Every residental building has a Fire Safety Plan; it is locked in the white box that's in the entrance to the front lobby. It is required to be there for the use of the firefighters when they are arrive on the scene.

Unfortunately, management usually does not share much information with the residents on what to do if a problem arises, so here are some practical ideas.

Different buildings—different systems
Condo buildings have different fire systems and safety procedures depending when they were built. For example:

Newer condos have a fire panel announcement system so security and the the firefighters can speak to all the residents when there is a fire alarm while older condos do not.

Newer condos may have locks on the staircase doors so you can leave hallways but not re-enter. These buildings have cross-over floors which unlock whenever the fire alarms are activated. Older condos and some new ones don't have locks on the staircase doors.

Some condo units have hard-wired smoke detectors while others use nine-volt batteries.

Newer condos have fire sprinklers inside the residential units. Older ones do not.

Some condos have security on-site 24 hours a day while others do not.

Some condo boards invite the municipal Fire Services to come to the condo to speak to residents about safety procedures and best practices while others do not.

Building security

When they hear the fire alarm, security officers are trained to make an announcement saying that there is a fire alarm and that Fire Services are on their way. They then make a second announcement informing the residents when the firefighters arrive.

Security are trained not to order a building evacuation but to let the senior fire or police officer make that decision.

Be prepared
Be like a boy scout and have a plan:
1.
If anyone in your apartment has a disability and cannot walk down the staircases, inform building management and insure their names, unit number and disability is included on the list that is kept in the Fire Safety Plan box.
2.
Replace your smoke detector every ten years. If you don't know how old your detector is, buy a new one.
3.
Never disconnect your smoke alarm, the heat detector unit or the alarm speaker in your apartment. Replace damaged ones.
4.
Change the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year. Do not use cheap batteries that you can buy at discount stores. They do not last as long and they may corrode the detector's terminals
5.
If you have changed locks or have put a second lock on your door, give a key to the building manager. If the alarm is coming from your unit and if you are not home, the firefighters may tear open your door with a special crowbar-type tool. This will destroy the lock and part of the door.
6.
If you gave the front desk a key and if they did not give it to the firefighters, the security company or the condominium pays to replace the door. If you didn't give them a key, you pay. Doors are not cheap
7.
Have a basic high-rise survival kit. Store it in the hallway closet.

Common elements
Walk your hallways and staircases from your floor downwards to the ground floor every once in a while.

Does the garbage chute lids close properly. Not only do they need to be closed to help keep the room from smelling but you don't want smoke to enter your floor from an open garbage room lid.


Do you have a lot of false alarms? Removing the alarm from your floor is not the answer.

Make sure the hallways and staircases are clear of bicycles, motorized scooters, storage containers, baby buggies and any other obstacles that would impede your escape during an evacuation.

Here is a door with a broken door stopper. It does not close properly. This is a violation of the fire code.


This hallway door has been wedged open. This is another fire code violation.

Parking garage emergency exits
Check your underground parking garage emergency staircases.

Do they look like this? Yes, this is an actual emergency exit staircase at a North York condo. (If you see something like this, call 311 and report it to the city building inspectors. If they will not get involved, call the fire department or your local councillor.)

How about this?

A Scarborough condo does not shovel out it's underground emergency staircases.

If there is a fire in your apartment
1.
Immediately get everyone out of your apartment. Make sure you and all your family members are safe. This is most important.
2.
Close the door behind you. This is very important as you need to contain the smoke within your unit. Don't lock the door as the firefighters have to get into your unit.
3.
Even if your smoke alarm is going off, pull the fire alarm station closest to your unit. They are next to the staircases. This will tell the firefighters where the fire is.
4.
Once you are in a safe position, call 911. Never assume someone else has made the call or that pulling the fire pull station is sufficient.
5.
If it is a very small fire, and you are sure you know what you are doing, you can try to put it out using one of the red fire extinguishers that are in the hallways. There are two to three fire extinguisher stations per floor.
6.
Do not use the white fire hoses. They are very hard to handle and put out tremendous amounts of dirty water. If the fire is so big that it needs fire hoses, it is far too dangerous for you to fight; so get out—fast.
7.
Do not stop to collect your valuables. Just get out. Remember, it is the smoke that usually kills, not the flames.
8.
Pets. This is a tough one. If there is a fire and the alarm goes off, animals get scared. If you can get your dog on a leach very quickly, without getting bit, then you may be able to get him to follow you. Cats most likely will find a place to hide. Don't waste time and risk your life trying to catch a badly frightened pet.
9.
Do not use the elevators. Leave by the nearest staircase. Put your hand on the door to test for heat before opening it. If there is smoke in the stairwell, use the stairwell at the other end of your hallway.

You hear the fire alarm
1.
Do not assume that it is a false alarm.
2.
Never use the elevators. (They should automatically drop to the ground floor.) If the electricity goes off, you will be trapped. If there is a real fire, you can die by smoke inhalation. You must use the stairs.
3.
Do not phone the front desk to ask what is going on. The telephone may be required by security to phone for assistance or talk to the fire alarm monitoring station. If you want to know what is going on, watch the TV lobby channel.
4.
The firefighters should inform you when they arrive and once they have completed their investigation, they should make a second announcement informing everyone that everything is back to normal.

This is a problem with older condos that do not have an announcement system so the residents are not informed of what is going on.
5.
If the firefighters or ambulance attendants are working, stay out of the their way. Leave the security guard and the superintendent alone too. These people need to be able to concentrate and work quickly.
6.
Don't hang around the lobby being in everyones' way. This is not a TV reality show.

