FORT BELVOIR, Virginia –
Many McNamara Headquarters Complex employees find evacuating the building a routine manner: head for the stairs and walk out an emergency exit. But for some, getting down the stairs and out of the building requires a little bit of teamwork.
Seventeen HQC employees volunteered April 29 to learn how to use special safety chairs designed to help employees with mobility challenges descend stairwells during an emergency.
“We take for granted that we can simply get up and walk out the door to get out the building to evacuate without problem,” said Joel Fix, the HQC emergency manager with Defense Logistics Agency Installation Support. “We shouldn’t overlook the fact that there are other individuals that need assistance.”
Fix said that the complex has nearly 100 employees who self-identify as having mobility challenges.
“The training is to enable others to help them,” he said. “It’s also to work towards a progressive solution to making sure that we can all evacuate the building.”
The training focused on instructing employees in the proper use of eight safety chairs located within every other stairwell on the second and fourth floors on the building’s northern side. The chairs, designed to use gravity to help someone descend a flight of stairs while seated in an upright position, can be operated with help from one person.
Vivian d’Alelio, a management assistant with DLA Headquarters’ Multimedia Division, said training like this provides valuable hands-on experience to employees who have never had to evacuate someone with a disability.
D’Aleio is a worker with a mobility disability and took part in the training with some coworkers to better acquaint them on how to help employees like her during an evacuation.
“I was there as a guinea pig,” d’Alelio joked. “But it’s also better training with someone that has an actual disability.”
Fix explained to volunteers how the chairs functioned, then demonstrated their ease of use. He then had employees assist d’Alelio down a flight of stairs, highlighting the importance of communication.
D’Alelio said the training was an excellent opportunity for volunteers to get hands-on experience in a low-stress scenario and let them develop muscle memory so they would be ready in the event of a real emergency.
“The more people you have trained, the better,” she said. “You never know when you’re going to run across somebody with a disability.”
After the training, d’Alelio said she’s more confident in her fellow employees and knows that in an emergency, they won’t leave her behind.