.369 = > 17.369 minutes

The usual uses of petrol are that of running engines and not lighting fires. Due to this, the combustion rates available are those of vehicle conversion rate. Therefore the Available Safe Escape Time could not be ascertained. However, experience indicates the time to be pretty short compared to that in scenario 1.


Again the implications can be discussed based on how they affect the building and its infrastructure, the occupants, and the management in general. The fire burns up the generator considerably to an extent beyond repair. The electric connection around the generator and in all the rooms in its vicinity is also affected. The door is completely burnt, as so are the wallboards separating the patient rooms. The ceiling is not affected significantly, although it is covered in soot. Some medical equipment such as beds, stretchers, and wheelchairs are burnt beyond repair, and large portions of the building walls are covered in soot. From the outside, the generator room is different due to the dark appearance from the effect of the soot.

In addition, many patients secure burns on their hands, chest, and face as they attempt to navigate the fire-filled corridors. One asthmatic patient inhales the toxic gases from the fire and becomes unconscious in the evacuation process. Just as in the previous scenario, all the patients close to the generator room seek transfers to other rooms, aware of the imminent danger that could arise. The generator room may have to be relocated for patients to be comfortable using the rooms.

The management has to meet all the repair costs involved in the restoration of the hospital building to its earlier state. Among these costs may be the relocation of the generator room to an exterior location and the purchase of a new generator. The new model should use diesel in place of the highly inflammable petrol. Measures should also be instituted to ensure the generator is frequently checked every now and then. These will aid in the early detection of possible risk, as stated in the above scenario.

Fire scenario 3

This fire scenario is based on NFPA 101 (2003) fire scenario seven that states that the fire has originated from an area remote from the assembly occupancy but still poses threats to it by either spreading the fire or blocking exits from the building, complicating the evacuation process.

Here, the fire originates from a vehicle explosion. Two people, a husband, and wife pull off at the hospital and park next to the building while arguing. An enraged husband slaps the wife, exits the car, and moves hurriedly into the hospital. The disgruntled wife sobs silently in the car, opens the door slowly, and places a metal connector between the two poles of the car battery, causing it to spark. She closes the car bonnet gradually and walks away. The husband soon returns, only to find the wife gone. Unsuspicious of an anomaly, he starts the car notices the smoke emitting from the bonnet. Before he can make a move, the car catches fire and spreads to the rest of the car parts due to the petrol tank located at the back of the car. A huge fire ensues.

The incident is scheduled to occur in the morning hours, making when the hospital has approximately 1500 occupants. Since there are other vehicles located in close proximity to the building at the fire is blocking the hospital’s main entrance, the alarm is sounded by staff at the front desk. Some employees rush to the location with fire extinguishers and help put out the fire. The driver is evacuated to safety, and the few parts of the building that had caught fire are extinguished.

Pre-movement behavior

The occupants of the hospitals are mainly the staff members and the patients with a small number of visitors. Hearing disability associated with patients whose room is close to the hospital reception may limit their receipt of the fire alarm. The pre-movement issues common with other scenarios such as the concept of commitment and the visitor role will offer significant resistance to the evacuation process.

Travel behavior

The occupants of the building with movement limitations will have difficulty in vacating the building. The concept of social affiliation will also play a role in the clearing process. Since there are no limitations on any stairwell, large numbers of people will collect at the hospital entrance leading to a commotion. Many will prefer to use the other five exits rather than risk their way through the main exit, which is the shortest way out. Those not familiar with the other exits, particularly the visitors, will have to follow the others blindly as they flee to safer areas to escape the threat of fire should the hospital catch fire (Shields et al.,1998). All other limitations are similar to those in the other scenarios.


Similarly, as in the other scenarios, the calculations of interest to us are the recognition time (RecT) and the response time (RespT), from which we can deduce the movement time (MovT) and the evacuation time (EvacT). Again, the pre-movement time will be based on a report by NFPA on a recent fire at the building. This time is estimated to be greater than 11minutes.

Since the incident happens during the day, the travel speed is normal and ranges from 15-20m/min. Since the occupants are mixed, both elderly and young, both travel speed will be applied. The largest travel distance is from the ninth floor to the main entrance, which is approximately 300 meters. It is assumed that there are patients on this floor as a surgical operation was scheduled to take place there the previous day. The shortest distance is from the deaf patient’s room, which 30meters from the entrance. The calculations from the movement time are, therefore, as below.

Slowest travel time = Distance/ Travel speed

Travel time = 300m/ (15m/min) = 20minutes

Travel time = 300m/ (20m/min) = 15minutes

The fastest travel time = Distance/ speed:

Travel time = 30m/ (15m/min) = 2minutes

Travel time = 30m/ (20m/min) = 1.5 minute

Since one exit is blocked, there is bound to be congestion at the other five exits. Therefore, a total of 1500 occupants will be expected to use the five exits.

Occupants load per doorway = 1500/ 5= 300 persons per door

Time taken to exit through each door = 300/ 2persons per second. = 150seconds (2.5minutes).

The calculated time 2.5minutes is added to the fastest travel time to get the adjusted movement time of between 4mins and 4.5 minutes. The evacuation time is then calculated as below:

RecT+ RespT+ MovT = EvacT

(>11min) + 4.5min = > 15.5minutes

(>11min) + 4 min = > 15minutes

The available safe Escape time cannot be calculated. There are various factors that will determine the rate of spread of fire to the entire building. For instance, a strong wind might accelerate this speed.


