Like us, you’re probably seeing lots of adverts at the moment for festivals and outdoor events that are taking place over the next few weeks and months. It’s a sure sign that summer is here, even if the weather sometimes suggests otherwise. As these events are outdoors, fire safety probably isn’t something you’d immediately think about in relation to them. Yet various incidents serve to remind us of the fact that fire safety is an issue for outdoor events as well as indoor ones. Take, for example, the Leeds Festival. It’s a very popular event but it’s one that’s had several issues with fire safety – some of them pretty serious. Going back a few years, two teenagers were seriously burned after someone threw an aerosol can into their camp fire. The same year, some Leeds Festival-goers took it upon themselves to set light to their tents, exposing other campers to serious risk. The following year, a campfire exploded. Admittedly these types of festivals face particular challenges given the environment.  It’s fair to conclude some festival-goers’ judgement is likely to be impaired thanks to the use of alcohol and potentially some other substances too. Certainly it’s an issue most festival and large scale event planners are very mindful of. Leeds Festival spells out on its website what’s expected of people who are in attendance and what will happen if people don’t comply. It also includes personal safety advice which covers fire prevention and what to do if fire breaks out.

Fire safety in smaller outdoor events

Clearly any event that’s on the scale of Leeds Festival will always need significant planning with regards to all aspects of safety and security, including creating major incident plans. But anyone running any kind of public outdoor event, albeit a less complex one on a much smaller scale, still needs to pay careful attention to fire safety and to expect the unexpected. If you’re an event organiser you have a duty to prevent or reduce the risk of fire and that will require you to carry out a fire safety assessment following these five main steps:
  • Identify the potential fire hazards. If it could burn, it’s fuel for a fire.
  • Identify the people at risk.
  • Evaluate the risk then put steps in place to remove or reduce it.
  • Record all significant findings and make sure the right people know about them.
  • Keep reviewing your plan.
Here are just a few pointers to keep in mind:
  1. Think carefully about the people who could be exposed to risk. Most obviously there could be particularly vulnerable people present such as the very young, elderly and disabled who might need some specific consideration. Think about other factors too that could apply to people in attendance at the event. For example, is alcohol permitted? If so, what could be the impact if people who’ve been consuming alcohol find themselves in a fire emergency situation? Consider what steps you can take to reduce all the risks you identify.
  2. What fire detection warning system can you put in place? Is it suitable for making everyone aware there’s a fire? Depending on the event size, you might need a public address system along with a back-up electricity supply. And is there adequate access for fire engines?
  3. How quickly and safely could you evacuate people? Do you have a place where a potentially large group of people can be moved to if required? Consider whether there might be a need to provide signage and, if the event is taking place in the evening, emergency lighting.
  4. How can you restrict the spread of fire and smoke if a fire did break out? Make sure you have enough suitable fire extinguishers available on site along with any other kind of necessary fire fighting equipment like hose reels. Ensure the right people are adequately trained in their use.
  5. Who would be responsible for initiating evacuation and who would deal with contacting the fire service? Think about what kind of training is needed to make sure everyone involved in running the event is aware of the part they must play in terms of both preventative and reactive steps.
  6. Look at your plans for event housekeeping. Be careful about how you store material and it should go without saying that you must following specific regulations if you plan to use anything like fireworks or pyrotechnics.
While these pointers cover some of the main things to think about, every event is different. So it’s important you invest sufficient time in taking care of all aspects of fire safety specific to your event’s particular circumstances. You’ll find further detailed advice in the publication ‘Fire Risk Assessment: Open air events and venues’. If you are unsure of exactly what is required and would like some expert advice about fire safety at your event, please feel free to get in contact with us.