Fire safety is critical in just about every setting. But when it comes to apartment building fire safety, there are specific things to consider, such as longer egress times, evacuation procedures, fire control and smoke movement through the building. In apartment and condominium buildings, fires can spread heat, flames and smoke quickly throughout the entire building, affecting all occupants’ safety.
Building property owners, managers and residents alike all have their responsibilities when it comes to apartment fire safety. Below we cover essential fire safety tips for large apartment and condo buildings for tenants who live there and people who build, own or manage these types of establishments.
Fire Statistics: How Common Are High-Rise Residential Fires?
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there were 1,345,500 fires in 2015. Some 380,900 of them were residential fires and 1,800 of those were fatal — 50.8 percent from cooking.
In 2016, around 95,000 fires were apartment structure fires, causing 325 deaths and 3,375 injuries, reports the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Between the years 2009-2013, fire departments in the United States responded to approximately 14,500 high-rise building structure fires each year.
Fire Safety Tips for Building Property Owners, Builders and Managers
If you own or manage a high rise or apartment building, make sure you thoroughly screen all tenants to avoid renting out to someone who won’t respect the fire safety requirements for these complexes. You particularly don’t want to rent to someone who’s negligent and irresponsible and could potentially start a fire.
Building owners are usually legally required to, at the minimum, have a monitored fire system. This ensures you stay compliant with local laws and protect your company’s assets. As a building property owner, you also need to:
- Consult with a fire protection company to find out what type of alarms, devices, sprinklers and extinguishers you require as well as where to place them.
- Ensure places like recreational facilities, laundry rooms and meeting rooms have smoke alarms and there aren’t any electrical hazards. If your building already has this equipment, you should have them inspected to ensure they’re in good condition.
- Inform staff and tenants of proper fire safety practices for high rise buildings and apartments and what their responsibilities are.
- Consider organizing and appointing employees to carry out fire safety duties.
- Go over your apartment fire safety inspection checklist and ensure all tests and inspections are done thoroughly.
- Prepare a Plan B for occupant safety during a fire in case they can’t carry out their Plan A.
- Keep space heaters, electrical panels and sprinkler system controls clear of any obstructions.
- Keep storage areas organized and clean.
- Store flammable liquids in approved containers and cabinets.
You should also have a fire extinguisher on every floor, in the parking garage and in the basement. Make sure they’re all accessible. Discuss the essential fire safety tips for large apartment and condo building owners and managers with your staff frequently, so everyone is on the same page.
Create a Fire Safety Plan for Residents
Make a Fire Safety Plan unique to your complex. It needs to contain building information like its construction type, fire safety tips, different ways to evacuate the building and types of fire safety systems. It’s a good idea to:
- Post this fire safety plan on the front door of each apartment.
- Post it in the common area in an obvious spot.
- Provide each dwelling unit a copy.
- Give a copy to each new tenant when they sign their lease.
- Hand out a fresh copy of the fire safety plan each year.
The evacuation section of the fire safety plan for your building will depend on if you have a fireproofed building. It also depends on where the fire is. Building managers and owners should:
- Maintain the fire safety plan and ensure residents execute all the plan’s provisions.
- Know all regulations and codes and comply with them.
- Train capable employees to carry out all required safety tasks. Fill empty positions immediately, so you do not lose a cog in your fire safety team.
- Provide firefighters with essential information like service rooms, elevator locations, keys and more.
- Keep all exits, stairways, passageways and access areas free of obstructions.
- Hold and participate in fire drills and complete fire drill records.
- Reset a fire alarm system when a fire service officer authorizes you to do so.
Clearly Mark Stairwell and Exit Doors
Mark all stairwell and exit doors clearly. Do not block them with security bars or lock them, and keep them clear of clutter.
Install Only Approved Window Security Gates
Some building property owners install gates or security bars on the windows of their apartments to keep intruders out of their units. But if there is a fire in your building, these can trap your tenants and hinder firefighter rescue.
If you have an outdoor fire escape on your building, you can only install security gates approved by the fire department that don’t require a key to open the fire escape window. This includes any secondary exit windows you have on the ground level. Installing any unapproved gate is strictly prohibited.
Gates approved by the fire department don’t require the use of a key, tool or any special effort to open. If you buy a security gate, make sure it’s labeled or stamped with the fire department’s approval number. Once you install the gate, teach your tenants to use the release devices.
Fire Safety Tips for Residents of High Rise Buildings
There are also many things you can do as a resident of an apartment or condo building to help keep yourself safe. One of the most important? Monitoring your smoke alarms. Tenants should ensure their smoke alarms remain in proper working condition and always are turned on.
Avoid Electrical Hazards
Electrical sources are one of the highest fire risks in today’s world. Don’t overload extension cords and electrical outlets. Instead, use safety-tested devices designed to protect your outlets, like surge protectors. Look for electrical fire hazards like:
- Overloaded outlets
- Worn cords
- Malfunctioning equipment
- Equipment that gets hot when it shouldn’t, or shocks you when touched
You should look for these hazards regularly.
