Many people fall in love with high-rise living for the wonderful benefits that come with it: great views, convenience, attentive service and on-site amenities. It’s a lifestyle all its own. High-rises come with their own complex challenges, and chief among them is fire safety. If you live in a high-rise or condo building, do you know what to do if a fire breaks out? Do you know how to prepare your family in the event of a fire?
“As a resident of a high-rise or condominium, it is imperative to think about fire safety. A proactive and knowledgeable approach can save you, your family and neighbors from a serious event,” says Jorge Dominguez, Senior Community Association Manager at FirstService Residential. “Take an active role in your community. Ask your property manager about how you can participate in safety discussions. Being prepared for the unexpected can save your life and that of your family’s and/or neighbors.”
No one enjoys preparing for a fire – or any other kind of disaster. Unfortunately, it is critical and preparation is the best prevention to serious loss and injuries. We’ve put together tips for fire safety and prevention from experts at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the nation’s leading information and knowledge resource on fire, electrical and related hazards. Follow their guidelines for more peace of mind.

1. Get to know your community management team.

Knowledge is power. Learning about your building’s fire prevention systems will help you be prepared if needed. Talk to your property manager or managing agent -- if possible, while moving in or completing your new resident orientation. Ask about fire sprinkler systems and alarms, and find out if the building utilizes any kind of voice communication system to immediately notify residents in case of fire, such as FirstService Residential’s ResidentAlert system. 

Be sure to let your property manager know if anyone in your unit has mobility or other health issues that would necessitate assistance in case of emergency. Your property manager should have a list of disabled or elderly residents so they can provide it to the fire department when needed.

2. Have a plan.

It’s important to be familiar with your building’s layout and interiors, whether you just moved in or are a long-term resident. Make sure that you know the location of all building fire alarns, stairwells and exits, including the one closest to your unit. Also know where all other stairwells on your floor are in case the closest one is blocked. Choose a meeting place safely away from your building. Make sure every member of the family knows exactly where it is and to stay there until everyone is reunited in an emergency. Make sure that pets are tagged, collared and microchipped as appropriate, with a leash or crate stowed near the door in case you need to evacuate. Make sure your exits are free from obstructions, including toys, bicycles, strollers and other large objects, at all times.

3. Prevent fires in your home.

The best way to prevent fires is to take care in your home. Supervise children and pets around flames and electricity. Twinkling lights and candles are often part of holiday décor and the extra bustle can mean a chance something gets knocked over. Never leave candles unattended while burning.

The same goes for cooking pots and pans. You may wish to have a small fire extinguisher in your kitchen handy; possibly underneath the sink. Inside your unit, you must have functioning smoke alarms outside all bedrooms and living rooms. Test them frequently and change their batteries twice a year when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Use surge protected power strips instead of outlet expanders, so that you don’t accidentally overload your electrical outlets. If possible, unplug electrical cords when not in use.
If you live in a building that permits smoking, pay attention to where your neighbors dispose of cigarette butts. Designated receptacles and areas for cigarette butt disposal are necessary to avoid risk of fire from potentially flammable debris. Do not throw cigarette butts off balconies; there may be patio furniture or other patio décor in lower floors that may be flammable.

4. There’s a fire: stay or go?

If the fire alarm sounds or an announcement is made that there is a fire in a building, listen carefully and follow directions. If you are told to leave, you must act quickly but with caution. First, feel the outside door for your unit. If the door cool, leave immediately and close all of the doors behind you to prevent fire from spreading to your unit. Gather your children, family members and pets and head to the nearest stairwell, following your plan. Go to your meeting place and wait for further instructions from the fire department.

If the fire is in your unit, get everyone out and head for the nearest safe exit, staying low to the floor as much as you can. Take your keys, if readily available, and close all doors inside the unit as you leave, including the front door – but do not lock it. On your way out, pull the hallway fire alarm to let both the local fire department and your neighbors know that there is an emergency. Once you’re outside, go directly to your pre-determined meeting place and call 911 – they’ll need to know the building’s address, your unit location and other pertinent information.

5. If you need to leave quickly...

If you are instructed to leave your unit, you must act quickly. Stay calm, listen carefully to any audio instructions and pay attention to where the fire is to avoid smoke inhalation as you exit. As instructed above, first, feel the door and the doorknob. If they are not hot, open the door a little bit and check the hallway for fire, heat or smoke. If the hallway is clear, prepare to leave quickly, shutting all interior doors first and then closing the front door as you exit. Gather your family members and pets and leave the building via the nearest stairwell; never the elevator (more on that in a moment). Proceed carefully, keeping children and pets close to you at all times. Once you’re safely outside, go directly to your pre-determined meeting place and call 911 – the operator will need to know the building’s address, your location and other pertinent information.

6. If you cannot safely leave...

If you feel the door and it’s hot to your touch, do not open it – the fire is nearby. If fire, smoke or health issues prevent you from leaving, keep calm and act quickly to stuff wet towels or sheets under the door and vents – that will prevent smoke from entering your unit. Call 911 and let them know exactly where you are, then wait until help arrives. According to the NFPA, if your windows open, you can try opening the window slightly to wave a colorful cloth – that will quickly alert rescuers of your location. But be prepared to shut the window immediately if the airflow makes smoke conditions worse. Consider checking your balcony as a safe place to wait for help as well.

7. Avoid using elevators.

Never use the elevators during a fire, unless the fire department directs you to do so. Make sure your children know that as well. There are several reasons to stay away from the elevators. The elevators may be needed by the fire department to quickly move firefighters and equipment to and from the fire or a nearby floor. It is also possible to get stuck inside an elevator if the power is fails for any reason. Elevator shafts can fill with smoke quickly, whether the car is moving or not. A fire can even short circuit the call button, causing the elevator to open its doors at the wrong time or not open when you try to get out. Not many people can fit inside an elevator at once anyway, so it is not the best or fastest way to evacuate a large number of residents in an emergency. So always play it safe – take the stairs unless specifically told otherwise.
High-rise condo living offers many great benefits and a rewarding lifestyle. Keep your family, community and property safe by following our fire safety and prevention tips. For more fire safety information and guidelines, visit the NFPA’s website.
To learn about how a professional property management company can help your building better prepare for any emergency, contact FirstService Residential, Georgia’s leading property management company.        
Friday November 18, 2016