Even with proper prevention, fires can still strike.
Fire drills: We have them at school, we have them at work, but do you have them at your barn? Just in the past few months the reported amount of barn fires has been frightening with many resulting in equine loss of life. When it comes to barn fires, having a plan is imperative to ensuring the best possible outcome in the instance of a fire.
Prevention goes hand-in-hand with fire planning — we’ve published several articles about barn fire prevention which you can review here:
- National Fire Prevention Week: Fire Safety Tips For the Barn
- Barn Fire Prevention: A Proactive Approach
- Kentucky Performance Products: Fire Prevention With Equine Guelph
Unsure if your barn has an emergency plan in place for fire or other disasters? Speak with your barn owner immediately to brief yourself on the proper protocol in these terrible circumstances and if there isn’t a plan already in place, here are a few things for you to consider when drafting up a plan of your own.
The first priority should always be calling 911. It may be tempting to rush right into the barn and start evacuating horses, but it’s critical that first responders be notified to get to the property as soon as possible to try to quell a fire.
Know your emergency exits, both for horses and humans. At any place in the barn, there should be more than one exit path to allow for egress in a fire. Walk the perimeter of your facility and look for weak spots where you do not have access to a way out. Escape paths should be free and clear of clutter and wide enough for a human or horse to exit out of.
When preparing for the evacuation of horses, have a plan for where they should be taken if your stalls do not have external exit doors into a paddock area. Are there paddocks outside you can turn them loose in? An outdoor arena nearby? Ultimately, you would like to have a plan that does not include the horses being out of a fenced-in area so they wouldn’t flee out of fear and make their way onto busy roads or off of the property. That being said, there is no predictability factor in barn fires so having multiple plans and getting the horses out early-on is key.
Be aware of the location of the fire extinguishers and water hoses on your property. These are often everyday items that we walk past without really noticing them, but in the case of a fire these items could be game changers. Of course, never fight a fire that is beyond your limitations. A low-grade smolder in a stall could be an easy fix with the quick actions of someone trained on how to properly use a fire extinguisher, but an engulfed hay loft is not your concern to put out. Get the animals out of the barn if you can without putting yourself in harm’s way and allow first responders to handle the fire.
Consider having a fire extinguisher training day. Many local fire departments have tester fire extinguishers and flame simulators that will allow all of your staff to train on how to use a fire extinguisher when needed. While the fire department is at your property, walk through with their team to identify potential hazard areas that might be at higher risk of fire or harder to evacuate from. This will better prepare your barn in the case of an emergency. This process can also help familiarize your fire department with your individual layout.
Always have a written plan and have it posted at a central location at your barn. Have a blueprint of your barn that show all exits and the areas to relocate horses to if a fire were to happen. When you have new boarders or students join your facility, consider incorporating your emergency plan into their onboarding process at your barn. A person who is not trained on how to handle emergencies at your facility is a liability.
Hold a yearly or bi-yearly fire drill during daily operations. Try to schedule them at a peak business time when there are plenty of boarders, students and employees there to participate. Drill steps might include assigning who is to call 911, efficiently and safely evacuating all people, followed by an assessment of whether or not it is safe for designated individuals to evacuate horses. Run through a drill of what you would do if a fire were to happen at your barn and have all hands on deck helping to run through the course of action.
Lastly, the difficult conversation needs to be had with everyone who visits your facility about when a fire is too dangerous for untrained to enter and assist with evacuation. Horses are our best friends and we would never want them to be in harm’s way, but there are circumstances where the fire may be too large, too hot or too smoky for anyone to enter the barn to free horses from their stalls. This is not an ideal situation, but the severity of barn fires should not be taken lightly. Many of us would hate to make a choice, but human life must always take priority.
Proper planning could greatly change the situation if your barn were to ever have a barn fire. Meet with your barn owner and familiarize yourself with your plan and if there isn’t one in place, help coordinate with all staff at the barn to make one that is easy for anyone to follow in an emergency.
For more resources for barn fire safety and large animal rescue techniques, we recommend visiting Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue’s website. TLAER hosts trainings, clinics and presentations as well as provides resources for barn and horse owners for emergency preparedness and safety.