I hear the fire alarms. Is this a drill?

Fire drills in the college are always announced with printed notifications in the building. Should you hear alarms, follow the emergency procedures for your building.

The alarms have gone off in the main college. What should I do?

If the visual and audible alarms activate in the main college (A-F, LC and Whitney), an announcement noting the alarmed area will be communicated over the PA system. If the alarm originated from your area, emergency responders (engineers and safety personnel as well as the Fire Department) will check your surrounding workspaces for the cause of the alarm. If the alarm requires the evacuation of your area, you will be instructed to vacate the premises utilizing the closest means of egress.

There is a strong burning chemical odor in my area. What should I do?

Odors should be investigated. Contact Environmental Health and Safety and give as much information about the condition as possible. Personnel will be dispatched to your location to assess the situation.

Should I utilize a fire extinguisher in the event of a fire?

Fire extinguishers should only be utilized for fighting small type fires (such as waste paper baskets, etc.) and only if properly trained and confident in doing so. If a fire requires more than one extinguisher, it is too large to continue fighting.

A service representative I have contracted is working on equipment in my laboratory and has to do some soldering/hot work. Is that okay?

This type of work is considered "hot work" and could set off the fire alarm system. For this reason a permit from Environmental Health and Safety is required before work begins.

I am in the basement of the A-E college buildings. Sometimes I hear audible beeps which repeat about four times. What does this mean?

General fire codes sound in the basement and sub-basement levels, which when sounded, represent a particular building by the number of beeps heard. Basement and sub-basement levels have code cards at the manual pull stations which identify the building by alarm.

There are building materials and trash located inside the stairwell. What should I do?

Contact the Office of Environmental Health and Safety and we will have the items immediately removed.

The cabinet fire hose is leaking. Who should I report this to?

Contact Environmental Health and Safety who will coordinate the repair with Facilities. Any discrepancies to the fire protection or alarm systems should be reported immediately.

May items be stored on shelves up to the ceiling?

According to NFPA 13, there must be ample clearance (18 inches) so that sprinklers can be activated and function effectively in case of a fire.

I noticed that most of the extinguishers are mounted on the wall, but our extinguisher is not mounted. Is this acceptable?

If your fire extinguisher is not mounted, contact EHS to have it mounted in a proper location.

Why can't I use the elevator instead of the stairs during a fire alarm?

It isn't appropriate to use an elevator during a fire or similar building emergency. Elevators are designed to be recalled to a floor, usually the lobby, during alarm conditions. In unusual circumstances, an elevator malfunction might cause the elevator to travel to the fire floor, thus exposing the occupants to the fire. Also, smoke may enter the elevator shaft, which would migrate toward the roof, exposing any elevator occupants to that smoke.

When is a pre-check required?

A pre-hot-work check must be conducted by the responsible person before hot work is authorized, and at least once per day. The check reports must be kept at the work site during the work, made available for inspection, and submitted to EHS after the work is complete.

What is a designated hot work area?

A designated area is a specific area approved for hot work. This is the area exposed to sparks, hot slag, radiant heat, or convective heat as a result of hot work. The designated hot work area is specified on the work authorization permit.

What is a hot work authorization permit (hot work permit)?

A hot work program authorization bearing the signature of the responsible person must be obtained for any project conducting hot work operations in WCM space. Hot work operations are limited to the area and time specified in the hot work permit.

Do I need to submit a hot work scheduling request form?

Yes, a hot work scheduling request form must be completed by the WCM staff member coordinating the hot work (i.e., E&M supervisor, project manager). This form must be submitted 24 hours in advance and presented to obtain a hot work authorization permit. Off-hours requests must submitted at least one week in advance to EHS.

Why do we have fire drills?

Fire drills are performed to familiarize occupants with the sound of the alarm system, practice evacuation procedures, and monitor alarm systems for functions.

How long does a fire drill normally last?

The duration of most fire drills is between five and 15 minutes. Drill times can vary from building to building, depending on many factors, such as speed of evacuation, building size and fire alarm system resetting.

Can equipment or furniture be stored in a corridor, and what are the restrictions?

