Fire/Life Safety

Safety & Health Manual – Table of Contents

The following sections provide general safety guidelines and procedures.

  1. UT Policies on Safety and Health
  2. General Safety
  3. Safety Suggestions and Hazard Reporting
  4. Office Safety
  5. Safety and Health Inspections
  6. Motor Vehicle Safety
  7. Fire/Life Safety
  8. Electrical Safety
  9. Shop Safety
  10. Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protection Program
  11. Confined Spaces

The following sections provide fire/life safety guidelines and procedures. This chapter covers the following topics:

General Fire/Life Safety

Fire/life safety involves numerous safety issues including fire prevention, fire suppression, and emergency evacuation/response. Fire/life safety is everyone’s responsibility.

IMPORTANT: Learn how to prevent fires and respond to fires—what you learn will be invaluable.

The University of Tennessee is committed to providing a safe environment for building occupants and emergency response personnel. UT uses nationally accepted codes as guidelines for inspections, testing, and procedures.

The Effects of a Fire

Most fires produce an immense amount of smoke that is highly toxic. In fact, smoke is responsible for more fire fatalities than flames. A smoky fire can have the following effect on humans.

Within 30 seconds — disorientation
Within 2 minutes — unconsciousness
Within 3 minutes — death

Timing is critical during a fire. To ensure your safety, you must know how to prevent and respond to any fire emergency.

Fire Prevention

The greatest protection against property loss and injuries from fire is prevention. Follow these guidelines to promote fire/life safety: 

  • Minimize combustible storage.
  • Store waste materials in suitable containers.
  • Use flammable materials in well-ventilated areas. Use and store flammables away from ignition sources, such as cigarettes.
  • Keep equipment in good working order. Have electrical wiring and appliances inspected regularly.
  • Ensure that heating units are properly safeguarded.
  • Do not hunt for gas leaks using an open flame. Use approved gas indicators.
  • Report and repair all gas leaks immediately.
  • Conduct hot work in well-ventilated areas.
  • Test enclosed or confined spaces for flammable atmospheres.
  • Use open flames carefully. Do not use open flames where flammable atmospheres may be present.

Fighting a Fire

If you see a fire or smoke, or if you smell smoke, complete the following steps:

  1. Pull the fire alarm to begin evacuating the building.
  2. If you are not in immediate danger, call 911 to report the fire. Provide the operator with the following information: building or area name, approximate location of the fire, size and type of the fire, and your name.
  3. If you are formally trained in fire fighting techniques and are not in immediate danger, you may attempt to fight the fire. Do not place yourself or others in unnecessary danger.
  4. Exit the building by following posted evacuation routes. Do not use elevators during an emergency.

During actual emergencies, building occupants must receive permission from the UTPD, the Fire Department, or the Safety Officer before re-entering the building.

NOTE: Evacuation plans and fire drills are essential for building occupants to respond correctly to a fire alarm. Refer to the Emergency Response Plan for more information.


If you suspect arson, no matter how small the incident, contact the UTPD or the Safety Office. Do not alter the fire scene in any way, unless you are trying to extinguish a live fire. The UTPD and Fire Department work together to investigate possible arson.  

Combustible Storage

By storing excess combustible materials improperly, employees not only increase the potential for having a fire, they increase the potential severity of a fire. To reduce the hazards associated with combustible storage, follow these guidelines:

  1. Eliminate excess combustible materials such as paper and cardboard.
  2. Do not store combustible materials in hallways, stairwells, or mechanical rooms.
  3. When stacking combustible materials, leave at least 18 inches between the top of the stack and the ceiling, so that the sprinkler system (if present) can function properly.

Emergency Access and Exit

Emergency access and exit are critical during an emergency situation such as a fire. During a fire, timing and quick response are essential to save lives and property. Effective emergency access ensures that fire trucks can reach a building in time to extinguish the fire. Unobstructed emergency exits ensures that building occupants can exit a building to safety.