Meet With the Building Manager to Discuss Fire Safety Concerns
Meet with your building manager to learn about your building’s fire safety features, such as:
- Fire alarms
- Apartment, condo or high rise building-specific evacuation procedures
- Voice communication procedures
Understand the Building’s Fire Protection Systems
All residents should become familiar with their building’s fire protection system to know what they should do in the event of a fire. Your apartment building’s fire protection system may have different features for fire safety in place.
The fire protection system in your building may depend on the location and build date. Fire safety codes for apartments may be different today than what they were during the original building construction. The best place to live would be in a complex equipped with a residential sprinkler system and monitored alarm system. Should a fire occur, the sprinklers will either put the fire out or control it until the fire department arrives. Sprinkler systems also help prevent deadly flashover, so you can exit the building safely from a fire.
You should see pull stations, or the manual red and white alarms you can pull in the event of a fire, located at the exit door of your building. It’s important you know where these are. In some complexes, the pull station could be the only alarm alerting all residents to a fire. A lot of apartment complexes have interconnected or hardwired heat and/or smoke detection in places like:
- Common areas
- Laundry rooms
- Mechanical rooms
When someone activates one alarm, they all go off in some buildings.
Equip Your Condo or Apartment With Fire Extinguishers
All apartment buildings should have fire extinguishers. They’re required by law in many states. You need to know their location, how to get to them, and when and how to use them. You should also have at least one fire extinguisher inside your apartment, preferably in the kitchen. You should be able to access it quickly and easily.
Don’t try and use a fire extinguisher if you’re unsure of how to use one. Read through the instruction manual, so you understand how to operate it. Never try to put an out-of-control fire out by yourself with an extinguisher, either — call 911.
Keep Your Apartment or Condo Fire-Safe
As mentioned earlier, focusing on prevention is the best way to promote fire safety. This means watching pets and kids around electricity and flames, particularly with candles and bright, sparkling lights during the holidays.
If your place has a fireplace, remove any nearby flammable objects and extinguish all embers before going to bed. You’ll also want to properly prep your fireplace each season before firing it up, including having a certified inspector inspect and pass it.
Pay Attention to Building Facilities
Practice apartment or high rise fire safety when using building facilities like laundry rooms. For example:
- Don’t overload the washing machine or dryer.
- Before using a machine, clean out the dryer lint trap.
Be Prepared in the Event of a High-Rise Building Fire
Create a plan of evacuation. Go over it with family members and practice it, so each person knows how to get outside.
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) recommends you count how many doors you have to pass in the hallway to reach the closest fire exit in your apartment. Memorize this number so you can get to the exit if it’s dark in the corridor. Learn where all the stairs and exit doors are on your floor.
Stay Calm and Use Good Judgement During a Fire
If a fire happens, stay calm. Get to the exit you’ve been practicing in your evacuation plan. Once outside, call your local fire department.
If you touch your door and it feels warm, don’t open it. Instead, call 911 and let the dispatcher know you can’t open the door. Provide them with your apartment number. Stuff rags, towels, tape or bedding around door cracks. Cover all the vents in your apartment. Sit by the window and wave a white towel or flashlight to signal for help.
If the door to your apartment isn’t warm, slowly open it. Check for fire or smoke in the hallway and stay low. Follow your evacuation plan if the hallway is safe. The NFPA advises not to use elevators to escape a fire unless directed by the fire department — use the stairs instead. The obvious risk is getting stuck on the elevator as the fire rages.
Once you’re outside:
- Get away from the complex.
- Allow plenty of space for fire trucks and firefighters.
- Don’t go back in the building for any reason — stay outside until firefighters inform you it’s safe to return.
- Let firefighters know if you suspect there’s someone still inside and give their location, if possible.
Protect Your Pets in Case of Fire
Ensure your pets have microchips, collars and tags, in case they escape during a fire. Keep a crate or leash handy next to the door you plan to evacuate from so you can take your pet. Buy a pet carrier for small pets if you don’t already have one. Keep a blanket near it at all times to cover the carrier.
Don’t try and carry your pet out of your apartment during a fire. The fire trucks’ noise, the firefighters, the smell and the other activities going on can easily spook your pet. If you have a dog, they need to be on a leash when you remove them from the building because of these reasons.
Learn More About Fire Safety and Fire Monitoring Systems From Wayne Alarm
Thinking of fire when living in or owning a high rise, condo or apartment building can feel unsettling. However, knowing and executing fire safety tips for large apartment & condo buildings should give you some peace of mind. And remember, apartment fire safety starts with a good, strong plan.
For 50 years, Wayne Alarm has been passionately protecting the lives and properties of our clients with the best in fire systems and fire monitoring. We offer the newest smoke and fire detection technology, and our 24/7 monitoring section receives an alert as soon as an event is detected.
We provide an immediate dispatch call to reduce your risk of loss. Contact us at our office at (866)-492-9631 or complete our online form. We’re committed to your safety and will respond right away.