Since the fire is put off before considerable damage is achieved, the impacts on the building are significantly reduced. The front area of the hospital is covered in soot while signs at the entrance are burnt down. A hospital ambulance is burnt slightly at its front, causing the indicator lights on one end to break. The large entrance door is also burnt on edge and covered in soot.

The visitor whose car was involved in the incident is burnt considerably as the melting rubber on the edges of the door causes the doors to fail, trapping him inside. Smashing the windows, which is his only rescue option, leads to glass injuries all over his face. He is rushed into the hospital once the fire has been put out. Impacts of the hospital management include the expenses of restoring the burnt door, signs, and ambulance to their previous states. Strict measures have to be instituted to ensure such occurrences do not arise in the future. These may include more alertness on the part of the subordinate staff. For instance, a keen guard may have noted the lady’s action in time to salvage the situation.

Assessment and recommendations

Petersburg Hospital has an emergency evacuation that is pretty rigid, as displayed by the scenarios above. Fire disasters are heavily dependent on the effect of the sprinklers, which can be overwhelmed, as in the second scenario. In case of scenarios such as the generator case, water may actually increase the rate of spread of the fire since it is denser than the fuel load. The fuel floats on the water spreading it to other arrears as the water flows. The sprinkler system installed can easily be overwhelmed by a huge fire. Moreover, the designers ignored the behavioral characteristics of the occupants, which are seen to have a considerable effect on the evacuation period. For instance, moving people on a wheelchair may prove a time-wasting venture in the evacuation process.

The hospital is currently equipped with six exits and equipment for fire protection. The equipment available includes automatic sprinklers, fire extinguishers, and self-activated fire alarms. Moreover, a manual activation option for the fire alarm is also available. In addition, there are no directions offered to reduce the visitor role experienced in all three scenarios.

The pre-movement time expected before the evacuation process begins displayed by the NFPA report is 11 minutes. This time frame is too risky for any evacuation. If the rate of fire spread is accelerated by any external factor, much causality may result. The following recommendations can help improve the emergency responsiveness at the hospital.

The first measure instituted by the hospital should designate two exits-one primary and the other secondary on each floor. The two exits should be located far apart so as to cut down the chances of having the two exits blocked by fire at the same time. In the presence of a window or door in the restroom that can be used for exit purposes, such an exit should never be designated. No floor plan should indicate the restroom as a possible exit point.

All the designated exits and patient rooms should be located away from the hazardous materials. This reduces the effects of incidences similar to scenario 2.

It has been observed that the larger the exit opening, the faster the evacuation process. The hospital should therefore ensure there are no directions leading to narrow exits. In addition, there should be signs (visible through smoke) that indicate the closest emergency exits. The exit openings should be constructed in such a way that they are adjustable in case disasters arise. This reduces the time that elapses before the occupancy load per exit is evacuated. The commotion is also reduced considerably, and consequently, the evacuation time is reduced. Possible causalities indicated in the scenario will be avoided.

The hospital is bound to install elevators in the near future to fasten movement within the building. However, in case of a fire, no elevator should be used in place of the stairwell. To cater to the disabled patients, there should be exits with wheelchair access to facilitate their evacuation. Moreover, the directions pinned on designated locations of the building should indicate the employee or patient location besides being customized for each floor plan.

Finally, the hospital should conduct fire training sessions frequently for all its employees to reduce the effect of the visitor role. This will be coupled with the increase in the firefighting equipment such as extinguishers. The equipment should have instructions in two common languages, where applicable, depending on the frequently spoken languages at the hospital. They should be located at similar locations on all the floors since the hospital floors are similar.


Petersburg hospital is representative of many other hospitals in different parts of the world. By taking a close look at the hospital’s evacuation plan, all the other hospitals can identify the areas that need improvement and put in place the recommendations above. In due time, the casualties in the hospital fire scenario can be reduced to a manageable number or averted completely.


Harrington, G. (2003). Assembly Occupancies. NFPA Fire Protection Handbook, Quincy. pp. 13-29.

NFPA. (1994). Fire investigation report, Hospital fire Petersburg, VA. Web.

NFPA. (2006). Leading causes of non-home structure fires: 1999-2002 annual averages. Web.

Proulx, G. (2001). Occupant behavior and Evacuation. Proceedings of the 9th International fire Protection Symposium, Munich. pp. 3-342.

Proulx, G. (2002). Movement of People: The Evacuation Timing. SFPE fire Protection Handbook, Betheseda, Maryland, Chapter 3-13, pp. 3-342- 3-366.

Shields, T., Boyce, K. & Silcock, G. (1998). Towards the Characterization of Large Retail Stores. Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Human Behavior in Fire, Belfast, UK.

Sime, J. (1980). The concept of Panic: Fires and Human Behavior. England: John Wiley & Sons publishers. pp. 63-81.

Appendix A

Overview of Petersburg hospital.
Diagram 1: Overview of Petersburg hospital.
Evacuation plan.
Diagram 2: Evacuation plan.
The front part of Petersburg hospital.
Diagram 3: The front part of Petersburg hospital.
The exterior of the building.
Diagram 4: The exterior of the building.
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