Generally, items should not be stored in corridors. Certain equipment (lab refrigerators, metal enclosed file cabinets, etc.) may be stored in approved corridors under the following conditions:

  1. All items in any particular corridor are placed along one side of the corridor only, with the other side kept clear for emergency evacuation.
  2. An 18-inch clearance, from the top of any storage to the ceiling, to prevent interfering with the sprinkler system operation, is maintained.
  3. Do not block fire exits or entrance doors.
  4. A clearance of three feet around all safety showers is maintained.
  5. A minimum corridor width of 44 inches at any point for occupant movement/evacuation is maintained
  6. No work with any stored chemical or biological material is allowed.

For further clarification, please review the PDF icon EHS Corridor Safety and Emergency Egress Update.

During the winter my work area gets cold; can I use a space heater?

Space heaters are not allowed at WCM. For more information, please read the Engineering & Maintenance Space and Temperature Setpoint Standard.

There is a safety shower in the corridor outside my work area. Can I store equipment next to the safety shower, and are there any requirements I need to consider?

Generally, safety showers should be accessible and visible from all vantage points. There should be a clear path to the shower and adequate clearance around the shower. A sign identifying the shower should be posted conspicuously, and visible from all vantage points. Based on these criteria, the following can serve as a guideline for storage in the vicinity of a safety shower:

  • A minimum clearance of three feet should be maintained around the safety shower.
  • Items stored should not present an obstruction to access or shower operation.
  • Stored items should not block or obscure the safety shower signage from any vantage point.

Can we use electrical extension cords in our work area and run them through a cable organizer to prevent people from tripping over wires?

EHS discourages the use of electrical extension cords as a general practice. Extension cords expose occupants to additional shock hazards as an additional point of contact where electrical plugs can come loose from the extension cord. Additionally, the connector point is on the floor where water can come in contact with the extension cord. We also discourage the use of flexible cable organizers because wires can be worn or deteriorate over time as occupants walk on the conduit. Because the wires are hidden, worn electrical wires can go unnoticed and cause an electrical short which can lead to a fire. The best solution is to contact Facilities to conduct a survey, properly evaluate your power needs, and engineer a solution.

My lab is looking to purchase an industrial tool (e.g. drill press, bench grinder). Is safety information available for this type of equipment?

EHS has developed the PDF icon Physical Hazards of Machinery and Equipment Update to address safety concerns with this type of equipment. This update details the hazards in working with this type of equipment, and provides safe work practices, guarding requirements, and guidance on inspection and training.

What is hot work?

Hot work is any activity that creates heat, flame, sparks or smoke. Examples of hot work include, but are not limited to: welding (gas or arc), cutting, grinding, brazing, soldering and hot tar operations.

Is non-fire-causing work part of the hot work program?

Yes - some types of work can cause problems for a fire protection system, but do not have the potential to start a fire. Examples include dust-generating work such as sanding, and steam-generating work. In these cases the hot work procedures must be followed to ensure that the fire protection system will not be falsely activated.

When is a fire watch required?

A fire watch is required whenever cutting or welding is performed in areas where a major fire might develop, or when any of the following conditions exist:

  • Appreciable combustible material in building construction or contents is closer than 35 feet to the point of operation.
  • Appreciable combustibles are more than 35 feet away but are easily ignited by sparks.
  • Wall or floor openings within a 35-foot radius expose combustible material including concealed spaces in walls or floors.
  • Combustible materials are adjacent to the opposite side of metal partitions, walls, or roofs, and are likely to be ignited by conduction or radiation.

Fire guards may not be assigned any duties other than to remain alert and guard against fire, and they must be alert to sparks, the transmission of heat, and the potential ignition of combustible material.

One FDNY-certified fire guard is required per spark-producing tool (torch, chop saw, grinder). An additional fire guard shall be provided on the floor or level below the torch operation.

Why does a fire watch have to remain on the job site for 30 minutes after the completion of hot work?

Most fires associated with hot work occur after the work has been completed. A spark that landed in an unnoticed location may smolder. It takes time for the fire to grow to a point where flame and smoke are visible. By that point the workers may have left the site.

Do I need to have a certificate of fitness to perform hot work?

Operators of torches and required fire watches must have a current certificate of fitness issued by the New York City Fire Department in their possession during torch operations.

Contact Us

Go to the staff directory for individual contacts within EHS. You may also use the Weill Cornell Medicine online directory to search for faculty and staff.

Create an EHS Incident


Weill Cornell Medicine Environmental Health and Safety 402 East 67th Street
Room LA-0020
New York, NY 10065 Phone: (646) 962-7233 Fax: (646) 962-0288