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It all depends on the design of the space, how many levels, travelling distance to exits and loads of other things that prevent a simple 1,2,3 answer.


Can you let us know why you want to know and what sort of design spec the venue has? This calculation should be the responsibility of the architect/owner/management/responsible person and should be somewhere in the RA and/or emergency procedures. I have never come across a "standard theatre".


You could start here; http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/fire/pdf/144821.pdf

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yes the layout is the stage at the front, tierd seating facing the stage with a fire exit door at the front left, two 'voms' leading to the bottom of the seats (either side) they are used as fire exits and there is a large exit at the back, so four all together, but I want to block of one of the 'voms' going into the right side of the theatre and put the band for the musical there as there is no where else to put the band! cheers
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You need at least two exits, each one capable of exiting the entire audience, most likely within 150 seconds.


Vomitoriums are not fire exits, they form part of the fire route.


What is likely to be extremely important in all of this is where the main entry into the auditorium is, as in an exit, most people will leave the way that they came in.


If the main exit at the rear of the auditorium feeds to the vomitoriums and this is in turn fed from the main foyer, then it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to block one of the two main fire routes.


This really needs professional consultation with a fire officer and a fire strategist.

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Cannot stress strongly enough that ANY exit that is designated as a fire exit or part of a fire escape route MUST NOT at ANY time be blocked either wholly or partially for ANY reason.


In some areas, the fire service do occasionally carry out random inspections (or not so random if they suspect there may be a breach of regulations) and still retain the legal power to stop any performance completely should they feel there is a clear and present obstacle to the egress of either punters or players.

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To add to the points made above, if a fire exit exists, it is almost certainly a legal requirement.

Whilst there is nothing to prevent someone building a theatre with more fire exits than required by law, it is most unlikely to happen in practice.

Fire exits cost money and take up valuable space, therefore installing more than required is rare.


Presuming that like most venues, yours has only the legally required fire exits, than blocking one whilst the public are on the premises is a serious offence.

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I agree with Tony.


It may be that the standards and calculations might have prescribed less exits but the design may have allowed for more or indeed the architect may have just added extra for symmetry. Regardless of how the Means of Escape were arrived at, once they are designated, you cannot block them for any reason. Think about the amount of people with different behaviours and expectations. With a handful of known people in a room with 3 MoEs, you could just about get away with blocking one for maintenance. But a relatively complex space with up to 300 unknowns is entirely different. Also this is a vomitorium; the world and his wife pretty much knows that this is the way out.


Whilst it might seem perfectly rational to you or I to block a 'superfluous' exit and mark it with clear signage and even inform those affected, we're dealing with the general public and they are FAR from rational.


Here's some stories about signs.


We have the usual strip of lamps surrounding the mirrors in our dressing rooms. The users have a habit of hanging costume over them; sometimes on a hanger and other times literally over the lamp. We have had 4 minor fires, many meltings and numerous broken fixtures over the years. We have signs which read 'Do not hang anything on this fixture or allow anything to touch the bulb'. I have actually seen costume hung from the sign, covering the lamps...more than once!


Some of our users tie rope around some of the fire doors and thus prevent them from closing properly. To be fair they can be noisy but there is always somebody who can help it closed if necessary during the quiet scenes. There is a sign which explicitly says not to do it and on more then one occasion, I have found it covered over with gaffer tape. I'm not doing anything wrong if I can't see the sign!


We have signs on every socket which ask that all electrical items must have proof of safety such as PAT and also be shown to a house tech before use. There are too many to recount here but one of my favourites is:


A group comprising of mostly senior citizens were setting up some backstage refreshments. I found them with 2 high power kettles plugged into a decidedly thin twin trailing extension. On closer inspection, I discovered the extension lead was 2 core lighting and as you might expect was rather warm. Astonished, I found the owner and kindly offered to dispose of it for them. I can only assume that it was made up with bits by a clueless family member. I did point out our policy and the sign and they replied 'Oh, I didn't think that applied to me, I'm only here to make tea and sandwiches'. I now use the phrase 'We can use that to make tea and sandwiches' when finding a faulty or dangerous electrical item.


I should write a book...

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You cannot arbitrarily alter the means of escape. However, with careful planning, and the buy-in of the LA and Fire Brigade, a variation MAY be agreed. Easier if the other exits meet the full requirements, but not impossible if they are close. You might have to have extra, specially briefed, ushers, altered signage, barriers, etc.


Talk to them, they can only say no.

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The architect who designed the place would have had to comply with the prevailing regs at the time. Obviously, to get it signed off as it were, BUT at that time.


Now, here's a thought... we are in the here and now...large theatre, wheel chair space on the ends of the balcony, accessed by a lift. The lift holds only one wheelchair plus carer.


