Last reviewed 27 February 2018

To meet their legal obligations under fire safety legislation, many organisations appoint fire marshals (also known as wardens) to fulfil various functions and undertake certain activities, particularly when premises have to be evacuated. Mike Sopp explains how to determine and deliver the appropriate training.

Without careful design and planning, fire marshal training provision can be a very expensive exercise with limited useful objectives and benefits to those acting as fire marshals and the organisation as a whole.

For such appointments to be successful in terms of training delivery, thought needs to be given to the actual duties that fire marshals will be required to undertake so that training needs can be determined and appropriate training provision put in place.

Defining duties

For all organisations, there will be a number of influences that will need to be considered when defining the duties of fire marshals, including the:

  • need for compliance with legislative requirements

  • outcomes of fire risk assessments

  • fire evacuation strategy for the premises

  • requirements of any fire-related policy of the organisation

  • lessons learnt from previous incidents

  • needs of vulnerable or disabled occupiers.

In terms of legislative requirements, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales (or the equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland) requires the responsible person to nominate a sufficient number of competent persons to implement appropriate procedures “in so far as they relate to the evacuation of relevant persons from the premises” and to nominate competent persons to implement measures for fire fighting in the premises (commensurate with the risk).

It is worth noting that, to be competent, those nominated must have “sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities” to enable them to properly implement the evacuation procedures or fire fighting.

Certainly, fire evacuation procedures and fire fighting are often seen as the core duties of fire marshals, but the fire risk assessment, evacuation strategy and in-house policy may also influence their duties.

For example, the fire risk assessment will identify responsibilities such as the arrangements required for summoning and liaising with the fire and rescue service or the shutting down of vital or dangerous equipment. Actual duties may include confirming with the fire and rescue service whether all persons are accounted for, to determine the location of the fire and informing them of any special risks (eg location of hazardous substances) on-site.

Similarly, the evacuation strategy may require additional functions to be undertaken, particularly where a phased evacuation procedure has been adopted or where those with vulnerabilities may require additional assistance.

Having defined the duties and functions necessary, these should be recorded in the fire emergency plan for the premises.

Determining training requirements

As noted above, competency is essential for those nominated to undertake the defined duties. Guidance from the Chief Fire Officers Association notes that the ability of fire marshals to perform their duties will “depend heavily on the nature of the training the fire marshal has been given and their ability to carry the role into effect”.

A well-developed fire marshal competency requirement “framework” that defines the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviours necessary can be used for a number of purposes including the selection of appropriate nominated persons.

Perhaps the most obvious purpose of the framework is to assist in the identification and analysis of fire marshals’ learning and development requirements.

It is necessary to have in place arrangements to identify and remedy any shortfalls between the current levels of competency possessed by the persons nominated to be fire marshals, the required level and what information, instruction, training and supervision will be necessary to bridge the gap.

This could include the undertaking of a training needs analysis which involves gathering of data to find out where there are gaps in the existing skills, knowledge and attitudes of nominated employees.

Possible sources of data recommended by the CIPD include interviews, questionnaires or surveys of employees at various levels of the organisation. Other sources could be reviews of existing competency frameworks, outcomes of incident investigations, fire drills, etc.

Clearly, the duties to be undertaken will determine training requirements, but in general terms training requirements will cover:

  • knowledge of the fire safety evacuation strategy and fire emergency plan for the premises

  • awareness of human behaviour in fire-related situations

  • how to encourage others to use the most appropriate escape routes

  • how to search safely and how to recognise areas that are unsafe to enter

  • the special evacuation arrangements that have been pre-planned (eg PEEPs)

  • the training in use of fire-fighting equipment

  • an understanding of other fire-related precautions such as fixed equipment

  • how to report faults in the general fire precautions, incidents and near misses.

Training delivery

Once the training content has been decided upon, this must be put together into a programme with specific objectives outlined. Whether the training needs and objectives of the responsible person and fire marshals are met will depend upon the form the training takes, be this classroom based or practical, or a combination of both. To achieve success, the organisation must consider many factors not least the:

  • needs of the target audience based upon current competencies and complexity of duties to be performed

  • delivery methods required (ie internal, external, classroom or eLearning)

  • standards to be achieved (the syllabus and level) and how this is to be assessed

  • costs including delivery fees, support and reference materials

  • location (facilities required, presentation equipment, etc)

  • trainer competence to deliver training.

Choosing the correct form of training is pivotal to the overall success of any fire marshal training programme, as the selection of an inappropriate delivery method/s for the new skills and knowledge may negate the benefits and could expose the responsible person to risks that could have been controlled.

To some extent, the training content will have a bearing on the most suitable method of presentation, but the defined objectives of training needs will prevail in determining the content and level/standard to be attained.

Whatever delivery method is selected, competency of the trainer to deliver the training is essential. The trainer will not only need knowledge and experience of the course subject matter, but it will be beneficial if they have some form of training qualification.

If being delivered in-house the responsible person should consider the skills and knowledge available and if necessary “upskill” the trainer nominated to deliver the training. Where an external provider is to be utilised, it is essential checks are made as to their capabilities to deliver the training required.

In addition, any external course should be made pertinent and relevant to the organisation. This will require the responsible person and provider to share information on the duties to be performed along with all relevant data such as the fire risk assessment, fire emergency plan, etc.

Finally, once the training has been delivered to fire marshals it should be subject to some form of assessment. In terms of immediacy, this could be through a written test to collect evidence of the fire marshals’ attainment of the necessary knowledge and skills against the standards set.

In terms of practical application, the most obvious method of assessment is the completion of fire drills. A well-planned and executed fire drill will confirm understanding of the training given and will provide useful information for future training needs by identifying areas where fire marshals were unable to complete their duties.

As such, fire drills can include a targeted approach where specific duties can be assessed as part of the drill (eg using fire evacuation equipment for disabled persons).

On-the-spot debriefs are useful to discuss the fire drill, encouraging feedback from fire marshals in a contemporaneous environment. Later, reports and observations from various parties can be developed, collated and reviewed. Any conclusions and areas of deficiency along with remedial actions required can be identified and included in any future fire marshal training.

Further information

From the British Standards Institution

  • BS 9999:2017 Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings. Code of Practice

  • PAS 79:2012 Fire Risk Assessment. Guidance and Recommended Methodology

From the Chief Fire Officers Association

  • Collected Perceived Insights into and Application of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005