The historical 2½-minute evacuation guideline, derived from the 1911 Empire Palace Theatre Fire, is an essential benchmark in fire safety practices. However, it’s crucial to understand that this time frame is not universally achievable, especially in healthcare settings where the dependencies of occupants significantly influence evacuation procedures.

The Realities of Evacuation in Healthcare Facilities

Patients/Resident’s physical and health conditions can significantly extend the time needed to evacuate safely in healthcare facilities such as hospitals or nursing homes. Many occupants may require assistance to move, complicating the evacuation process. Unlike a typical theatre or office building, healthcare facilities must consider these dependencies in fire safety and evacuation strategies.

The Importance of Fire-Resistant Bedrooms

Modern fire safety regulations have led to significant advancements in building design, including fire-resistant bedrooms. These are critical in healthcare settings as they provide a temporary haven for occupants during a fire, slowing the spread of flames and smoke. While the overarching goal remains to evacuate everyone to safety as swiftly as possible, the priority shifts towards ensuring no room’s occupants are left in immediate danger.

Striving for Timely Evacuations

While evacuating a compartment within a healthcare facility within 2½ minutes may not always be feasible, efforts should be made to evacuate each bedroom within the shortest possible time. This approach focuses on the safety of the patients/residents and ensures that the staff facilitating the evacuation are not put at undue risk.

Safety of Staff: A Critical Consideration

The safety of the staff during an evacuation is paramount. Staff who are injured during an evacuation become part of the incident rather than part of the solution. Therefore, fire safety training for staff must include techniques that protect their well-being while assisting patients/residents. This training should cover proper moving techniques, the use of evacuation equipment, and strategies for handling complex evacuations safely.

Continuous Evaluation and Improvement

Fire safety protocols in healthcare facilities must be regularly reviewed and adjusted based on the patient’s/resident’s specific needs and the premises’ layout. Fire drills and risk assessments should be conducted periodically to ensure that all safety measures are effective and that staff are prepared to act efficiently and safely in a fire.

The legacy of the Empire Palace Theatre fire remains a cornerstone in fire safety education, reminding us of the importance of tailored evacuation strategies that consider the unique needs of building occupants. In healthcare facilities, where the stakes are exceptionally high, it is crucial to balance the urgency of evacuation with the safety of patients/residents and staff. By striving for the shortest possible evacuation time and prioritising safety, facilities can ensure that they are prepared for emergencies and capable of protecting all individuals within their care.


When considering evacuation protocols in fire safety regulations, it’s important to note that no specific legislation mandates that evacuations must be completed within a prescribed time frame, such as the often-cited 2½ minutes. Instead, regulatory terms like “suitable time” or “timely manner” are used. This language is intentionally broad to account for the vast array of variables that can affect evacuation times, such as the type of building, its layout, the physical and mental condition of its occupants, and the nature of the emergency itself. This flexibility allows for a more nuanced approach to fire safety planning, ensuring that the strategies implemented are tailored to the specific characteristics and needs of each facility and its residents, thereby enhancing overall safety and effectiveness.

A straightforward example illustrating why evacuation times cannot be universally fixed is by considering the scenario of a person undergoing open-heart surgery compared to someone working in an office block. If evacuation regulations were strictly time-bound, both individuals would be expected to evacuate within the same timeframe. However, the person in surgery is in a far more delicate situation and cannot be moved as swiftly or in the same manner as someone who can walk out of an office building. This highlights the necessity of having flexible evacuation guidelines that consider the specific circumstances and safety requirements of all individuals involved.

Paddy McDonnell

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