DEAR ABBY: I am the building manager of a high-rise office building. Every year we perform a fire alarm test to determine that all our fire alarm systems work properly. Employees in the building must evacuate in a timely manner.
Two years ago, a very overweight woman told me she had a heart condition and could not make it down the stairs during the drill. I told her to proceed to the stairwell, have one of her co-workers give me her location and in the event of a fire I'd send a fireman up to get her. A year later, another obese woman told me she, too, couldn't make it down the stairs. Word has gone out in the building. Now 10 other women have asked to be added to the "list" so they won't have to descend the stairs.
I have nightmares about these women standing in stairwells waiting for firemen to help them during a real fire. I have a call in to my local fire chief to see what he/she thinks I should do. Have you any thoughts on this matter? -- WORRIED BUILDING MANAGER
DEAR BUILDING MANAGER: Employees who are disabled need to know the evacuation plan in place for their safety. If others are taking advantage of the system set up for people with disabilities in order to avoid going down the stairs, it is unfair to everyone.
I took your question to Austin, Texas, Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and to Allan Fraser, senior building code specialist at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Both expressed concern that you would create a "list," because lists can become out-of-date or misplaced and of no use when a fire occurs. People quit, get fired, go on vacation, are home sick, etc. on any given workday.
The late chair of NFPA's Disability Access Review and Advisory Committee Bill Scott -- who was a wheelchair user -- often said, "Everyone, regardless of their disability, has some responsibility to ensure his or her own safety." Being dependent on others for rescue can be a recipe for disaster.
NFPA offers a free Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People With Disabilities, available for download at www.nfpa.org/disabilities. Chief Kerr and Mr. Fraser recommend you get it. I hope you will take them up on the suggestion, and be a stickler for compliance.