Living in a high-rise, condominium or co-op certainly has its perks. You get the convenient location, the dramatic views, attentive concierge services and a range of amenities. However, vertical living also means added challenges when it comes to fire safety. Fortunately, there are measures that both your association board and residents can take to improve safety.
What association board members can do
If you’re a board member for your high-rise association, you want to do everything you can to prevent a fire in your building and to protect residents if a fire should break out. Here are some ways you can help to ensure everyone’s safety.
- Create a fire emergency plan.
The plan should provide a map of evacuation routes and meeting locations. In addition, it should let residents know the location of fire safety equipment, such as fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
- Develop a communication plan.
Work with your management company to create a communication plan for preparedness and emergency communications. Use this plan to share information with residents about what they can do to prevent a fire and how they should respond in the event of a fire emergency. Consider using your community newsletter, website, email and other communication channels, and put fire safety on your board meeting agenda several times a year. Determine if your management company has a reliable alert system to notify residents in the event of a fire.
- Conduct training for staff and residents.
Arrange to have your property management company or local fire department provide fire safety and prevention training to your onsite staff and residents. Fire drills help keep evacuation procedures top-of-mind. Instruct residents and staff to not ignore alarms and to follow evacuation protocols and other directives.
- Keep public areas clear.
Every second counts during a fire emergency. Help ensure that residents can escape quickly and that firefighters can easily access your building by removing impediments in hallways, stairwells, outdoor walkways and driveways. Strictly enforce rules that prohibit residents from leaving items in public areas or parking in fire lanes.
- Maintain and test your fire safety equipment.
Don’t wait for your mandatory fire inspection to see if your equipment is functioning properly. Keep up with regular maintenance, and be sure to periodically inspect and test equipment, such as sprinklers, communication systems and backup lighting.
- Consider installing a sprinkler system if your building doesn’t have one.
Yes, it’s a major expense, but according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), it’s also one of the best ways to reduce deaths and property damage. And you’ll probably be able to recover some of the expense. “When a building has a sprinkler system, the association receives a credit on its insurance premiums,” says Jamie George, vice president of insurance at FirstService Financial. “Although the amount varies, on average it is usually about 20%.” Installing sprinklers may also qualify you for certain tax deductions.
What residents can do
Marc Glassman, director of facilities and maintenance at FirstService Residential, says that residents play a big part in fire prevention and safety. “If you’re a resident of a high-rise or condo building, you need to be knowledgeable and proactive about fire safety – that means following your association’s rules and emergency preparedness plan, as well as doing your part to keep your unit and building fire safe,” says. “It’s also critical that you and your family are well prepared to ensure of everyone’s safety before, during and after a fire.”
You can protect yourself and your family by following these high-rise fire safety tips from the NFPA and FirstService Residential:
- Take precautions at home.
Most fires begin in the kitchen, so be sure you don’t leave food on the stove unattended and you unplug appliances like toasters. Blow out candles and smother a fire in your fireplace before leaving a room or going to bed, and supervise children and pets around flames and electricity. If your building allows smoking, be sure to extinguish smoking materials completely before disposing of them.
According to the NFPA, you should have smoke detectors inside each bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. Also, be sure to change the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year. Keep the area around your exits accessible by not leaving large items like strollers or bikes in the way. If you have pets, keep leashes or crates near the doorway for easier evacuation, and be sure your pets have tags or are microchipped.
- Familiarize yourself with your building.
Get to know the building’s layout, as well as the location of fire alarms, stairwells, and exits. You’ll need to know where all the stairwells on your floor are located in case the nearest one is blocked. Select a location away from the building where your entire household can safely meet, and wait for everyone to reunite there.
- Know your building’s fire safety plan and systems.
Participate in fire drills, and get to know your evacuation plan. If there is no plan, ask your board to draw one up, or offer to head up a fire prevention committee to spearhead the effort. Also ask about your building’s fire safety systems, such as fire alarms and sprinklers.
There’s much to enjoy about living in a high-rise, condo or co-op, and being savvy about fire safety can provide peace of mind as well. For more safety tips or to get emergency planning training, speak to your property management company. NFPA
or Canadian Fire Safety Association
website can also provide additional guidelines.