Disclaimer: The following information is to be used as a general set of guidelines. Since each high-rise is unique, you should refer to the approved fire safety plan for your building if there is any doubt as to what the best course of action is in the case of a fire.
The Challenges of Multifamily Building Fire Safety
Multifamily buildings are designed to be fire-safe, but they often contain many people, and rescues are challenging because of the significant size of some structures. This creates the real potential for major incidents. With that being said, buildings are generally designed to be more fireproof than the average single-family dwelling. The ceilings and floors are constructed with fire-resistant materials, and compartments between units act as barriers to stop fire from spreading.
Perhaps the cardinal rule of fire safety protocol for multifamily buildings is as follows: never attempt to leave by an elevator. For one thing, intense heat can activate elevator call buttons, sending the elevator to the floor where the fire is. Also, you may become trapped in the elevator if water used in fighting the fire creates a power failure. Fire fighters also require the use of elevators to carry them and their equipment to the front lines of the fire.
Choosing the Best Course of Action
The very best escape route is usually through the interior fire-separated stairwell shafts. Stairwells will have signs posted indicating which floor level you are on. You can crossover to an alternate stairwell if you encounter smoke while on your descent, but keep the stairwell doors closed at all times to preserve the safety of these escape stairs.
Most buildings also have portable fire extinguishers located in the fire hose cabinets on each floor. These cabinets contain a standpipe structure that is an interior water supply system for use by firefighters.
In a real life fire situation, you must choose whether to attempt to leave, or to stay where you are and wait for help. If safe to do so, sound the fire alarm by pulling the red manual lever located on your floor. The next step is to call 911 and give them the exact address of your location. Exit using the stairwells and don't return until firefighters have declared the apartment safe.
Apartment Fire Safety Kits
We recommend that all tenants of multifamily buildings purchase a fire survival kit. You should make this kit readily available in case you or someone in your unit becomes trapped during a fire. You can purchase the following list of items for less than $50, and having them available for an emergency could very well save your life.
- Wet Towel: Place at the base of a door.
- Duct Tape: Tape over door and vent openings.
- Foil Wrap: Use to cover vent openings.
- Whistle: Use to signal for help.
- Flashlight: Use in case of power failure, smoke, or to signal for help.
- Bright-Coloured Cloth: Hang up in a window or balcony to show your location.
- Cotton Bed Sheet: Soak the sheet with water and make a tent near a window.
- Washcloth: Place a wet cloth over your face to aid breathing in smoke.
- Fire Safety Plan: Have a copy of your building's emergency procedures available.
- Plastic Pail: Use for storing survival equipment. (Fill with water during a fire.)