Author Topic: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?  (Read 6567 times)

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snappylt

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Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« on: November 11, 2012, 05:07:57 PM »
Recently I had an unusual (for me) conversation with a grocery store night manager about a safety concern I had.  I think I was polite with my words and my tone of voice, at least up until the very end of the conversation, but I was uncomfortable afterward, wondering if I had been ridiculous or rude at the end.

I was on my way home from the city at about 9:30 P.M. recently. I stopped at a big grocery store maybe 30 miles from our house.  That store has three front entrances, one each at the right, the middle, and the left of the front of the store.  During the daytime all three entrances are open, but at night two of them are locked and display cases are slid across the entryways, blocking customers from using those two sets of doors.

That would be fine with me, after all, I can imagine it is intended to reduce thefts at night... except that these doors each have a sign on them that says in bold capital letters: "THESE DOORS ARE TO REMAIN UNLOCKED DURING BUSINESS HOURS".

I have reason to believe (see the PS below for my backstory) that the Fire Marshall requires that those signs be posted and that those doors are supposed to be available as fire exits when there are customers inside the store.  I can see that it would be a real safety hazard in a huge store like that to have two of the three fire exits locked.

After I paid for my groceries I noticed a manager standing at the end of the next checkout lane.  I walked over to him.  I said excuse me and I introduced myself by name.  He asked how he could help me.  I said, "Well, I don't know how to say this politely, and I do want to be polite to you, but I have a safety concern about your store."

The manager walked with me a few steps away from that checkout lane then.  (Perhaps to move away from where other customers could hear?) I explained to him that I was concerned about fire safety and pointed out the locked exit doors with the signs that said they were supposed to be unlocked.

The manager looked puzzled and asked me what signs I was talking about, so I walked him over to the door and pointed directly at the sign.  He just looked at me without saying anything for a few seconds and then he said, "Well, I'll have to look into that."

I don't know, of course, but from his facial expression and his tone of voice i gathered that he truly couldn't understand what I was concerned about.  So, I replied to him that I thought it was a fire safety concern and that I thought the Fire Marshall had ordered those signs be put on those doors to keep those doors unlocked as fire exits.

The manager replied (dismissively, I thought) "But we have plenty of exits."

(OK - here is where I am concerned that I may have stopped being as polite as I'd like to be and maybe started being ridiculous.)

So I asked the manager if he was convinced that it was safe for him to lock those exits, would it be OK if I called the Fire Marshall's office and asked for the Fire Marshall's opinion?  He told me to go ahead and do that, and at that point I took my groceries and left the store.

1.)  OK - here is my etiquette question - what would have been a more polite way for me to have approached the manager - especially when I was thinking that his "I'll look into it" was really a brushoff?

I don't expect to ever again have a conversation like that, but I am curious as to better ways I could have handled it.

2.)  This part isn't really an etiquette question, but I am curious nonetheless: Does being concerned about fire exits being locked come across as a ridiculous concern?

When I came home and told my wife about the conversation, my wife seemed to think I was being ridiculous.  She immediately told me that she was sure those doors were locked because that is probably a high crime area, and that I should have felt more empathy for the manager.  When I asked two of my sons what they thought, one immediately dismissed my question with a "You're being obsessive, Dad."  My other son started to agree with his brother, but then he added, "Of course, if I were inside that store when a fire broke out, and my exit door was locked, and I was starting to burn up, maybe I'd agree with you then, Dad."

- - - - - - end of regular post- - - - -

PS

BACKSTORY - (I'm sorry, 'cause I realize this is already too long!)  I never used to think about fire exits until I had children.  Years ago, when our boys were little, we sent them to a preschool at the church we attended not far from our old neighborhood.  I ended up being asked to be on the preschool's separate board of directors.  One of our problems was an ongoing concern about a particular fire exit at the church.  Burglars had broken in to the church through that fire door, so the church had installed a heavy, tightly fitting removable iron bar on the inside of the fire door to prevent the fire door from being opened.  (As an adult, I had to wrestle with this bar to remove it.  I believe a child could not have opened it himself.)

