Become a fire warden

Be Fire Aware poster with fire warden pointing people to the emergency exit. Text reads: 'Make us feel safe. Become a fire warden and help put people first in an emergency'

To ensure successful evacuation procedures are safely implemented, trained fire wardens are required. Becoming a fire warden is not just a responsibility, it's a commitment to the safety of your colleagues.

With the help of Jo Wilby, Departmental Office Manager and Deputy Safety Officer for the IT Services Department, we explain what being a fire warden entails, and why you should become one. As well as being an incident controller, Jo has been a fire warden at both Dartington House and 13 Banbury Road for over a decade, and offers some valuable insight into the role:

In many of the University’s spaces, there isn’t an effective way of recording who is in or out of the building. In this case, fire wardens conduct a sweep of the building to confirm which areas are clear.

They play a key role in implementing emergency response procedures, including coordinating evacuations, assisting with crowd control, and ensuring that everyone in the designated area is accounted for. Fire wardens will often participate in fire drills to ensure that all occupants are familiar with evacuation procedures.

Wardens serve as a point of contact between building occupants and fire coordinators, with the latter overseeing the entire operation. They must be prepared to communicate crucial information to facilitate a coordinated and effective response.

Upon being asked what she’s learnt during her time as a fire warden, Jo responded:

‘People tend to rely on other people taking the lead, so what I like now is that it’s pushed from the grassroots up rather than leadership down. We’re all responsible and I’ve learnt that’s definitely the best way forward.’

It has never been more important for colleagues working at Oxford to volunteer as fire wardens. The emergence of flexible ways of working brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic means it’s harder than ever to track who is in the building at any one time.

This means additional fire wardens are needed to cover those who may be homeworking at any given time. As such, Jo believes all members of staff should be fire wardens to ensure everyone is responsible for themselves and their colleagues:

‘Before we used to have fire wardens for designated areas, and after Covid that really didn’t work for our department because teams didn’t have fixed days. I never knew who was in the building at any one time.

Our [13] Banbury Road site is three Victorian villas with goodness knows how many staircases and side doors, it’s a very complicated building. So trying to do a fire warden timetable for that proved impossible. I talked to the senior management team and I said I think we should make everybody a fire warden, so it meant everyone was responsible for themselves and their colleagues in their surrounding area and office.

So, in theory, the whole department are fire wardens. When we have a drill or a false alarm, when we get everybody at the muster point, we do a roll-call, but we do it by team. For example, I’ll call out the office area network team and someone from that team will say clear, because I wouldn’t know if a team on the third floor had all evacuated or not. So that way you’re putting the onus and responsibility back on some people to make sure their area and team are clear, which is in theory what fire wardens used to do.

It was just proving too difficult with the new ways of working to have set people for set zones, hence everybody is a fire warden.’

Jo listed four key skills all fire wardens should have:

  • 'Think on your feet
  • Be vigilant
  • React to rapidly-changing situations
  • Be vocal'

Aside from being able to wear the ‘sexy high-vis jacket’, Jo believes the biggest benefit is knowing that you’re playing a key role in keeping those around you safe. She added:

Jo Wilby wearing high-vis fire warden jacket with her back to the camera

‘Knowing that you’re doing some good to make sure everyone’s safe. When you’ve got a lot of people coming and going, it’s important that they come to work and they feel safe. It’s not a big responsibility on one person because it’s a shared responsibility.’

Nominated fire wardens will need to have induction and further training to understand their responsibilities. Book onto the practical Fire Warden training course to gain the required knowledge and practical experience needed to fulfil the role.

Consisting of classroom teaching and outdoor fire extinguisher handling, you will learn how to become a confident fire warden in no time. This is a course Jo did herself, and she encourages every member of staff to undertake some form of fire training:

‘I did an in-classroom one and had a go with a fire extinguisher. When the Safety Office training comes out every term, I forward it to the entire department and highlight the courses. We try and get everyone in the entire department, especially newcomers, to do the fire awareness training course as part of their induction, so a bare minimum is that everyone’s done that kind of training.’

Book onto a Fire Warden training course

Anyone interested in becoming a fire warden should speak to their line manager in the first instance. Once agreed, you should then book yourself onto a Fire Warden training course to gain the required knowledge and practical experience needed to perform the role.


Book onto a Fire Warden training course