Evacuate or stay
There are conflicting theories on this. Many Fire Services say you should evacuate. However, if you open your door and you see or smell smoke, quickly close the door and stay in your unit.

If you, or a family member has a disability, or is seriously ill, then most likely you will need to stay as you will not be able to get down the stairs without assistance.

aaa
‘Staying in Place’
Another much-discussed aspect of the Grenfell Tower fire has been the ‘Stay in Place’—or ‘Stay Put’—policy, which is commonly used in high-rise residential fire safety procedures.

“It’s an example of something that works really well provided all systems are functioning and the building is code-compliant,” says Reid. “In a typical fire scenario, the compartmentalization of the high-rise will effectively keep smoke and fire contained to the unit of origin and prevent it from spreading next door.”

This works so well, in fact, that never in Ontario’s history has a fatality in a residential high-rise unit resulted from a fire that originated in another unit. All related fatalities were the result of residents trying to evacuate and getting trapped in smoke-filled stairwells and hallways.

That said, according to Reid, still, the best thing to do in a fire is to leave the building immediately. “If residents make the decision to stay, or are unable to leave immediately, they need to protect in place. The longer occupants wait to make this decision, the more significant risk that heavy, toxic smoke will have spread into the stairwells and corridors,” he warns. “Fire Service response times for high-rise fires are estimated at about one minute per floor. If you’re on the fifth floor of the building, it’ll take approximately five minutes for rescuers to get to you. If you’re on the 20th floor, it will take an estimated 20 minutes. Residents need to be prepared to protect themselves in-suite and know how to do this prior to an emergency.”
—Jason Reid, President  National Life Safety Group

Evacuate the building
1.
Get everyone in the apartment together. Touch your door to see if it is warm before opening the door. If there is no smoke in the hallway, proceed to the closest staircase.
2.
Put your hand on the staircase door to test for heat before opening it. If there is smoke in the stairwell, try the stairwell at the other end of your hallway.
3.
If there is smoke in both staircases, go back and wait in your unit.
4.
Walk down the staircase. Do not walk up to the roof. The doors leading to the roof are locked. You could get trapped in the staircase. Remember, smoke rises. Some condos have these signs on the staircase doors.

5.
In the newer condos, if you are in a staircase and you have to use the other staircase, due to smoke or whatever, use the doors that say "Crossover Floor." The electrical locks on those doors unlock when there is a fire alarm.
6.
At the ground floor, exit the building and head for the designated Rally Point. If you don't know where it is, then walk clear of the building and wait for instructions. (Have your own Rally Point for your family.)
7.
Do not walk down to the underground garage to get your car.

Protect-in-place
1.
Stay in your apartment and wait for an announcement from the firefighters or the security guard working at the front desk.
2.
Use your high-rise survival kit.
3.
If there is smoke in the hallway, duct tape around the door frame to keep the smoke out. Put a wet towel under the door.
4.
Hang a sheet outside your balcony and/or use a flashlight or the light on your cellphone to alert the firefighters that your unit is occupied.

Is protect-in-place safe?
For seniors, the ill and the disabled it may well be the best bet.

After a serious fire in a Toronto apartment building, Manny Garcia—of the Fire Marshal's office said there were minimal additional injuries because people were told to remain inside of their units and refrain from entering the hallways of the building.

“These buildings are designed so if there is a fire within the unit, it is kept within that unit as long as the door is closed,” he said. “The building performed as designed, people stayed in their units as opposed to stepping out to the hallway where they encounter smoke ignitions and try to leave and they never make it out.”
—Manny Garcia  investigator with the Fire Marshal’s Office

Smoke detector—false alarm
If you are cooking, burnt your toast, been using incense or smoking marijuana and your smoke alarm goes off due to smoke or vapours—but there is no fire—take the pot or pan off the burner, turn on the stove exhaust fan, open an outside window and fan the air under the smoke detector to clear away the smoke.

The airflow will clear the smoke and the alarm should turn itself off. If the alarm does not turn itself off within a few minutes, the fire trucks may be summoned by the alarm monitoring company.

If you are positive that everything is under control, phone the front desk and tell security what happened.

How to use the fire extinguishers

Remember PASS;

Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Spray

Pull out the pin in the handle.

Aim the black hose at the fire.

Squeeze the trigger.
    (It will be noisy.)

Spray the chemical all over the
    flames.

Fire in a highrise
Toronto Fire Services has this pamphlet on high rise apartment and condo fire safety. It is available in many languages.

High-rise survival kit
The Toronto Fire Services recommends a high-rise survival kit for tenants of high buildings, readily available if they become trapped during a fire. You can purchase the following list of items for less than $50. Having these items available for emergency use may improve your chances of surviving a fire.
Wet towel Place at the base of a door.
Duct tape Tape over door and vent openings.
Foil wrap Use to cover vent openings.
Whistle Use to signal for help.
Flashlight Use in case of power failure, smoke, or to signal for help.
Bright-coloured cloth Hang up in a window, or on a balcony, to identify your location.
Ink marker Use for messages on cloth, door or windows.
Cotton bed sheet If smoke is heavy in your room, soak the bed sheet with water and make a tent near an open window.
Washcloth Place the wet cloth over your mouth and nose to aid breathing in smoke-filled areas.
Fire safety plan Have a copy of your building's emergency procedures available.
Plastic pail with lid Use for storing survival equipment. (Fill with water during a fire.)

References
Fire safety starts with you
Office of the Fire Marshal 2008

Fire safety in high-rise apartment buildings
by Ken Richardson
Ken Richardson Fire Technologies Inc.


top  contents  chapter  previous  next