In honor of National Safety Month, we want to focus on a topic we hold dear to our hearts at the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services– high-rise fire safety. According to the most recent study published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 14,500 structure fires per year in high-rise buildings.These fires cause (on average) 40 civilian deaths, 520 civilian injuries, and lead to $154 million of property damage each year. Fire response is critical because fire is one of the most common emergencies following earthquakes, explosions, terrorism, power surges and other natural and manmade disasters.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)’s definition is different: “a building greater than 75 feet (25 meters) in height, where the building height is measured from the lowest level of fire department vehicle access to the floor of the highest occupiable story.” And I thought the top of my doghouse qualified as a high-rise!
Damage Distribution to High-Rise Structures:
- Apartments (62% of all high-rise fires)
- Hotels (4% of all high-rise fires)
- Dormitories (4% of all high-rise fires)
- Offices (2% of all high-rise fires)
- Facilities where care is provided for the sick (1% of all high-rise fires)
- Mixed-use residential or office buildings (Remaining 27% of all high-rise fires)
Regardless of definition, high-rise building fires generally require:
- Greater egress times
- Further distance to evacuate
- Need for detailed evacuation strategies
- Limited fire department accessibility
- Smoke movement
- Fire control
Rising to the Challenge
The good news is that you may, in fact, be safer in a high-rise building than in a short structure, even if fire breaks out. That is good news! One reason for this is because most high-rise buildings are equipped with a variety of fire protection features designed to allow occupants sufficient time to escape, such as smoke detectors, sprinklers, alarm equipment, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, emergency exit signage, and fire-containment construction design. The same is not always the case in lower-rise buildings. Regardless of the age or design of any particular building, safety features, alone, cannot guarantee personal safety.
What to Do if a Fire Alarm Sounds When You’re in a High-Rise Building
- Don’t wait. Evacuate.
- Occupants should always listen to safety instructions broadcast on the intercom while they are moving to safety.
- If you are in an office, close the door behind you. But don’t lock it.
- When the fire alarm activates, elevators will be taken out of service, available only to fire department personnel. Even if the elevators in your building remain active, do not use them. Since elevator sensors are activated by heat or smoke, the elevator could take you to and open the doors on the fire floor, leaving you without means of escape.
- Every floor of a building has a Floor Warden, who is trained to assist you during a fire emergency. If you do not already know who yours is, find out by asking your fire safety director or management.
- If you feel you would need assistance down a flight of stairs in an emergency, ask others if they would be able to help you.
- Remember, although the Floor Warden is there to provide assistance, you are responsible for yourself. And your pet. You’re responsible for your dog. Don’t forget that!
- Evacuate at least 300 feet from the building.
- Check in at your designated safe area.
- Never re-enter the building until instructed to do so by fire department personnel.
- Know the location of all available exit stairs from your floor. Do this in case smoke or fire blocks the exit you routinely use.
What to Do if You Smell Smoke or a Fire?
- Remove everything from the danger area and close the door. This will confine the fire and give you added time to notify others and begin evacuation.
- Immediately activate the fire alarm.
- Begin evacuation.
- Call 9-1-1. Tell them the name of your building, the address, what floor you are on, your telephone number and the nearest cross street.
- Contact building management and/or security so they can start their specific fire-safety duties.
- Give your dog a treat. Okay, this may not be necessary. But I thought I’d give it a shot.
What Should You Do if You Cannot Evacuate?
- Stay calm. Do not panic.
- Close as many doors as possible between yourself and the fire.
- If possible, go to a room with an outside window, as far from the fire as possible. Stay there.
- Keep smoke out by stuffing the crack around the door and vents with clothing, towels or paper.
- If available, use your cellphone or a landline to call 9-1-1.
- Tell them your exact location including your floor number, room number and if you are on the North, South, East or West side of the building.
- Fighting the fire is not the first thing you should do, unless you must fight it in order to save someone in immediate danger.
- Never attempt to fight the fire alone. Always have another person with you.
- Fighting the fire using a fire extinguisher is optimal, if you are properly trained in how to do so. The proper method is known as: PASS (Pull, aim, squeeze and sweep.)
- If someone catches fire, have them stop, drop and roll to smother flames.
- Fire doubles in volume every 30-60 seconds. In just a few minutes an entire room or multiple rooms can be engulfed in flames and smoke. Any fire, if not properly controlled, has the potential to become deadly. These are the reasons you should treat every fire drill as if it was an actual emergency.
The best defense against fire (or any other natural or manmade disaster) is to plan for the unexpected. If you own or manage a building, make sure your disaster and evacuation plan is sufficient and that building occupants participate in regular drills. Makes sense to me!
About the Allied Universal Fire Life Safety Training System
We are committed to your safety. Our training helps with compliance to fire life safety codes and instantly issues a certificate to building occupants who complete the course! It’s a convenient and affordable solution designed to fit the training needs of your facility. Training is available for tenants of high-rise residential, commercial and multi-use properties. Click here for more information or to subscribe.