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March 9, 2013 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Do prisons hold fire drills?

What is the protocol for holding fire drills in a prison? Is this a common practice? Does it vary by institution? Have there ever been escape attempts during a fire drill? Are there any fire alarms in the inmate areas, and are there a lot of false alarms?

It's something I have been thinking about lately. Any first-hand knowledge or data sources are appreciated!
posted by amicamentis to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The answer is going to depend on the Fire Code for the jurisdiction of the facility in question. For example, the 2010 California Fire Code requires that prisons conduct fire drills quarterly on each shift, but only the employees participate in the drill, not the prisoners. Howerver, if the facility provides habilitation/rehabilitation training to the prisoners, fire prevention and fire safety practices are required be included as part of the training program.
posted by RichardP at 9:03 PM on March 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might also look at the National Fire Protection Association's list of the top ten deadliest prison fires in the United States. For a number of the fires they link to reports from the NFPA's Fire Journal. You might start with the report from their investigation of the 1982 Harrison County Jail in Biloxi, Mississippi.
posted by RichardP at 9:16 PM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Related data point: In the PA max security prison I go to, there are fire exits on the blocks. They were added after an inmate filed suit against the state.

They do practice lockdowns, so I am pretty sure they would do practice fire drills.

I feel like there are fire alarms and I will ask about drills when I go out this week.
posted by vincele at 7:47 AM on March 10, 2013

Hi I'm back with answers for PA. My assumptions were correct.

There are drills, there are fire alarms and false alarms aren't a a problem because the guards are in control of the prison.

What I mean by the last is that consequences for pulling a false alarm are too harsh and too consistent that no inmate risks it.

That is the case for max. security state prisons in PA. I think it varies a lot by state.
posted by vincele at 9:08 AM on March 11, 2013

Sorry to clog the thread. This will be my last response. I talked to some inmates about this question the other day. They have two practice drills a year per block. Not all blocks do a drill at the same time. They are "marched out to the middle of the yard," so that if there were a fire, "the bricks and buildings surrounding them would just burn them up." Those are the words of a cynical, highly educated inmate. But in my opinion the yard is wide enough and far enough from the buildings it's unlikely they'd be in danger. I have survived a very large and devastating apartment fire myself so I have some sense of what a fire is like and how it spreads.

The only two times there were fires, they were contained to the areas where they started-- the laundry and a back kitchen. The inmates knew there were fires not from alarms but from the smell of the fire. It spread throughout the blocks, causing worry. In those two cases, the prison went on lockdown. The feeling among the half dozen or so guys I talked to was split. Some felt like the prison is so spread out any fire would be easily contained. Mr Cynic and a couple of others didn't liked being put on lockdown during a fire.

No one has pulled a fire alarm since the early 1990s when there massive disturbances in this prison. Since then alarms require keys. If there were a fire, an inmate would alert a guard.

The other point the guys made was that so many alarms malfunction and go off at all hours of the day and night, they just ignore them. The collective memory of this group goes back to the late 1980s.
posted by vincele at 10:23 AM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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