FDNY: 5 tips to stay safe in an apartment building fire

Share these life safety resources with your community to help prevent tragedies like the fatal Bronx blaze


Members of your community can help prevent fatalities in high-rise buildings and apartments. Share with them the following list of helpful tips from the FDNY.

A few points on the list are specific to New York City. As such, consider using this list as a guide for drafting tips for preparedness and fire safety specific to your area.

Giavanni Alves
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — In light of the tragic fire that occurred in a Bronx apartment building on Sunday, here are five tips from the New York City Fire Department for keeping safe if a fire ignites in an apartment building.

1. KNOW YOUR EXITS

Residents must have access to at least two means of egress (exits) from their apartment buildings.

The first exit is the resident's apartment door that leads into an unenclosed (not separated by walls and doors) stairway or through a public hallway to an enclosed stairway that leads to the street.

The secondary exit must also lead directly or indirectly (through a yard) to the street level by way of one of the following:

  •  an additional enclosed stairway accessible from the public hallway
  •  an enclosed fire tower (stairway accessible from the public hallway)
  • an outside fire-escape accessible from within the apartment through either a window or door

Never use an elevator as a means of exit during a fire.

2. MAINTAIN CLEAR AND WORKING EXITS

Properly maintained fire doors and exits reduce the chances of dying or being injured in a fire.

  • Maintain apartment doors or doors leading into the public hallway as well as doors that lead from public hallways into the stairway or fire tower as fireproof and self-closing. Tampering with self-closing doors or hinges is not only dangerous, it's also illegal.
  • Apartment door locks should be able to open from the inside with a thumb turn (not requiring a key).
  • Keep stairways and outside fire escapes free of obstructions at all times. Do not store anything, such as baby strollers, bicycles or trash on or under stairways or stairway landings.

3. SECURITY VS. FIRE SAFETY

Security gates or bars on windows may prevent intruders from entering an apartment, but in a fire, they could lead to a family being trapped inside and inhibit firefighter rescue.

  • Outside fire escapes and secondary exit windows on ground levels should only have FDNY approved security gates — stamped or labeled with FDNY approval number — that can be opened without a key. Installing an unapproved gate is prohibited in NYC.
  • Make sure all members of a household can operate the release device on FDNY approved gate.
  • Always keep the fire escape window clear of obstructions, such as furniture, air conditioners or plants.
  • The NYC Health Code requires child safety window guards, which prevent children from falling out of windows, to be installed in apartments with children under the age of 10 years old. However, to ensure safety during a fire, child safety window guards must not be installed on fire escape windows.

4. KNOW YOUR WAY OUT

Owners of residential apartment buildings with three or more dwelling units are required by the city Fire Code to develop a Fire Safety Plan specific for their building. The plan must include basic fire safety tips, information about the building and its construction, types of fire safety systems and how to evacuate the building.

Apartment building owners are required by law to:

  • post fire safety plans on the inside of every apartment front door
  • post the fire safety plan in a conspicuous area in the common space
  • provide a copy of the plan to each apartment unit
  • provide new tenants with a copy at the time of lease
  • re-distribute the fire safety plan during fire prevention week every year

5. KNOW WHEN TO STAY VS. WHEN TO GO

If the fire is in the apartment unit, regardless of the building's construction type, do the following:

  • Make sure everyone in an apartment leaves and stays low when moving.
  • Use the safest and most accessible exit option.
  • Close all doors as you leave.
  • If using an interior stairway, alert other people on the floor by knocking on their doors as you exit.
  • Do not use the elevator.
  • Call 911 when you reach a safe location

For residents of non-fireproof buildings, leaving immediately is typically the best course of action.

For residents fireproof buildings, it is usually safer to do the following:

  • Stay inside rather than entering smoke-filled hallways. If the fire is on a floor below your apartment, you may be caught by rising heat and smoke in stairways. If the fire is above your apartment, there is less danger in leaving, but also less of a reason to leave as smoke and heat are above you.
  • Keep your door closed.
  • Seal the door with duct tape or wet sheets and towels. Seal vents and any other openings where smoke may enter.
  • Turn off air conditioners.
  • Unless flames or smoke are coming from below, open your windows a few inches at the top or bottom. Do not break windows because they may need to be closed later.
  • Call FDNY with your apartment number and description of the conditions

Immediately correct problems or hazards that are within your control or responsibility. Notify the building owner of any others that are not. If necessary, you may file a complaint by calling FDNY at 718-999-2541 or 311.

Click here to access an FDNY apartment fire safety checklist.

Click here for fire safety tips for houses.

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(c)2022 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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