The next time the Fire Marshall inspected the church he found the iron bar and declared that it could only be used to lock that fire door when the building was unoccupied.  He had the church post a "THIS DOOR TO REMAIN UNLOCKED WHEN THE BUILDING IS OCCUPIED" sign on the fire door.  The custodian was told to remove the bar whenever he unlocked the building.  The custodian did not remember.

The next time the Fire Marshall inspected the church he found that his previous order was being ignored.  Our preschool director was one of the people accompanying the Fire Marshall that day, and she told the preschool board the fire Marshall got really angry and said that our children could die in a fire when a fire door is deliberately blocked like that.  He said there would be no more warnings, that the next time he found the door blocked when the building was occupied he would revoke our occupancy certificate and close us down immediately.  (I don't know if he could have closed down the church itself on Sundays, but he did have the power to keep the preschool from operating.)

I don't understand why, but the pastors and business manager of the church didn't take the Fire Marshall's threat seriously, and the custodian continued to forget to unlock the fire door each day.  So that we could be sure we could keep operating, the preschool director would go remove the iron bar each school day.  I would check on Sundays, too, on my way to Sunday School, and every Sunday I'd find that fire door locked.  I would unlock it myself so the Sunday School kids would have a working fire exit.  (Yes, I did try talking to the pastors and the business manager, but they didn't take me seriously, so I just gave up.)

Anyway, that's my backstory.  I think being concerned about fire exits is a reasonable concern, but obviously it doesn't come across as reasonable to some others.  I'll be curious to read what other people think.

Momiitz

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2012, 05:16:49 PM »
I think you handled it just fine. I would be concerned too. Blocked fire exits are the main reason people die in fires that break out in public buildings.

I would call the fire marshall so it can be inspected. I would ask the fire marshall to let you know the conclusion of the inspection and to find out what you should do if you encounter this type of thing again.

Sharnita

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2012, 05:29:11 PM »
As a teacher I have mixed feelings about this. You know the movie where the principal gets in trouble for locking the doors? I kinda lived that movie. Of course you want the doors unlocked for fires and there are laws to consider.  However, I have had people coming in doors like those with weapons. I don't think it is a ridiculous concern but the fact that they do it at night might be because people are sneaking in or out at that time when the store is less busy, and that could be a safety risk to you and to staff also.  The nuber of exits might be partly based on store occupancy so that when the store is busy ther are plenty of places to exit, which would explain why the manager thought there were enough for the time.

MOM21SON

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2012, 05:31:44 PM »
As someone that was recently trapped on a stairwell during a unannounced fire drill at work, I would definately call the fire marshall.

The door leading outside would not open, it had a "safety" bar on it.  I work in a building with hundreds of people.  I almost fainted from fear.

Sharnita, I love that movie too, Lean on Me.

Sharnita

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2012, 05:37:03 PM »
See, my fear stems from both sides.  Fire is scary but I have also dealt with the fear of seeing doors that are not supposed to be used as points of entry for outsiders only to have unidentifed people entering, posing potential risk to me, my students and possibly themselves.

PastryGoddess

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2012, 05:41:12 PM »
I would call the fire marshall as well.  This is a big hill for me to die on as I was personally affected when there were marked fire doors that did not open.  It's not fun and no one should have to go through that

There are other option for securing doors from the outside that don't involve blocking a fire exit.  You may want to also contact corporate as well, just in case the visit doesn't get reported :)

MOM21SON

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2012, 05:42:29 PM »
See, my fear stems from both sides.  Fire is scary but I have also dealt with the fear of seeing doors that are not supposed to be used as points of entry for outsiders only to have unidentifed people entering, posing potential risk to me, my students and possibly themselves.

I totally understand that fear.  I worry about DS going to school everyday.  His school is in the worst area of town and is ALWAYS on lock down.  But his school is also rated one of the top schools in the country.

Isisnin

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2012, 05:45:24 PM »
You were polite and not ridiculous.  Unfortunately people often sacrifice safety for convenience.

I had a similar experience at a local super market.  I pointed out to a manager that the well-labeled for "Emergency only" door was routinely being used as a "regular door" by it being propped open with a trash barrel.  He look at me like I was ridiculous and assured me that the store was designed by a reputable architect.  The door was used incorrectly and dangerously like that for awhile longer until the fire marshal gave them a warning.

