If you live in an apartment, a fire breaking out in your building is one of the most likely survival situations you’re likely to face.
In fact, according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association, between 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 14,500 high-rise building structure fires each year!
And for more bad news, it’s not random where in the building the structural fires are most likely to start. It’s actually towards the bottom of the building. Most high-rise building fires begin on floors no higher than the 6th story.
This means, in nearly all high-rise buildings, residents trying to make their escape likely have to descend below the level where the fire broke out.
And in some cases, this isn’t possible.
Even if you have the perfect fire escape plan and you followed the apartment fire safety checklist, you can still fall victim to a fire trapping you in your room or apartment while the building below you is burning. So, how do you survive a fire?
That’s where this post comes in.
In this post, I share with you an evacuation plan and the basic steps you should take if you get trapped in your apartment during a fire to maximize your chances of making it out alive.
First things first, like any survival situation, it’s critical you keep your cool so you can give yourself and your family the best chance of survival.
And this is the perfect situation where your preparation in advance of the crisis to hone your survival skills and acquire the proper survival gear can dramatically increase your chances of making it out alive.
So if you get trapped in your apartment, take a deep breath, evaluate the situation, and start executing the steps below.
When structural fires break out, they can only grow as there is fresh oxygen to feed them.
Without it, the fire burns out.
So to help block the paths, the fire has to put fresh oxygen in your direction and help to seal out heavy smoke, blocking the paths between you and the fire.
Start by closing all of the doors and windows.
It might seem counterintuitive to close the windows, but leaving them open could attract fire, and the smoke from outside the building is also likely to enter through open windows.
Once you’ve taken the first steps to secure your location from the fire, if you haven’t already, you need to call the fire department.
Let them know you’re trapped, what floor your apartment is on, your exact location, and any other details you can provide so they can locate you as efficiently as possible.
Just like windows let in smoke, vents and cracks do the same.
Grab sheets, blankets, towels, and any other cloth material you can get your hands on and run them under cold water in your sink, shower, or bathtub.
Next, stuff the wet cloth around the cracks under your doors and cover up any vents, such as heat or air conditioning.
This will help keep smoke out and help to prevent smoke inhalation while you wait for rescuers.
Even if you have already called 9-11 to share your location, and particularly if you are unable to get in touch with emergency personnel, you can help rescuers locate you more efficiently by signaling your location.
Using a flashlight or lightly colored cloth, wait at the window and signal rescuers by waving down to them.
You can also open a window slightly to signal to rescuers using your cloth or flashlight, but be prepared to close the window if it makes the smoke condition worse.
In that case, hang a sheet or cloth out the window and close the window.
During a fire, heat and smoke rise. That’s why you’re told to stay close to the ground and crawl out of a fire when making your apartment fire escape plan into action.
If you get trapped during a fire, the same principle applies, and staying low will help lessen the amount of smoke and toxic gases you intake.
You can also filter the air using either an improvised technique or your Fire Escape Mask.
If smoke has entered your room and your breathing starts to become impaired, if you hadn’t already, this would be the time to break open your Fire Escape Mask or Fire Escape Kit to give yourself 60 additional minutes of filtered air while you wait for any emergency personnel to come.
Fire Escape Mask provides 60 minutes of filtered air
A Fire Escape Mask provides 60 minutes of filtered air. If you don’t have a smoke mask, run a cloth under cold water and use it to cover your mouth and nose. The cloth isn’t perfect, but it will help filter the carbon monoxide and other toxic gases in the air you’re forced to breathe while you wait for rescuers.
Unfortunately, real life isn’t like the movies…
Unless you have no other options, do not go out onto your balcony or roof if you’re trapped in a building fire.
You leave yourself exposed to the rising smoke from lower levels of the fire and worse…
You could get stuck there leaving rescuers limited options to rescue you.
And unlike in the movies, rooftop rescues are rare and difficult, and very few cities even have the ability to perform rooftop rescues!
So unless you’re out of options and you’re forced to retreat to your balcony or rooftop, try and avoid it.
Even though it’s not the sexy “apocalyptic” survival situation requiring the latest bug out bag or EDC gear, a fire in your building is one of the most likely survival situations you will face.
And getting trapped inside because of falling debris and smoke isn’t an uncommon occurrence when large-scale building fires break out.
That’s why I put together this basic guide, so you can maximize you and your family’s chances of survival if you’re ever trapped in a fire.
I hope you take a few minutes to integrate these tips into your own survival planning and knowledge base so if this were ever to happen to you, you maximize your chances of making it out alive.
If you have any questions or additional tips you recommend if someone is trapped in their apartment during a fire, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
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