How to Conduct a Fire Drill at Work: A Step-by-Step Guide
Emergency Management Dec 15, 2023

How to Conduct a Fire Drill at Work: A Step-by-Step Guide

Emergency drills save lives. If it’s your duty to keep employees safe, prepare them to follow the plan.

Create or optimize your fire drill procedure with these five steps.

Fire Evacuation Plan Template
Equip your team to handle a fire with a carefully planned exit strategy.

In the event of a fire, every second counts. Rick Rescorla, Morgan Stanley’s Security Chief at the World Trade Center, experienced this first-hand when he safely led 2,700 employees out of the South Tower on September 11, 2001. After surviving the 1993 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, Rescorla was one of the few who saw the towers’ vulnerability, and he was certain they would eventually be attacked again.

Rescorla required that Morgan Stanley employees practice swift and orderly emergency evacuation drills every three months. He planned these drills as a response to a terrorist attack, where fire is only one of many deadly hazards. It’s a compelling example of how evacuation drills can effectively save lives.

In this post, we’ll cover how your company can plan for a fire emergency, important considerations for your emergency procedures, and how to prepare employees to exit the building safely in case of a workplace fire. Use an evacuation plan template or fire drill checklist to make planning your response and maintaining your fire drill log easier and faster.

AlertMedia's Fire Evacuation Plan Template preview

Preview of our Fire Evacuation Plan Template


What Is a Fire Drill?

A fire drill is an evacuation simulation that helps prepare participants for a real fire emergency response. Running drills lets people know what to expect and how to respond safely.

During a fire drill, everyone will evacuate the building upon hearing an alarm or announcement and follow the fire evacuation plan that has already been communicated. Fire drills are different from other emergency drills, such as shelter-in-place drills, in that building evacuation is the primary goal, since a fire poses a risk to anyone in the building.

How Important Are Fire Drills at Work?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that local fire departments responded to 1.5 million fires in 2022 (that’s one fire every 21 seconds). These fires caused roughly 3,790 civilian deaths, 13,250 civilian injuries, and $18 billion in property damage. Armed with stats like this, your company would be wise to plan regular fire drills. In fact, many landlords and office management companies require organizations to have emergency plans and conduct fire drills in their leases.

And emergency drills are not only to prepare for fires. They train employees on a number of life-saving skills, including:

  • How to leave the office quickly in case of any emergency or life safety situation
  • How to engage Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) when there’s a potential hazard
  • How to locate escape routes and where to go after vacating the premises
  • What to expect once emergency responders arrive

So, whether it’s tied to your fire safety program, active shooter preparedness, or overall risk mitigation strategy, evacuation skills should be a crucial element of all employees’ training.


This step-by-step video will guide you through the process of conducting a fire drill at work.

Fire Drill Video Cover


Repetition is key

Ask any school-age child about fire drills, and they will probably mention doing a mock emergency evacuation within the last few months. Schools repeat fire evacuation drills often, so the routine becomes a habit and kids know what to do without really thinking about it. Fire drills are a great example of why emergency preparedness professionals typically “hope for the best; prepare for the worst.” There may be a low chance of a real fire in your facility, but it’s still important to have critical information like fire exits, extinguishers, and emergency supplies memorized, so if complications arise, your team knows how to respond.

In a fire emergency, evacuation routes could be blocked or doors could be jammed, and you will need alternative routes. Hearing-impaired employees will need to be notified through a reliable channel other than a fire alarm or audio announcement. A fire alarm could be out of order. Regular fire drills will reveal these issues.

Create a fire evacuation plan for your business with this fill-in-the-blank template.
"When you’re planning drills, it is important not to have them at a predictable frequency because the nature of fire itself is unpredictable. Employees need to be ready for this irregularity.” — Brian O’Connor, Technical Services Engineer at NFPA

Develop a Detailed Fire Evacuation Plan

Before sending building occupants scurrying for the exits at the sound of a fire alarm system, make a detailed fire drill plan. This is where a fire drill template can be particularly helpful.

