ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — Fire alarms are a safety measure to prevent people from getting injured, or worst dying, in the event a building catches on fire. From a young age, children are taught in school to evacuate a building as soon as they hear or see the alarm going off, but are you legally required to leave a building while the fire alarm is going off?

This complicated question is at the heart of two lawsuits filed over a June 2015 fire that killed one resident at the Marshall Square Retirement Community in Evans, Georgia.

This specific lawsuit claims a “shelter in place” policy made it so that residents felt they did not have to leave the premises.

The allegations include:

  • The Marshall Square Defendants were negligent in constructing Marshall Square Retirement Community with a flawed architectural design, an inadequate fire protection and alarm system, and highly combustible building materials that failed to meet industry standards for a facility that houses elderly residents suffering from mental and physical limitations and impairments.
  • The Marshall Square Defendants and Defendants Freehof and Bryde were negligent by failing to get elderly residents, including Plaintiff, to evacuate the premises. Rather, Defendants Freehof and Bryde negligently instructed residents, including Plaintiff, to remain in their apartments and not evacuate even as the flames engulfed the building.
  • Defendants Freehof and Bryde negligently failed to recognize and appreciate how serious the fire was and negligently failed to provide accurate and timely information and instructions for the safe evacuation of persons from the facility.
  • The conduct of Defendants and the negligent acts or omissions by Defendants’ employees, agents, and servants show willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, and that entire want of care which raises the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.

Those two complaints include:

Cadle v Marshall Square – seeking $5 million in damages

Moye v Marshall Square Class Action Lawsuit – Class Action

According to Tufts University’s Fire Alarm Evacuation Drills, residents must immediately evacuate the building. They say it is best to never assume the alarm is false or that it is just a test.

They add, even if an area is not filled with smoke or odor, do not disregard the alarm as it could be in another area and spread toward you.

They also say to never use an elevator in the event of an emergency because you may be trapped, always exit the building using a designated emergency exit.

Lastly, do not re-enter the building until emergency responders, firefighters, or other official personnel give the all-clear to return.

In general, it may not be illegal to refuse to leave a building during a fire, but the consequences of not could be deadly.