For New York City residents who call a high-rise building their home, nothing compares to vertical living. After all, only in a New York City condominium or cooperative can you find the thrilling combination of dramatic views, convenient location, on-site amenities and attentive service. But what about safety features? Specifically speaking, in a condominium or cooperative building, fire safety education is crucial. As a unit owner, shareholder, board member or building staff member, are you educated on how to prepare for the possibility of a fire inside your building or your unit?
To help educate you on this topic, we’ve compiled some important tips on fire safety and prevention that every single member in your community needs to be aware of.
Know your building.
Whether you’re new in the community or are a building veteran, it’s very important that you are familiar with the building’s layout and interiors. Be sure that you and your family know the location of all building fire alarms, exits and stairwells – that includes the stairwell closest to your unit, as well as all other stairwells on your floor in case that one is blocked. You should also choose a safe meeting place away from your building, and make sure every member of the family knows to go there and wait until everyone is accounted for and reunited.
Know your building manager.
Set up a meeting with your property manager to learn all about your building’s fire prevention systems. Ask about its fire alarms and sprinkler systems, and find out if the building utilizes mass communication tools, such as a voice communication system or email distribution, to immediately notify residents in case of fire, such as FirstService Residential’s ResidentAlert system. Also make sure that you and your family receive the building’s fire safety and evacuation plans – it’s critical that you are informed about the quickest and most direct route outside.
Inquire with your board or your property manager about fire prevention meetings, fire drills or other safety events for residents. If they are held regularly, make sure to participate. If there is no schedule of meetings or trainings, be proactive – join or create a committee to make that happen. One crucial tip: be sure to let your property manager know if anyone in your unit has mobility or other health issues that would require assistance in the event that evacuation is necessary.
Fire-proof your home.
Remember, fire prevention always begins at home. That means supervising children and pets around flames and electricity – especially during the holidays, when twinkling lights and candles are often part of the décor. Speaking of pets, make sure yours are tagged, collared and micro-chipped, with a leash or crate readily available in case you need to evacuate.
Inside your unit, you must have functioning smoke alarms outside all bedrooms and living rooms. It’s a good idea to test them frequently and change their batteries twice a year when you change your clocks. Never leave pans or pots on the stove unattended. The same goes for candles, which should be safely extinguished when you leave the room. Don’t overload electrical outlets, and you should always unplug all appliances when not in use. You should also make sure your exits are free from obstructions, like strollers, bicycles and other large objects, at all times.
If you have a fireplace, check that there are no flammable objects nearby and that all embers are extinguished before you go to bed. But first things first – before the season even begins, be sure you prep your fireplace properly. That includes making sure it passes inspection by a certified inspector. For more valuable “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?” fireplace preparation tips, visit FirstService Residential
If you reside in a building that permits smoking, it is extremely important to pay attention to where you or your smoking neighbors dispose of cigarette butts. Designated receptacles and areas for cigarette butt disposal are necessary to avoid risk of fire from potentially flammable ashes and cigarette remnants.
Shelter in place versus evacuation.
In a fire emergency, the decision to leave or to stay in your apartment will depend on the type of building you are in. For example, in New York City, buildings are classified as either non-combustible (fireproof) or combustible (non-fireproof), and there are different actions to take for each. Make sure you understand the classification of your building.
In non-combustible buildings, fires are more likely to be contained in the unit or space in which they start – and less likely to spread inside the walls to other apartments and floors. Therefore, if you live in a non-combustible building and the fire is not in your unit, it is possible that you may be instructed to remain in your unit to avoid harm. Regardless, make sure to call 911.
Combustible buildings have structural components (such as wood) that will burn if exposed to fire and can contribute to its spread. If you live in such a building and a fire breaks out in a neighboring apartment or common area, prepare for the need to evacuate. First, feel your apartment door and doorknob for heat. If they are not hot, open the door slightly and check the hallway for smoke, heat or fire. Exit the apartment and building if you are able to do so safely.
If the fire is in your unit – no matter what type of building you live in – instruct everyone within your household to head for the safest exit, while staying low to the floor. 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 in case first responders need entry.
When you need to stay where you are.
As explained above, if you live in a non-combustible building, you should stay in your unit unless otherwise instructed by fire officials. Keep calm and act quickly, stuffing wet towels or sheets under doors, air vents or other openings where smoke may enter your home.
Call 911 and provide your address, floor, apartment number and the number of people in your apartment and wait for help to arrive. While you wait, open the windows a few inches at the top and bottom unless flames and smoke are coming from below. If airflow through any open windows should make smoke conditions worse, be prepared to shut them immediately.
When you need to exit quickly.
If you are instructed to leave your apartment, you must act quickly. Stay calm, listen carefully, follow directions 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 it’s clear, prepare to leave quickly, shutting all doors behind you and closing the front door as you exit to prevent fire from spreading to your unit. Gather your children, family members and pets and leave the building via the nearest and safest stairwell – never the elevator (more on that in a moment).
If the door and doorknob are hot, or other indications of smoke, heat or fire prevent you from leaving through the front door, use the fire escape, if you have access to one. Proceed cautiously, and make sure you carry or hold small children at all times.
Once you’re 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 about the building and its residents.
Avoid the elevators.
Unless you’re specifically directed to do so by fire department officials, never use the elevators during a fire – and make sure your children know to avoid them as well. Why? For a number of reasons. Some are practical: only a few people can fit inside an elevator at once, so it’s an inefficient way to evacuate a large number of residents at the same time. In addition, the elevators may be needed by the fire department to quickly whisk firefighters and equipment to and from the fire or a nearby floor. Most importantly, elevator shafts can fill quickly with smoke and you may get stuck inside if power is lost or cut. And in some cases, the fire can short circuit the call button, causing the elevator to open its doors at the floor where the fire is located. So when fire strikes, play it safe – avoid the elevators and always take the stairs.
Keep your family safe by following these fire prevention tips. Remember to check back with us continuously
, and stay tuned for more articles concerning emergency preparedness strategies. Every community needs a solid Emergency Preparedness Plan – contact FirstService Residential
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