There are many components to a successful health club, from equipment to staff to the design of the facility. But what often go overlooked are the safety features and protocols of that facility, particularly those for a fire emergency.
There are fire hazards everywhere and they can cause serious damage if not accounted for by the club staff. Therefore, it’s very important to have the right protocols in place for the middle and aftermath of a fire emergency.
To learn more about how clubs can better protect themselves during a fire emergency, Club Solutions spoke with Brian Rawlings, practice leader for FITLIFE Insurance at Venture Insurance Programs, about the importance of fire emergency protocols and how to implement these strategies with your staff.
CS: What protocols should clubs have in place in fire emergencies?
BR: It all starts with having a written plan for handling fire emergencies. The way that written plan should be developed is to conduct a safety assessment, probably on a biannual basis. You’re going to do that to address any potential fire hazards, and that means maybe you’ve had some remodeling, change to your ingress or egress points in the building, some changing around of your equipment that makes pathways different, or maybe you’ve added some different programming that brings in a different population — children or an elderly population that would need greater assistance in the event of a fire emergency. So you do that assessment one or two times a year, and tweak and manage that written plan according to what the assessment says to you in terms of the hazards of your building. You have to know how to react in the case of an emergency.
Once you’ve done that and reviewed that plan, every time you tweak that plan, you should make sure it goes to the staff — and that should be in written format so it’s accessible to them for review and education — and you go over it in meetings and trainings to make sure it’s well-communicated amongst the staff.
Another step I’m very much a proponent of would be the physical demonstrations of the plan, whether you do live emergencies in the middle of a programmatic day within your club — that’s probably a little hit or miss in terms of your comfort level — or not, it’s important to practice that plan. You can always go over protocols over and over again, train the staff, hand out a memo, whatever. But when you put yourself in the fire, you really don’t know how you’re going to react or how things are going to flow.
There are other physical plans, like having fire extinguishers in the building, fire alarms and making sure all your fire alarms and fire suppression systems are regularly tested for the appropriate usage, and that your fire extinguishers are regularly inspected. And a final thing I’ll mention would be making sure there’s a follow-up plan. Once you’ve gotten everybody out of the building safely, which is obviously the first priority, where do people gather, how do you account for everyone appropriately, what’s your notification system for your membership base and the public at large? All those things should be in your action plan so the flow of communication in the middle of or aftermath of an emergency allows everyone to be safe.
CS: Are there any challenges in implementing safety protocols?
BR: The biggest challenge I’ve seen is getting all employees to buy into the culture of safety and then truly be prepared. Health clubs kind of have a transient population, maybe bringing on new employees during the summertime when you ramp up staff for summer programs or outdoor pools. You’ve got some employees who come and go because they’re college students. Or you bring on new programs and new instructors. So making sure their training is up to par with the management’s training is important, and having employees always well-versed in the fire safety plans in general. Then you have to truly make sure they understand it is a top priority. I think clubs often get caught up a little bit in customer service, programs and equipment, which are all extremely valuable pieces of their business, especially when it comes to membership growth and retention, but a safe club and one that’s protected appropriately really should be the top priority. Without that, you don’t even have a club to operate.
CS: What is the claims process like if a fire occurs?
BR: Putting on the insurance carrier hat, I’d say you really should alert your carrier as soon as the dust settles and you make sure everyone’s safe. What’s really important in your protocol is communication, so you’ll talk to your membership, handle any media inquiries, parent and member concerns, and part of that should be the notification of your insurance carrier. And then you should have a detailed report about what happened, including witness statements from your staff, maybe even some members. Have appropriate contact information available in those witness statements so the insurance carrier can do follow-up as needed.
You need to assess the damage done — include photos you may have taken. These can include inventory statements as well, so if you’ve got your equipment properly inventoried and backed up to a cloud-based system, it certainly facilitates the insurance carrier’s ability to assess the damage from a content perspective. What the carrier is going to do is assign that claim to an appropriate insurance adjuster, who should be contacting you in very short order and getting out there physically to inspect the damage. I always recommend your insurance carrier is on the premises as soon as possible and physically inspecting the property in the event of a property lawsuit, so they can truly assess that damage firsthand and get the ball rolling. In the event you proceed with having any repairs done or do anything to permit further damage — for example, if you have a window blown out and you put up some plywood or something like that — make sure you keep the appropriate receipts for your claims so you can receive compensation for those expenses.
CS: Do you have any advice for other health clubs handling the aftermath of fire emergencies?
BR: It’s all about that proactive approach of having an inventory list, having your plan in place. Communication is a key piece in the aftermath. As the fire is happening, you’re focusing on the evacuation and safety of everyone involved, then you kind of go into the follow-up communication and claims process. But really the proactive approach you can take is thinking ahead and asking, “What would we do for a disaster recovery plan?” You should have contractors lined up and in your pipeline who could respond quickly and know the ins and outs of your building in terms of what would need to be repaired and how those things would go.
You should have your equipment vendors on alert to ship you some equipment very quickly in the event of damage to your equipment, so you can get back up and running for your members. You could also look into having an offsite location you know you could rent on a fairly short notice to have some temporary programming, workouts and facilities available in the event of a total loss or something that would keep people from getting into your club for a while. So if you take it from the planning and preparation standpoint, you can really be prepared in the event of a loss to your facility.