Condos and Apartment Fire Safety

Written by Brian Enright

"Stop, drop, and roll" is a fire safety mantra that has probably been drilled into your head since elementary school. While that is great advice with some truth to it, fire safety is a bit more complicated than those three simple actions. Fire safety is more than just what you do in the moment, and it requires prior planning and prevention measures, especially when you live in an apartment. According to the American Red Cross, once a fire has been detected by a smoke detector, an apartment resident has two minutes or less to safely escape.

Escape Plan

Arguably the most important part of fire safety is knowing where to go to get to safety. Make an escape plan that includes the locations of every possible exit route in your condo, be it the front door or a designated fire escape. Check to see if the owner of your building has designated a meeting place for tenants in the event of a fire. If not, choose a suitable location with your household. Once you've planned your escape routes and meeting place, gather your household and practice getting out of your apartment via all of your planned exit routes as quickly as possible once or twice a year.

It's also important to think through everything you might need to remember in an emergency. For instance, make sure each member of your household knows the number of the fire department, including young children, so that they can call for help once they escape. If there are very young children or disabled or elderly people living with you, make sure someone is assigned to help them so that no one is left behind.

In a high-rise building, it may be safer to stay in place when a fire strikes, depending on your exit options. If this is your situation, stay close to a window to get air and to signal your location to emergency responders. Lay down towels or duct tape over the door seals and vents to prevent smoke from seeping into your apartment.

Fire Prevention

Installing smoke alarms outside every sleeping area of your apartment is crucial, as is regularly testing them to ensure that they are in working condition. But the safest course of action is to avoid a fire in the first place. Don't smoke inside or near anything that could catch fire, and keep any lighters or matches in a safe place. Keep flammable materials and objects several feet away from heat sources. Never leave candles unattended, and choose battery-operated light sources in case of a power outage. Reduce the risk of an electrical fire by refraining from using frayed wires and making sure all wiring is hidden by cover plates. Make sure that every heat source, such as stoves or space heaters, is in good condition before use.

The kitchen can be a particularly dangerous place as far as fire risk is concerned. Be sure to use safe cooking habits and stay in the kitchen while food is cooking, and always stay in the apartment if you have something in the oven. And if a grease fire occurs, simply close the lid of the pan and turn off the burner. Don't move the pot or pan until the fire is gone, and never throw water on a grease fire under any circumstances.

Fire Education for Kids

Children are most at risk in a fire, but often, children are also the cause of one; fires can start because a child is playing with matches or lighters that were within reach. Keeping such items out of reach of children is an important aspect of fire safety, but there is so much more that can be done to keep children safe in the event of a fire. Teach children in your household about smoke alarms, what they are used for, and what they sound like. You can do this by talking to them while you do your routine smoke alarm check. Get the children involved in making the family escape plan. Helping them to map out the condo and locate the exits on paper and in real life can help them to remember what to do if a fire should occur. Teach them about "stop, drop, and roll," what to do if a piece of clothing they are wearing catches fire. And teach them to never enter a burning building for any reason after they have left it. A common phrase used to help kids to remember this is "Get out, stay out."

Pet Fire Safety

Pets are part of the family, too, and they should be included in your fire safety planning. Never leave open flames around your pets when you aren't in the room: Pets are curious and can easily knock over a candle or catch their tail on fire. If a fire strikes, take them with you when you evacuate if you can. If you can't find your pet, try calling them to you, but never put your life in danger over your pet. To let firefighters know to rescue your pets, you can attach a cling to a window or door that tells rescuers what kind of pets you have and how many there are in your condo. Make sure this is updated as needed.

What to Do After a Fire

Immediately after escaping from an apartment fire, make sure to call 911, tend to any burns or other injuries, and let your friends and family know where you are and that you are safe. Never re-enter your condo until the local authorities tell you that it is safe. When you do go back in, make sure to throw away any food that may have been contaminated by smoke or firefighting chemicals. Take stock of the situation: You may need to find somewhere else to stay, and you'll need to contact your insurance company to get started on a claim.

In the days and weeks following the fire, ensure that you and your household are not only caring for your physical health but your mental health as well. Make sure to get enough rest, eat healthy and nutritious foods, talk to your friends and family, and don't be afraid to get professional help if you need it.

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