On Saturday, an apartment fire spread so quickly, that residents were jumping to safety from the second and third stories. Just as the sun was rising, the Aspen Wood Apartments near East Sixth Avenue and Potomac Street caught on fire.
Firefighters said the blaze began in the kitchen of a first-floor apartment. The stairwell was the only escape route for upper level residents, but was quickly engulfed in flames. One victim, a sixty-five year old grandmother, lived on the third floor of the building that caught fire, and fell to her death from the second-story stairwell. Her son, who lived with her to provide daily care, also fell from the stairwell but survived the fall.
The tragedy emphasizes that fire drills are important for all homes, including apartment buildings and other high-rise structures. You need to know the basics of escape planning, from identifying two ways out of every room to getting low and going under smoke, and the importance of practicing how you would respond in an emergency. Be aware that sometimes the safest thing you can do in a tall building fire is to stay put and wait for the firefighters.
To increase fire safety for apartment dwellers, the National Fire Protection Association has these safety tips:
•Know the plan
Make sure that you’re familiar with your building’s evacuation plan, which should illustrate what residents are supposed to do in the event of an emergency. The evacuation plan should be posted in places where all residents can see and review it, and the building management should hold a fire drill with occupants at least once a year. Most states also require that buildings periodically test their fire safety systems as well. Be sure to participate when your building drills take place. When looking for an apartment or high-rise home, look for one with an automatic sprinkler system. Sprinklers can extinguish a home fire in less time that it takes for the fire department to arrive.
•Practice is key
Whether your building has one floor or 50, it’s essential that you and your family are prepared to respond to a fire alarm. Identify all of the exits in your building and if you are using an escape planning grid, mark them on your escape plan. Make sure to mark the various stairways too, in case one is blocked by fire.
•Never use the elevator
In case of fire, always use the stairs to get out, never the elevator. Make sure to practice using the stairs as part of your escape plan. If someone in your family has difficulty climbing down steps, make sure to incorporate a contingency for this into your plan.
Smoke from a fire is toxic and deadly no matter what kind of structure you live in. When you hold your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to the exit. In the event of a fire, if both stairwells are filled with smoke, stay in your apartment and wait for the firefighters.
•Seal yourself in for safety
If you can’t exit an apartment building due to smoke or fire in the hallway, call the fire department to report your exact location and gather in a room with a window to await their arrival. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to create a seal around the door and over air vents in order to keep smoke from coming in.
•Stay by the window
If possible, you should open your windows at the top and the bottom so fresh air can get in. Don’t break the window – if smoke enters the room from outside the building, you won’t be able to protect yourself.
•Signal to firefighters
Wave a flashlight or light colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.