While it is nice and polite to point our such "errors" to management, bottom line, it's a safety issue (and one that they well know since there is a sign).  Better to call the fire marshal from the get go.

If the store is concerned about undesirable people entering via the doors in question, they could hire a security guard or whatever they need to do.  They are probably a private business whose budget isn't subject to public debates and political whims.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2012, 06:30:30 PM by Isisnin »

kckgirl

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2012, 05:56:55 PM »
I once called the fire marshal about a local toy store. They had crowded all of their shopping carts in the open space between the outer and inner doors. There was only room for a single file line to exit the building. The person told me they would go out for a safety check very soon. About two weeks later, I was in the area again and saw that they had corrected it. The store is still there but I haven't been there in years, so I don't know if it "stuck." In your case, I would have called the fire marshal after you brought it to the manager's attention. You were most definitely not being ridiculous for being concerned and speaking up.
Maryland

Jones

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #9 on: November 11, 2012, 06:03:22 PM »
There are other things to consider besides fire (although I don't poo-poo that concern at all, it is valid).

I don't generally shop in the evening, but was forced to one night. I went to the local grocery, which has large doors on each end of the store. I parked close to my preferred door, as it was late enough I had a choice of parking spots, and went in. Plenty of light on that spot and to the doorway. 20 or so minutes later, when I tried to exit, that door was blocked off completely as they lock it for the last hour of service. I did not ask why, but when I realized I had to cross the parking lot in the dark (and there were enough parked vehicles for my imagination to become concerned someone could be waiting for a young lady to walk past) I ended up asking one of the bag boys if he had to gather carts from the lot, and we went out together.

sweetonsno

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #10 on: November 11, 2012, 06:09:20 PM »
I do think you crossed the politeness line when you brought up the Fire Marshal with the MOD. I can see how that would come across as a threat.

I think that if you run into a situation like that in the future, you should skip speaking with the staff and just call the Fire Marshal when you get home. There are a couple of reasons for that.

1. You probably don't know the complete fire code for your jurisdiction, so there may be no problem at all. (For instance, some laws allow doors to be locked so they can't be opened from the outside so long as people can get out from the inside.)

2. The manager on duty might not have control over whether the door is locked or not. It could be corporate or branch policy. While they can pass your feedback up the chain, they probably can't "fix" the problem then and there. However, a citation from an official will prompt swift action.


rose red

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2012, 06:10:47 PM »
Maybe he was told it's OK to lock the door after 9pm, or there really are exceptions for nighttime.  Or maybe they are breaking the rules, knowingly or unknowingly. 

Either way, I'd just call the authorities and let them handle it.

Adelaide

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2012, 06:17:35 PM »
I do think you crossed the politeness line when you brought up the Fire Marshal with the MOD. I can see how that would come across as a threat.

I think that if you run into a situation like that in the future, you should skip speaking with the staff and just call the Fire Marshal when you get home.
<snip>

I agree with this if your concern is politeness. If you question a worker or manager and get the idea that they're not going to/don't know how to deal with the situation, the best thing to do would be to remain silent and just go ahead and call the fire marshal. It's not like they could stop you or influence you to do otherwise anyway, so bringing it up may have sounded vaguely threatening. Plus, it's not a "threat" that's going to do any good-the only real good will come from actually calling.

demarco

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #13 on: November 11, 2012, 08:33:32 PM »
I would call the fire marshall and let him sort it out. 

doodlemor

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Re: Locked fire exits - how to be polite and not ridiculous?
« Reply #14 on: November 11, 2012, 08:35:26 PM »
Probably it wasn't the best idea to speak with the manager about the fire marshal, but you should definitely call him.  It's understandable that you were very upset about this apparent disregard for the fire codes.

It does sound like the store is not in compliance, and you may save lives with your report.  Who knows?

Many of our current laws are a result of a terrible fire at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago in 1903.  Here is a link:  Warning - this is a tragic and dreadful story.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iroquois_Theatre_fire

I was once very upset when I learned that a camp my children attended for a week in the summer was deliberately flouting a number of safety/health rules.  We stopped sending them.  A year or so later several people died there as a direct result of not following safety rules. 

Things do happen.  I don't think that you will regret reporting this apparent lapse of safety.