These definitions help clarify the concept of emergency access and exit:

  1. Emergency Access – Pertinent facilities and equipment remain available and unobstructed at all times to ensure effective fire detection, evacuation, suppression, and response.
  2. Emergency Exit – A continuous and unobstructed way to travel from any point in a public building to a public way. A means of exit may include horizontal and vertical travel routes, including intervening rooms, doors, hallways, corridors, passageways, balconies, ramps, stairs, enclosures, lobbies, courts, and yards.

IMPORTANT: Each location within a building must have a clear means of exit to the outside.

The following sections offer safety guidelines and procedures for maintaining emergency access and exit:

Corridors, Stairways, and Exits

An exit corridor and/or stairway is a pedestrian pathway that allows direct access to the outside of a building and/or allows access to a building entrance and subsequent pathways to the outside of a building (i.e., an exit corridor is the quickest, easiest, and most direct pathway for leaving a building.) Because exit corridors or passageways are the primary means of egress during an emergency, employees must follow the safety guidelines outlined in this section.

IMPORTANT: There must be at least 36 inches clear width of unobstructed, clutter-free space in all corridors, stairways, and exits.

Follow these guidelines to promote safe evacuation in corridors, stairways, and exits:

  1. Keep all means of exit clean, clutter-free, and unobstructed.
  2. Do not place hazardous materials or equipment in areas that are used for evacuation.
  3. Do not use corridors or stairways for storage or office/laboratory operations. Corridors may not be used as an extension of the office or laboratory.

Fire Doors

A fire door serves as a barrier to limit the spread of fire and restrict the movement of smoke. Unless they are held open by the automatic systems, fire doors must remain closed at all times.

Fire doors are normally located in stairwells, corridors, and other areas required by Fire Code. The door, door frame, locking mechanism, and closure are rated between 20 minutes and three hours. A fire door rating indicates how long the door assemble can withstand heat and a water hose stream.

Always keep fire doors closed. If it is necessary to keep a fire door open, have a special closure installed. This closure will connect the fire door to the building’s fire alarm system, and will automatically close the door if the alarm system activates.

IMPORTANT: Know which doors are fire doors and keep them closed to protect building occupants and exit paths from fire and smoke. Never block a fire door with a non-approved closure device such as a door stop, block of wood, or potted plant. For fire doors with approved closure devices, make sure that nothing around the door can impede the closure.

Never alter a fire door or assembly in any way. Simple alterations such as changing a lock or installing a window can lessen the fire rating of the door.

Doors to offices, laboratories, and classrooms help act as smoke barriers regardless of their fire rating. Keep these doors closed whenever possible.

REMEMBER: A closed door is the best way to protect your path to safety from the spread of smoke and fire.

Fire Detection and Notification

UTIA uses several types of fire detection and notification systems including heat detectors, smoke detectors, pull stations, horns, and lights. The following sections discuss these components.

Heat and Smoke Detectors

Fire detectors at UTIA are linked to the Central Alarm. Once a building alarm system is activated, the Reporting System alerts the emergency operator who initiates emergency response.

There are two types of fire detection devices used on the UTIA campus: heat detectors and smoke detectors. Please note the location of the detectors in your area and prevent damage and accidental activation.

  1. Heat Detectors. Heat detectors respond to the convected energy in hot smoke and fire gases (i.e., heat.) Heat detectors are normally located in laboratories, mechanical rooms, storage areas, and areas that could produce high levels of dust, steam, or other airborne particles.
  2. Smoke Detectors. Smoke detectors respond to the solid and liquid aerosols produced by a fire (i.e., smoke.) Since smoke detectors cannot distinguish between smoke particles and other particles such as steam, building occupants must be aware of detector locations and be considerate when working around them. Smoke detectors are normally found in exit corridors, office areas, assembly areas, and residence halls.

Alarm Systems: Pull Stations, Horns and Lights

Fire alarm manual pull stations are installed to manually activate a building’s alarms in addition to the automatic fire sensing devices. When pulled manually, a pull station activates the fire alarm system and notifies University personnel that an emergency exists. Pull stations are located near exit stairways and/or building exits.

Emergency horns/bells and lights are located throughout University buildings with new fire alarm systems. Do not block emergency horns or lights. Report damaged or defective horns and lights to the Safety Office.

