How to Survive a Fire in a High Rise Building

After a horrific blaze consumed a 27-story apartment building in London, how can you be safe in the event of a high-rise inferno?
Retired FDNY fire investigator tells us what residents can do at the first sign of trouble. In London, 12 victims are confirmed dead but that number could well rise.
Fire safety know-how helps. If you live or work in a tall building, here are four tips that could help keep you alive.

1. Make a fire safety plan. Just like residents of single-family homes or low-rise apartment buildings, high-rise dwellers should have a home fire safety plan. Meet with neighbors on your floor to coordinate how you would evacuate and help each other. Know where the exits are, and mark them on your plan.

2. Meet with management. Ask your building manager or landlord to hold a fire safety meeting to inform residents about the building’s fire safety features and evacuation procedures. For example, find out if an automatic system will dial 911, or if you need to make a call. If the building doesn’t have a full fire sprinkler system, ask your landlord to consider adding this life-saving safety feature. And always participate in fire drills to practice for a real fire.

3. Establish a place of refuge. Each building should have a designated place of refuge, a spot where occupants who are unable to reach safety on their own can wait for rescuers. These spaces may be located as stand-alone compartments on a floor, or they might be oversized landings in stairwells. Scope out this space ahead of time in case you need to find it during a fire.

4. Know how to escape a high-rise fire. A fire in a high-rise building is a little different from one in a single-family home. Here’s what to do if a blaze breaks out:

Heed the alarm. If a fire alarm sounds in your building, don’t assume it’s a false alarm or that you can wait to see what happens. “Treat it as a real emergency!”.
See if it’s safe to evacuate. If you’re behind a closed door in your apartment, condo or workplace, check for heat. If the door and door handle are cool, open the door slowly. If smoke pushes in, close the door and stay in your apartment. Call 911 to let rescuers know where you are, and put a brightly colored towel or sheet in the window as a signal to firefighters. While you wait, seal vents and cracks under doors with duct tape or towels and open (but don’t break) windows if you can.
Take the stairs. If there’s no smoke, or there’s light smoke you can crawl underneath, go to the stairwell to exit. Never use the elevator in a fire. Elevators can malfunction and trap people between floors — or take the car right to the floor of the fire. At that point, he says, “There’s no escape.”
Head to a refuge place. If you are disabled, elderly, sick or otherwise unable to evacuate, go to the designated place of refuge and wait for help from firefighters. If that’s not possible, stay in your apartment and call 911 to report your location right away.
Avoid the balcony. Unless your apartment is filled with smoke and you have no other option, don’t go out on your balcony. You could get stuck there. “If you’re on the 50th floor and you go on the balcony, you’re pretty much committed to stay there until the fire is extinguished or someone can come get you,” Also, you could be exposed to smoke from lower floors.

Finally, don’t go to the roof thinking a helicopter will swoop down to rescue you. The movies make it look easy, but rooftop rescues are difficult and rare. “Very few cities have the ability to do rooftop rescues”.

Watch video to see some more tips.

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