Another venue; carers decide that they don't want to use the place reserved for them at the back of auditorium (space reserved owing to being virtually ten feet from an exit and no obstructions to delay exit, or obstruct the other patrons leaving), because, "he's deaf and can't see too well you know", (don't ask about hearing loops...).


So the carers get the new, green as grass FOH manager to bring them, via the stage, no really, to the front seats. Then the poor bloke, who is not really with the program, is decanted from his comfy wheelchair onto hard wooden seating...and the wheelchair vanishes backstage...somewhere...


We watch, astonished. Very, very fortunately the St Johns folk who are present at every performance, watch with us, even more astonished. They have a discreet word with the Duty Manager and the FOH manager and from now on no wheelchairs onstage, ever, unless part of the chorus, which sometimes includes members of the Special Needs folk.


So yes you would not believe what can happen...and you were musing about blocking off a fire escape.

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I have to say I disagree with a lot of the above. Theatres are often designed with more exits from the space than are actually required, often in order to create symmetry and flexibility. Many times fire exits converge onto a single final point of exit.


I fully agree that any plans to remove or block any fire exits should be made in deep consulatation with the local licensing officer and fire department who may refuse, but these things are often possible.


If you do remove an exit from use you will need to ensure that all emergency exit lighting is checked and rearranged where neccessary in order to avoid any confusion.





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I have worked on productions that have been able to block fire exits with the permission of the Entertainment Licensing officer and the local fire brigade for certain shows


There were a few extra rules we had to comply with when this was happening such as:

an extra usher was required in the area by the closed exit

a set of seats were blocked out and unavailable

risk assesments were required

temporary fire exit sign was fitted above an existing exit to make it clearer

the ushers briefing had to be updated

all the equipment / people had to be contained within a designated area. This was ths hardest as people start making use of the free space next to them which is still part of the emergency exit, mainly for them


So it is possible but may require some addtional work

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a set of seats were blocked out and unavailable


This is important. The seats that would have likely exited via the door taken out of service. The capacity was reduced to compensate for the missing exit.


It is also important to note that 1 exit is also always removed from the calculations for redundancy.


I agree with Richard in that there are normally more exits than are required but location is important.


When calculating capacities you work on the basis of 5mm per person per exit. So in our OP's raked auditorium which seats 290 (lets say 300 to include staff), we have a working minimum width of 1500mm. However, the auditorium is raked so it is not horizontal escape so a few extra things need to be considered such as gangway and stair widths. In some places it is difficult to truly ascertain how much of any given seating is allocated to an exit. Half to the lower exits and half to the upper? Are these then treated as 2 separate calculations? Although not closest, some people may choose to follow friends a family to a different exit which was closer to them. What about all the people in the middle who may be relatively equidistant from several exits. Many people may be fully aware of where the exits lead to and choose not to go via the nearest exit as they know this initially leads further into the building. Not to mention that most people are likely to head to the foyer...


For a closely seated audience with more than one exit the minimum distance to an exit is 32m. Unless the exits routes are of fire resisting construction, then to be classed as separate exits they must be more than 45 degrees apart. Angle is calculated from the end of a row or gangway and not from the seat.


So going back to the OP. If the voms are less than 45 degrees apart and/or lead to the same place then they may need to be treated as a single exit. Therefore, in reality there might only be 3 exits to consider and then we knock one off too. So we can divide our 1500mm across 2 exits and come up with a minimum door width of 750mm per door. The exits are likely to be wider and therefore the total width of 2 exits is likely to be over 2000mm.


If we go the other way and say that the 3 exits (counting the 2 voms as one) are probably [at least] 1200mm wide we can conclude that the max. occ. could be 480 people ((3-1)x 1200)/5=480).


Having thought and worked it through, it may be possible to knock out an exit in this case. Also, if the voms need to be treated as a single exit then you could conceivably remove one from service without affecting anything.


HOWEVER, as the OP has stated that the other exit is left I would probably not want to remove the right hand vom as this means that both lower exits are to the left. I would use the left vom for the band if it still allowed for the audience to reach both the left exit and right hand vom.


I would of course consult the Local Authority and Fire Service and also risk assess too.

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There you go, Sam.


The answer is you can remove one fire exit from service but it is not straightforward and is more than likely to be above your pay grade. The reason I asked questions rather than answering yours is probably obvious as the initial answer to this type of question is usually; "It all depends."

On what? Lots of things.


If you want to go ahead with the plan, can I suggest you post a sketch of the layout at which time the responders will be more able to suggest ways and means of achieving your aims.


Interesting to note that North Yorks fire service don't have much specific guidance on their website and refer people to http://www.communities.gov.uk/fire/firesafety/firesafetylaw/ whereas some fire services are far more locally specific.

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