This paper explores the relationship between environment and behaviour, in terms of visual access configurations (VAC5) and occupant response in fires. The paper contrasts stimulus response (S_R) and occupant response (O_R) models of the relationship between people and settings in emergencies. Both models assume that the location of occupants is important. The S_R model expresses this in terms of global spatial dimensions (a fire, distance to exits and width of exits). The O_R model emphasizes local knowledge, interpretation of a situation and action (the location in relation to its visual field and building as an information system). The paper focuses on VACs as a primary O_R functional design criterion. The relationship between visual access (VA) to a fire, between occupants and to exits and O_R time is considered. Three illustrative examples of VACs are discussed: open plan = full VA, back_/front_stage = medium VA, closed plan = limited VA. Spatial analysis measures offer possible insights into patterns of movement (e.g. towards integrated entry vs segregated emergency exit routes). Architectural design and fire engineering appraisals should assess the relationship between VACs, starting time distributions from different locations, warning systems, occupant movement other than escape, exit arrival and flow times (termed occupant response escape time).