Public fire departments responded to 1,318,500 fires in 2018, which was almost the same number as the year before. According to the National Fire Protection Association, a fire department in the United States responds to a fire somewhere in the nation once every 24 seconds. They also say that a fire occurs in a structure at the rate of one every 63 seconds, with home fires trailing close behind at once every 87 seconds.
With that in mind, here are a few things to avoid doing if you ever find your apartment building on fire:
Don’t Ignore Alarms
If you live in a non-fireproof building and a fire breaks out, most of the time you’ll find that it’s safer to leave the building immediately. Of course, if a fire alarm goes off, you may have less than two minutes to get everyone outside and safe, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. After all, just because you can’t see the fire doesn’t mean it isn’t there. That’s why you should never ignore the fire alarms you hear.
While we’re talking about alarms — when was the last time you tested your smoke detector? These should be tested at least once a month and replaced every ten years, with the batteries needing to be changed yearly.
Don’t Rush Out Into the Hallway
If you live in a fireproof building and there is a fire, it’s usually safer to stay inside your apartment. If a fire has broken out away from your unit, you might be advised to simply stay inside. However, if your apartment is directly affected by heat or smoke coming from anywhere else in the complex, or is the source of the fire, it’s important that you leave immediately, doing your best to close all windows and doors behind you.
Don’t Open Doors If They’re Warm to the Touch
Make sure that you check doors before opening them. Feel each one with the palm of your hand, and feel the door handles carefully. If it’s hot, the fire may be just outside. In this scenario, it may be safer to stay inside your apartment, call 911, and tell them exactly where you are.
Don’t Break Windows
If you decide or are forced to stay in your apartment, open a window (don’t break it, as you may need to close it again if smoke appears from outside the building) and wait to be rescued. Some experts advise hanging a bedsheet out of the window to alert rescuers to your location. Cover the cracks around your doors with towels, rags, bedding, or tape, and cover vents to prevent smoke from getting in through them.
Don’t Forget Your Keys
If you rush out of your apartment and forget your keys, what happens if you need to turn back? After all, if the fire has blocked your exit from the building, you may find that you need to go back inside your apartment, and you’ll need your keys to do that. Always make sure you grab your keys before leaving your apartment (even if there isn’t a fire!).
Don’t Gather Personal Belongings
However you much you might want to, you should avoid picking up anything else on your way out, as it’s only wasting valuable escape time. It may be tempting to grab your personal items, or things with sentimental value, or even actual value, but don’t stop moving. Your life is much more important than any material object.
Don’t Use the Elevator
Never use an elevator in the case of a fire. They could break due to a power surge, with some even specifically set to stop working in case of a fire. Trust us when we say that the last thing you want to do is get trapped inside a metal box in the middle of a burning building. Plus, some elevators have even been built in such a way that the firefighters can use them in case of a fire, and you don’t want to be in their way. Keep to the emergency exits and the stairwells, checking each for any smoke before entering.
Don’t Leave Open Any Exit or Stairway Doors
Apartment buildings usually have fire doors to prevent the spread of fires, but this only works when all the doors are kept shut. Propping open even one can help the fire spread through the building, and should be therefore be avoided at all costs. If you have to go through doors on your way out of the building, make sure that you close them again behind you to help stop the spread.
Don’t Go Back Into the Building
Stay outside. Do not go back inside for any reason. Wait until firefighters tell you it’s safe to go back into the apartment structure. If you think there is someone still inside the building, tell the firefighters where you think they are, but do not attempt to rescue them yourself.
Running can cause people to trip, which can lead to serious injury. If someone has fallen over, they run the risk of being trampled and injured further, or worse. In the event of an apartment fire, don’t dawdle, but do not run. Walk at a brisk pace and hold onto the wall or handrail to keep yourself from falling down the stairs.
If you are trapped inside your apartment, you may consider jumping from the balcony. This is not advised, as you may not survive the fall. It’s fine to be on the balcony, of course, but you should stay there and wait to be rescued. As mentioned before, a sheet hanging over the balcony may alert people to your location. If it’s dark, consider using a flashlight instead.
The best way to make sure you don’t panic if there is a fire is to be prepared. Practice your escape routes with family members and neighbors. Find out whether your unit has fire sprinklers. Know where the nearest fire extinguisher and fire alarms are. Make sure you have smoke detectors that work.