Charming But Potentially Deadly, Too
“A woman and her two daughters and a niece on the fifth floor were killed when flames from the first floor rushed up the stairwell, filling the passageway with smoke and sending people scurrying down a fire escape.” (NYT)
Older apartment buildings can be very beautiful but will usually lack many fire safety and suppression features such as sprinklers and pressurized stairwells.
This means it is critical to keep the building as fire-safe as possible. Strictly limit combustible materials in public/common areas, especially around stairwells, trash chutes and elevator shafts. Smoke and heat travel upward.
Keep all doors, especially fire doors, closed in order to stop the spread of fire and smoke.
Check your unit for electrical hazards, especially the overuse of extension cords. If you are using an extension cord as a permanent feature you should think about installing a proper outlet.
Clutter and poor housekeeping are the breeding grounds for serious fires.
Kitchen fires are another major concern.
If you notice fire or smoke in your unit, exit, close the door behind you, pull the fire alarm if there is one, and call 911.
If the hallway has smoke or heat, possibly from a fire elsewhere in the building, decide if you will use a stairway to exit or remain in your unit.
If you stay in your unit, close the hallway door, open a window and call 911 and report your exact location in the building.
If you decide to try to exit, do not use elevators.
Remember that stairwells may be contaminated with smoke or heat.
If there are several stairwells one may afford greater protection and safety because of its location and construction. Take the time now to become familiar with them.
Avoid going to the roof if you can.
If you have exterior fire escapes learn how to access them and where they lead to. Many of these are poorly maintained and may be hard to negotiate, especially if icy.
Here’s a complication to consider: when the fire department arrives and begins to fight the fire, they will likely prop open the stairwell on the fire floor, thus allowing smoke and heat to contaminate that stairwell. If there is evidence of a fire, move quickly to exit safely, don’t compete with the fire department when they are trying to use the stairs.
Take a minute now and think through the scenarios and how you will react to each. Which window would you likely open if you stayed in your apartment? Can you open it?
If there are kids or infirm persons involved, decide now who will guide them to safety. Practice calmly getting them up and out the door. (One person should check the hallway and make the go/no-go decision.)
There should be a standard meeting place outside the building so folks can be accounted for when the fire department arrives.
Think and practice now to avoid a tragedy later.