Chief urges evacuation plan for courthouse
Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Company Chief J.J. Steiner delivered some sobering advice to the Morgan County Commissioners last Thursday — urging them to figure out how the Morgan County Courthouse will be evacuated in the event of a fire or other emergency.
The county doesn’t have an evacuation plan for the courthouse, and had no plans in place for regular fire drills or training for employees on how best to exit the new building in case of an emergency, said county officials.
Need plan now
“When you have a building of this magnitude and take it over – for you to be in here almost a year without a plan isn’t good. But it’s understandable,” Steiner told the commissioners.
“To be honest with you, I’m behind the times in my job as Fire Chief coming before you to talk about this,” he said.
Steiner approached the commissioners after Chief Deputy Tony Link asked him to review the county’s fire plan. Link is in charge of courthouse security.
“You’re responsible for the safety of the public and your employees in this building,” said Steiner.
“Your supervisors should be made aware of what to do in case of a fire. Your employees should be made aware of what to do and how to assist the public in evacuating in a calm and orderly fashion,” Steiner said.
Steiner made several suggestions to the commissioners relating to fire safety at the courthouse, which was built after the last courthouse was destroyed by fire in August 2007.
—Diagrams at every door showing the nearest exit in case of a fire
— Quarterly fire drills
— Review of evacuation policy after drills
— Backup power for Sheriff’s Department sprinkler system
— High-visibility paint for exterior Fire Department Connection to sprinkler system.
Fire committee to form
Commissioner Stacy Dugan said one way to address the issue of fire safety in the new courthouse was to put together a committee that would focus on the evacuation plan, educate employees about the procedures and work with the fire department.
“I’d like to have fire drills and hear the alarms and have all the employees hear what that sounds like,” said Dugan.
Steiner agreed to help with that effort, and urged Dugan to make the committee small and set up a fire drill exercise soon.
They agreed to doing drills both during
business hours and in off hours.
Steiner said coordination would be the
major hurdle in the exercise. He said a drill would be a major disruption, especially for the courts.
‘That’s the least of my worries,” said Commissioner Brad Close.
Steiner suggested that major changes to the county’s evacuation plan be made after an initial fire drill, when committee members could pinpoint practical issues that arose during evacuation.
“It can’t be stressed enough – what you need is a calm, orderly evacuation and employees need to help the public exit properly,” Steiner said.
The fire committee will meet in May.
Steiner said his department already has a preliminary fire plan for the courthouse, but they need a full set of blueprints to show electrical and mechanical features of the building.
The building has sprinklers. If there’s an incident, it’s probably going to be a mechanical or electrical problem,” he said.