Fire Suppression

UTIA uses various types of fire suppression equipment including portable fire extinguishers, and sprinklers systems. The following sections discuss each type of fire suppression equipment

Fire Extinguishers

Fires are classified according to three basic categories. Each type of fire requires special treatment to control and extinguish it. Therefore, all fire extinguishers are clearly marked to indicate the fire classes for which they are designed. Fires are classified as indicated below.

Class A. Fires involving ordinary combustibles such as wood, textiles, paper, rubber, cloth, and trash. The extinguishing agent for a Class A fire must be cool. Water and multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguishers are ideal for use on these types of fires.

Class B. Fires involving flammable or combustible liquids or gases such as solvents, gasoline, paint, lacquer, and oil. The extinguishing agent for a Class B fire must remove oxygen or stop the chemical reaction. Carbon dioxide, multi-purpose dry chemical, and halon fire extinguishers are ideal on these types of fires

Class C. Fires involving energized electrical equipment or appliances. The extinguishing agent for a Class C fire must be a nonconducting agent. Carbon dioxide, multi-purpose dry chemical, and halon fire extinguishers are ideal for use on these types of fires. Never use water on a Class C fire.

There are numerous types of fire extinguishers; however, most extinguishers contain water, carbon dioxide, or dry chemicals.  Remember that a fire needs oxygen, fuel, and heat to start and to be sustained.

Inspection, Testing & Recharging

The Safety Office inspects and tests fire extinguishers regularly. The UT Department of Environmental Health and Safety also ensures that extinguishers are recharged. (Fire extinguishers must be recharged after every use.) To move a fire extinguisher to a new location or report a missing or damaged fire extinguisher, call the Safety Office at 974-4904.

Using Fire Extinguishers

Most fire extinguishers provide operating instructions on their label; however, the time to learn about fire extinguishers is not during a fire. The sooner you know how to use a fire extinguishers, the better prepared you are.

NOTE: Portable fire extinguishers are located throughout all University facilities. They are mounted in readily accessible locations such as hallways, near exit doors, and areas containing fire hazards. Make sure that fire extinguishers are accessible and securely mounted.

When using a fire extinguisher to fight or control a fire, aim the spray at the base of the fire. Because most extinguishers only work for a short time, employ a sweeping motion and work quickly to control the fire.

IMPORTANT: Do not attempt to fight a fire unless it is small and controllable. Use good judgment to determine your capability to fight a fire. When fighting a fire, always maintain an escape route. Never allow a fire to block your egress.

Portable Extinguishers and Automobiles

All state-owned vehicles in excess of 20 horsepower must contain a 2 ½ pound A-B-C Class fire extinguishers.

Sprinkler Systems

The purpose of water sprinkler systems is to help extinguish and minimize the spread of fires. Sprinklers are normally activated only by heat. They are not connected to emergency pull stations. To ensure that sprinklers are effective in the event of a fire, maintain at least 18 inches of clearance between any equipment or storage items and the ceiling. (Anything close to the ceiling can defeat the sprinkler system.) Never hang anything from a sprinkler head. Arrange work areas to facilitate sprinklers and allow even water distribution.

Holiday Decorations

Unfortunately, holiday decorations are often fire hazards. Follow these guidelines to improve fire safety during the holidays:

  1. Knoxville Fire Safety Codes do not permit the use of natural vegetation, including live trees, for decorations. Fire resistant artificial trees and decorations may be used.
  2. Candles and other open flame units are not permitted for decoration. (Candles/incense are never to be lit in University buildings.)
  3. Electric lights should not be used on metal trees because of electrical shock potential.
  4. Lights and decorations should be unplugged when the area is unoccupied.
  5. Extension cords should not be used. Position electrical decorations to permit direct connection to electrical power.
  6. Only use electric lights and decorations that have been tested and approved by a recognized agency such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
  7. Check electrical items for broken/cracked sockets, frayed/bare wires, loose connections, etc. Discard if damaged.
  8. Trees and other decorations should located well away from sources of ignition such as radiators, heaters, light fixtures, etc. Be sure that trees are out of the traffic pattern and do not block designated paths of exit.
  9. Only flame-proof or non-combustible materials should be used for decoration.