Fire Safety Protocol in High-Rises: Part 1

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The following information is to be used as a general set of guidelines, which are taken from the Ontario Building Code for high buildings. Since each high-rise is unique, you should refer to the approved fire safety plan for your building if there is any doubt as to what the best course of action is in the case of a fire. (

Perhaps the cardinal rule of high-rise fire safety is as follows: never attempt to leave a building by an elevator. For one thing, intense heat can activate elevator call buttons, sending the elevator to the floor where the fire is. Also, you may become trapped in the elevator if water used in fighting the fire creates a power failure. Fire fighters also require the use of elevators to carry them and their equipment to the front lines of the fire.

In a real life fire situation, you must choose whether to attempt to leave, or to stay where you are and wait for help. If safe to do so, sound the fire alarm by pulling the red manual lever located on your floor. The next step is to call 911 and give them the exact address of your location. Exit using the stairwells and don’t return until firefighters have declared the apartment safe.

If you choose to leave the building:

  • Leave as soon as possible
  • Before opening any door, feel the door handle and the door itself, starting from the bottom, moving to the top. If the door is not hot, open it slightly.
  • If you see or smell smoke, or feel or hear air pressure or a hot draft, close the door quickly.
  • If the corridor is free of fire or smoke, take your keys, close the door behind you, and leave the building by the nearest exit stairwell.
  • If you encounter smoke in a stairwell, consider taking an alternate stairwell. Be sure to crawl low under smoke.
  • If the stairwells are all contaminated with smoke, return to your suite.
  • When you are safely outside call 911. Never assume that someone else has already done so.

If you cannot leave your unit:

  • Close, but don’t lock any doors for possible entry by firefighters.
  • Seal all cracks where smoke can enter by using wet towels or sheets. Seal mail slots, transoms and ventilation outlets as necessary (a roll of wide duct tape is handy).
  • Move to the balcony or to the most protected room and partially open a window for air. Close the window if smoke enters.
  • Keep low to the floor. Heat and toxic gases rise.
  • Signal firefighters by waving a white sheet or towel.
  • Wait to be rescued. Remain calm. Don’t panic or jump.
  • Listen for instructions or information from authorized personnel over the building’s internal speaker system.
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