Employee referring to fire safety checklist by fire extinguishers
Workplace Fire Safety Checklist
Fire-proof your business with this workplace fire checklist.

As part of this work, you’ll want to consider various scenarios:

  • Where might a fire start?
  • Are there areas of the building more likely to start fires, like kitchen appliances or chemicals in the warehouse?
  • Do wildfires threaten your business?
  • What is the fire code or maximum number of occupants for your building (and is your office violating it)?
  • Is your HVAC maintenance up to date?

Here’s a look at the high-level steps to create a fire evacuation plan for your business:

  • Establish roles and responsibilities for the fire evacuation team, including that of fire warden
  • Develop comprehensive fire drill procedures
  • Create a communication plan (using a multichannel, two-way mass communication system such as AlertMedia makes this easy)
  • Plan and map evacuation routes, emergency exits, and evacuation procedures
  • Know your tools, such as smoke detectors, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers
  • Rehearse evacuation fire drills at least twice per year
  • Follow up and report using a modern employee notification system so you can determine the safety of all employees
fire drill procedure steps

Fire Drill Procedures

Step #1: Coordinate the plan

Now it’s time to get down to the drill. Once you have your fire evacuation plan in place, you know the routes. But it’s not as easy as heading to the nearest pull station and pulling the alarm. Everyone needs to be on board when you conduct a fire drill at work.

First, you must ensure the entire fire team (from the warden on down) is trained in the evacuation procedures and ready to make the drill a success.

Second, you need executive buy-in since the drill will take people away from the factory line, their desks, and the warehouse.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, all employees need to understand the importance of the fire drill and fire safety protocols; otherwise, they won’t take it seriously.

Step #2: Communicate with the team

The key to a successful fire drill at work is communication. Announce the drill in every place employees will see it, including platforms such as an employee portal, intranet, website, Slack channel, newsletter, and text message. Employee communication software that covers the most common communication channels will make this a lot easier. Mark the time of the drill on the company Outlook or Google calendar. Include information about the fire team and their roles, orderly evacuation routes, and expectations for the fire drill procedure and participants’ behavior.

“With fire prevention education, some organizations communicate a little too frequently. When it’s talked about too often, it becomes noise and employees are going to tune it out. But on the other end of the spectrum, when it’s not talked about enough, you can’t accomplish your safety and prevention goals. So, finding a middle ground for that is key.” — Brian O’Connor, Technical Services Engineer at NFPA

Here are a few examples of communication templates you can use for your fire drill. These can make notifying employees of an upcoming drill quicker and easier.

Sample Notification Templates for a Fire Drill

Fire drill announcement

A fire drill will be held in the [LOCATION] office on [DATE] at [TIME]. When the alarm sounds, evacuate the building (avoid elevators) and proceed outside.

Roll call survey

Are you safely evacuated from the [LOCATION] office? Reply with:

1 for NOT SAFE – still in building.

2 for NEED HELP – out of building.

3 for SAFE – out of building.

4 for SAFE – not in office today.

All clear announcement

The fire drill in the [LOCATION] office has concluded. Please return to your normal working stations. If you have any questions about the drill or process, reach out to [FIRE SAFETY WARDEN].

Step #3: Set goals for success

Your fire safety team will want to set goals and standards for the drill. If you include these in your first drill, you can work to improve them in subsequent drills. For instance, if your first drill takes 15 minutes to get all occupants safely outside because you discover people are visiting the restroom or wrapping up calls, you have work to do.

Some metrics to measure:

  • Time from drill activation to complete evacuation
  • Time to report completion of the drill
  • Successful shutdown of equipment (where appropriate)

Step #4: Practice the fire drill plan

Conduct rehearsals of increasing complexity. For example, your fire safety leaders could first rehearse “on paper” with a tabletop exercise where they describe the evacuation process to the fire warden. The team should describe their actions during a fire drill and analyze any perceived weaknesses or confusion. After the fire safety leaders understand their roles, they should physically walk through the fire drill.

