Last night was a very tricky and interesting shift. I’ve had a few shifts, where things go wrong, but not on this level.
I was on a cover shift last night, as the Unit Manager got stuck due to the bad weather. By about 10pm, it was very windy, as Storm Gareth took hold. There was not much we could do but get everyone to bed and batten down the hatches. By midnight, the wind was very very strong and caused a power cut.
Normally, Power cuts do not cause a problem at work, as J Block has it’s own pair of Diesel Generators on the roof of the building and the main school have their own set of generators in-between D and J Block, on the lower ground floor. In the event of a voltage drop, the generators are supposed to kick in and take over the supply, before a blackout occurs. In our case, obviously not! For some reason, the automated transfer did not happen and I had to call home and get Sam, as the whole building lost power. At the time the power had failed, I was hoisting one of the disabled kids from the bathroom to his bedroom.
None of the kids were put in danger by the power failure, as we were able to put any critical equipment onto battery power, while Sam manually switched us across to the emergency power. The Care Call System also has battery backups and we were able to monitor the kids as normal.
So once the power was back on and I could get on and do some work on the computer, things seemed to get going well. A couple of hours past, and then… The fire alarm went off. on Continuous “Evacuate” signal.
FYI: The Fire Alarm has 2 separate alarm tones. Intermittent Wailing (Fire elsewhere in the building) and Continuous Wailing. (Evacuate) Intermittent wailing sounds on for 5 seconds and then stays off for 2 seconds and then repeats. Evacuate is a continuous long tone. Both are extremely loud!
So I followed the School’s Residential Block Fire Procedures and sent someone to go to the Fire Repeater Panel, find out where the fire alarm has been activated from and then radio through the information.
As a serious developing emergency was ongoing, it was apparent that the alarm, (which we had no idea was a false alarm) was coming from the Generator Plant on the roof. This now leaves me with making a hard decision, Evacuate or not. I decided that partial evacuation was the safest option and ordered all available staff to scramble to the 3rd floor to assist with evacuation. I then, (as per procedure) telephoned the Head to brief her on the ongoing drama. I also dialled 999 and called for the Fire Brigade.
We evacuated as many kids as we could on beds, using the Evacuation Lift and carried smaller children down the stairs. We evacuated everyone to the 2 units on the 2nd floor, while staff re-assured the kids on the other units that everything was OK and to stay in bed until told otherwise.
The Fire Brigade were on scene very quickly. The first thing they took care of, was the supply to the generators. Not being able to see to the roof and with the high winds, the Firemen used the internal stairs to the 4th floor and then used the access door to the roof.
Thankfully, it was a false alarm and the generators had not caught fire! Water ingress had got into the generator housing and into one of the smoke alarms. The water had set off the sensor, which then sent a urgent message to the Fire Alarm Panel. The system is setup, so that if a fire breaks out in either generator, it sends a immediate evacuate signal. A fire in the Generator plant is rare but could be deadly.
Sam was able to isolate the smoke alarm in question, while leaving the other 2 in tact. The Firemen were really helpful and helped us get the kids back to their units.
We finally stood down at 3.30am this morning and managed to get the kids back to bed. However, we had a lot to write in the kids log books, as well as the unit log books. I am glad when it was morning and I could handover to the morning staff.
I don’t know how Sam managed to do a full day at work, after only getting 2 hours sleep! (Luckily our live in carer at home, looked after our boys) or the kids on the units, who were rudely awoken by the fire alarm. However, it was a test of our emergency awareness and professionalism in such an emergency. (Even though we didn’t intend for this to happen.
I’ve been into work for a couple of hours today and was told that the kids felt reassured, by the way that we dealt with the situation and felt safe knowing we had everything in hand.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on site; we had a tree come down and flattened our old Portakabin, which is no longer used. (As it is not fit for purpose)
I hope I NEVER have a shift like this again… All HELL broke loose.
As for me, I got a hot date with the bath and a glass of Prosecco. Cheers! 🙂