Disabled Persons Fire Evacuation Policy

Handicap Symbol
January 2012


Accessible Means of Egress

A path of travel, useable by a person with severe mobility impairment, that leads to a public way or an area of refuge.

Area of Refuge

An area that can be used as part of the required means of egress for persons that are disabled. These areas located on floors above or below the buildings Exits can be used by disabled persons until rescue can be facilitated by the Fire Department.

  • Areas of Refuge at Amherst College are only available in: Buildings fully protected with a Sprinkler System.
  • Buildings that are attached but separated by fire doors can also qualify as an area of refuge. 
  • Merrill Science/Life Science
  • Webster Hall/Kirby Theater

Defend in Place

Unless the fire or other hazard is life threatening to a mobility impaired person, or the person referenced above is located on the ground floor (level of building exit), than it may be advisable for health and safety reasons for the person confined to a wheelchair, on crutches, or like to remain in their room.

In the Room
  • Notify others (if possible) that you are remaining in your room.
  • Close the door to prevent smoke and fire entry.
  • If necessary, pack under the door with towels, blankets or other appropriate material.
  • Call the Amherst College Police at 542-2111 and report your location to them so that the Fire Department is made aware of your exact location.
  • Finally, move to the window with a brightly colored cloth to wave to the Fire Department.
  • DO NOT break the window unless absolutely necessary.
  • Breaking the window could...
  1. Injure person below
  2. Allow smoke to enter your room from the floor below.

Horizontal Evacuation

Relocation from one area or building to another through fire doors, stairwells or ground floor exits without having to use stairs or elevator.

Means of Egress

A continuous and unobstructed way to exit travel from any point in a building or structure to a public way consisting of three separate and distinct parts:

  1. The exit access
  2. The exit
  3. The exit discharge

A means of egress comprises the vertical and horizontal travel and shall include intervening room spaces, doorways, hallways, corridors, passageways, balconies, ramps, stairs, enclosures, lobbies, escalators, horizontal exits, courts, and yards.

Mobility Impaired (canes, crutches, walkers, etc.)

Persons who are able to walk should decided whether or not they can descend stairs in an emergency with little assistance from others.

  • If not, this individual should:
    • Be defended in place, within their room, or
    • Move horizontally to an "Area of Refuge."

Mobility Impaired (wheelchair)

Persons who utilize wheelchairs should either:

  • Be defended in place, within their room, or
  • More horizontally to and "Area of Refuge."


A walking surface in an accessible space that has a slope steeper than 1 in 20.

Short-Term Disability

Persons with short-term disabilities should follow the guidelines here in for the specific type of disability, and shall notify the Office of Student Affairs, their Resident Counselor, Department Head and/or Supervisor for reasons of accountability.

  • When the temporary disability is no longer an issue, the temporary disabled person should contact the Office of Student Affairs, their Resident Counselor, Department Head and/or Supervisor informing them that they are no longer temporarily disabled.

Smoke Barrier

A barrier that additionally has a minimum 1-hour fire resistance rating and to be considered part of an accessible means of egress shall discharge to an accessible area of refuge.

Vertical Evacuation

Evacuation using a stairwell, not an elevator, to allow persons within building to exit the building, or facility in cases of emergency.

  • EXIT doors that are labeled "Delayed Egress" or those that indicate that you must push against the hardware "crash-bar" for 15-30 seconds before opening, will (when fire alarm sounds) open immediately, without delay.

Visually Impaired

Persons who are visually impaired can, with the assistance of others evacuate the building using the stairs, if they are familiar with their immediate surroundings and frequently traveled routes.

  • If the visually impaired person in unfamiliar with the emergency evacuation route, they should either:
    • Be defended in place, within their room, or
    • More horizontally to an "Area of Refuge"

Emergency Evacuation for the Disabled 

The following is the Emergency Evacuation Procedure for the disabled at Amherst College. These regulatory requirements and guidelines meet or exceed the requirements of the Massachusetts Fire Prevention Regulations, the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), and the guidelines of the Life Safety Codes of the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA 101)

The evacuation of the building during a fire alarm is required, regardless of cause. In accordance with regulatory requirements and Amherst College Policies and Procedures, everyone shall evacuate a building in which a fire alarm is sounding. Fire alarms include, but are not limited to accidental alarm, false alarm or conditions caused by fire and/or smoke.


Persons with disabilities as outlines in the definition section may not be required to evacuate if they are:

Mobility Impaired
  1. Located above or below the level of building exit
  2. Located in a building that does not
  • have "Area of Refuge" or
  • Horizontal evacuation to another building
Visually Impaired
  1. Located above or below the level of building exit
  2. Located in a building that does not
  • have "Area of Refuge" or
  • Horizontal evacuation to another building
Elevators Can Not Be Used By Any Person As Means of Emergency Egress
  1. Evacuation Elevators in most buildings are pre-set (as required) to return automatically to the bottom floor.
  2. Elevators, if the buttons are heat sensitive, could be called to the fire floor. When the doors open, it may expose you to the fire.
  3. Elevators act like chimneys. Smoke on any floor can be drawn up through the elevator exposing person to extremely high levels of all fire gases including Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Cyanide, etc.

Accountability for emergencies such as fire alarms and hazardous material incidents are mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It is the responsibility of the following persons, depending on the building, to establish an accountability system for the building or department.

  • Academic and Administrative Buildings - Department Heads, Directors and Supervisors
  • Alumni Gymnasium and Associated Buildings - Director of Athletics and Physical Education
  • Dining Services - Director of Dining Services
  • Frost Library - Director of Libraries
  • Health Services - Medical Director
  • Facilities - Director of Facilities Management and Planning
  • Residence Halls - Area Coordinators and Residential Counselors
Accountability Systems could include, but not limited to:
  1. A name checklist, which is located at the department office or by an exit door.
  2. Small offices and shops - personal head counts.
  3. Portable radio accountability
  4. Telephone call-in.

Assembly Areas outside the buildings should have been pre-arranged by the Department Heads, Directors, Faculty members involved in instruction, Area Coordinators, Residence Counselors and Supervisors.

  • These areas shall be:
    • Separate from other departments and classes.
    • Easily discernable 
    • At lease 25' from the building in alarm to allow entrance of emergency personnel and to avoid injury from falling glass etc.

Department Heads and Directors, after issues of accountability have been addressed, are strongly encouraged to meet the Fire Department Incident Commander, Campus Police and Building Custodian and Custodial Supervisor at the front of the building.

  • Department Heads, Directors and Building Custodians are most familiar with the building involved. 
  • Department Heads and Directors will be able to learn cause of alarm.
  • Department Heads and Directors will be told what, if any action will be required.
  • After the alarm has been silenced, the Department Heads, Directors, and  Police will be told when it is safe to re-enter the building. Re-entry of the building is not always possible, even after the alarm has been silenced.

Department Heads and Directors are asked to meet with Amherst College Police and Town Fire Department, at the front entrance to the building.

  • The span of control for Incident Command is limited to between 5-8 persons. Additional persons will overwhelm the Incident Command System.

For additional information, or to acquire Amherst College Environmental, Health and Safety Policies and Procedures click here, or contact the Amherst College Police at 542-2291 or Environmental Health and Safety at 542-8189.