Being an informed renter (or homeowner) can give you a huge advantage in the event of an emergency. I don’t think that we ever really expect to be in a fire, but there are definitely ways that we can better prepare ourselves, just in case. By familiarizing yourself with the following tips, taking some precautions, and creating an action plan, it could mean the difference between a close-call and a major disaster.
Fire safety & prevention tips
- Do not try to put out a building or furniture fire by yourself. However, you may be able to extinguish some fires, particularly if they are confined to an appliance.
- Elevators are not to be used in the event of a fire. If already on an elevator, resident should go to the first floor (if possible) and exit the building immediately. If there is smoke in the elevator shaft, residents should exit the elevator at the next floor and leave the building by the stairwells, closing the fire doors behind them.
- If there is smoke in the corridor or stairwell of the nearest exit, the resident should attempt to use an alternate escape route.
- If a resident must use an escape route where there is smoke, the resident should stay as low to the ground as possible. Crawling lets a person breathe the cleaner air near the floor as he/she moves toward an exit.
- As residents evacuate the building, they must follow directions from fire and security personnel. Once outside, residents need to move away from the building, out of the firefighters’ way, to a safe location.
- Talk with family members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan at least twice per year.
- Draw an evacuation map and keep it posted on the fridge or somewhere it can easily be referred to.
- Identify two ways out of each room in your home and make sure the exits are always free of furniture or clutter.
- Establish a family meeting spot outside of the home – and remind everyone where it is.
- In a high-rise or multi-level building, never lock fire exits or doorways, halls or stairways. Never prop stairway or other fire doors open.
- Smoking materials are the leading cause of residential fire deaths in the U.S. Never smoke in bed, or when you’re drowsy or medicated, or if anyone in the home is using oxygen.
- If you smoke, use glass jars or aluminum cans filled with water or sand to be sure that cigarettes are completely extinguished when you’re done with them.
- Before retiring or leaving your apartment, extinguish all cigarettes with water and/or dump them in an airtight coffee can.
- Do not overload electrical outlets. Use surge protectors when necessary.
- Unplug all heating appliances such as toasters, irons or hairdryers when not in use.
- Make sure your smoke detector is always working.
- Keep items that can catch on fire, at least three feet away from anything that gets hot, such as space heaters, video game consoles, and computers/laptops, and the stove/oven.
- Do not overcharge electronics, by leaving them plugged in too long. Be sure to unplug before you leave the house.
- Keep lighters, matches, and other flammable items out of reach of children and talk to them about the dangers of fire.
- Remain in the kitchen while using the stove or oven, and use a timer to remind you to check on it regularly.
- Keep an eye on what you fry. Heat oil slowly to the temperature you need for frying or sautéing. If you see smoke, that’s a warning sign that the oil is too hot. Immediately turn off the burner and/or carefully remove the pan from the burner.
- Always cook with a lid beside the pan. If the pan catches on fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time.
- More than half the reported home-cooking fire injuries happen when people try to fight the fire themselves. Before using a portable fire extinguisher, make sure you know how to use one. Also, it’s crucial that you have an extinguisher that’s the correct type for the fire you’re fighting. Also, it’s important that all people have left or are leaving the house, you have a clear escape route and the fire department has been called.
- If you are not comfortable putting the fire out or if the above measures do not work, call the fire department from outside the house.
- Candles are not allowed in some apartment buildings due to their high risk of causing a fire. Instead, use led lights or faux fire candles.
If the fire is in a pan or kettle, turn your stove off. Cover the burning container with a lid or another pan to smother the fire. DO NOT throw water on a grease fire. You may cause an explosion.
Close your oven door and leave it closed. Turn the oven off.
Unplug the burning appliance, or turn your circuit breaker off. DO NOT throw water on an electrical fire, or attempt to touch any burning element.
Heating devices are the second leading cause of fire in the home (smoking is #1). Please follow these safety guidelines:
- Keep use of heaters to a minimum.
- Keep away from flammable objects (curtains, blankets, furniture, etc.).
- Don’t use space heaters in the kitchen, bathroom, or near water.
- Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
If a fire occurs:
- Call the Fire Department immediately. (911)
- If possible, leave the room/area where the fire has started and close the doors behind you.
- If your door and door knob feel cool, open the door slightly. If there is a rush of heat or smoke, close the door immediately. If not, cover your nose and mouth with a wet towel and walk or crawl to the nearest stairwell.
- Do not open a door if the door or the knob feels hot.
- If the hallways in your building are equipped with a fire alarm system, sound the alarm and proceed directly to the nearest fire exit.
Fire Extinguisher & Ladder
We recommend that you purchase a fire extinguisher (or a few) and keep it in your apartment. A local hardware store will be able to outfit you with what you need at a reasonable price. A fire escape ladder is also recommended.
If you are unable to get out of your apartment:
- Seal cracks around doors with wet towels to keep smoke out.
- Go to the windows or balcony and wait for the Fire Department to rescue you.
- Anyone who is handicapped and unable to use the stairs should exit through the stairwell fire doors, closing them securely behind them and then remain on the stairwell deck until evacuated.
- If smoke seeps into the apartment, the resident should get a damp cloth, lie face down flat on the floor away from the door and breathe slowly (conserving as much oxygen as possible) through the damp cloth to filter out smoke and gasses.
Gas leaks & natural gas safety
If you smell gas, close all doors to the room with the leak, and get out. Even the slightest spark can cause an explosion, so DO NOT use your apartment’s telephone, turn on lights or a flashlight, or insert a key in the lock in any room that appears to have a gas leak.
Natural gas under control is safe. It is not poisonous. However, gas mixed with air in a confined area could explode if ignited. A harmless chemical is added to give gas a foul odor so you can detect any leakage.
Gas use safety tips
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on operation and care of appliances.
- Never connect or repair gas piping or an appliance yourself.
- Unless you are certain you can relight an extinguished pilot light, call the Management Office.
- Keep curtains, papers, clothing and other combustibles away from appliances.
- Teach children not to turn on or light appliances.
- Keep appliances free of dirt and food grease.
- Carbon monoxide—a deadly gas—can occur when furnaces and appliance exhaust piping are blocked or damaged, or when not enough fresh air is entering buildings.
To guard against Carbon Monoxide
- Never heat a room with an open oven! This could reduce the oxygen in the room.
- Make sure appliances and furnaces are in good condition and have enough air for proper combustion.
- See that chimneys and exhaust pipes are free of corrosion, holes or debris. Call your Gas Company or Management Office if occupants have flu-like symptoms not related to colds or other diseases.
Do you have other fire safety tips or best practices? Tell us in the comments.