Next, conduct a full rehearsal with as many of your employees as possible. Large companies may favor doing this by building or by section to prevent business disruptions.

Introduce challenge scenarios

Once your employees have mastered a basic fire drill, your fire safety leaders should design more intricate scenarios. Change up variables within the drill to train employees on how to react when complications arise. For example, by adding obstacles such as closed stairwells, obstructions, and blocked exits, you can simulate a more realistic environment and improve fire safety training overall.

Sample office evacuation plan

The assembly point

Fire drills are not successful unless every employee is accounted for outside of the building. This crucial step of the drill occurs at the assembly point. The designated area should be a familiar and agreed-upon location that is strategically placed at a safe distance outside the building. For large companies, multiple assembly areas allow for maximum efficiency with a separate fire team leader at every point.

Companies with a mass emergency notification system such as AlertMedia’s can use the survey feature and event pages to track the status of employees who have yet to reach their assembly area. For those who may have lost their cell phones while evacuating, fire team leaders should also use old-school roll call to ensure every employee is accounted for.

In the event of an actual fire, if someone is missing, fire team leaders should follow the predetermined reporting protocol and immediately alert the fire department and the entire fire team.

Step #5: Reflect and improve the plan

illustration of a fire extinguisher and exit sign
Let's Talk Fire Safety
Check out our Complete Guide to Fire Safety to level up your prevention and response strategies.

When you conduct a fire drill at work, choose a few people who are not on the fire evacuation team to act as neutral observers. Task them with looking for the following:

  • Large groups moving slowly or talking with each other
  • People on cell phones or using other mobile devices
  • Unhelpful behavior such as grabbing coats, purses, and bags
  • Difficulties for people with disabilities or mobility impairments such as hard-to-open doors or slippery stairwells
  • Employees who choose a different route rather than the nearest exit to their workstation

After the drill, the observers should conduct a debriefing or put together an after-action report to go over their observations. The meeting location is a convenient place to conduct this debrief since memories of the drill will be fresh. Gather the fire team together to go over what happened and what can be improved for next time. Assess all of the steps above and compile notes into the fire drill report on what worked flawlessly and what was sub-par.

Deep dive into questions such as:

  • Did employees close the doors upon exiting rooms?
  • Were employees calm and confident?
  • Did everyone meet at their assigned meeting spot?
  • Was the fire alarm reset, and was the alarm company notified of the drill? (if applicable)
  • Did all employees get the alert from your emergency notification system?
  • Did the building facilities (exit doors, alarm activation, automated voice commands) work correctly?

You can also use a fire drill log, such as the one included in this template, to keep track of your fire drill reporting, so you have a record of how often your evacuation drills occur.

A sample evacuation plan for a warehouse

Other Considerations to Improve Fire Safety

Here are some other things to consider as you plan for your fire drill at work:

  • Incorporate various realistic scenarios for future drills such as “this hallway is on fire” or “this door won’t open.” Challenge leaders and employees to identify an alternative safe route.
  • Have managers lead a simple walk-through of the evacuation route during employee onboarding.
  • Conduct drills at random times to simulate a real-world scenario and improve overall preparedness.
  • Conduct drills every three months if your company operates with extensive chemicals and equipment. For most other organizations, twice per year is adequate.
  • Replace any key fire safety leaders who leave the company, and do a leaders-only walkthrough of the fire drill procedures.

Fire evacuations are serious situations to prepare for. And with the health and safety of your team at stake, getting it right by thorough planning is critical. As long as you are clear with your employees about what is expected of them and how it will benefit them, everyone will appreciate the effort to make your safety fire drills efficient and professional. And everyone will be confident about how to exit the building safely in the event of a fire.

Fire Evacuation Plan Template

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