High Rise Building Evacuation During a Fire

High Rise Building Evacuation During a Fire

We are all told that we should evacuate a building as soon as possible when a fire alarm system is activated, but many people still have questions about building evacuation, especially when it comes to high rise buildings. For instance, do occupants in high-rise buildings have a different procedure than those in smaller office buildings? Read on for the correct procedures for high rise building evacuation.

Depending on the building, some high-rise commercial buildings can hold tens of thousands of occupants at the same time. This can cause a lot of problems when an evacuation of the building is necessary.

The biggest concern is often the occupants that may have difficulty getting down all of the stairs, as descending a 30-story building is physically demanding and can not be done by everyone. Another major problem is the amount of people all trying to evacuate the building at the same time which can be incredibly dangerous and take over an hour for everyone to get down the stairs.

This is one reason why fire systems are so crucial for high-rise buildings, and automatic fire protection is designed to control a fire to limit the number of occupants who need to evacuate. In many situations, the floor where the fire started, along with the floors immediately above and below, should evacuate via exit stairs to several floors below and await further instructions.

What to do if You Become Trapped

If the fire gets out of control and you cannot evacuate safely, the most important thing that you can do is remain calm. Move to an enclosed area, close the door and try to seal any gaps around the door with towels or anything else on hand to stop the smoke from entering the room.

I am sure you have seen in the movies how the characters break the windows in order to escape the fire but this is NEVER recommended. Call the fire department and give them your exact location within the building or signal your position with a colored cloth out of a window.

The window should only be opened slightly if it looks safe, but closed when any smoke enters the room. A broken window will only let in more smoke, and the broken glass could hurt rescuers and fire evacuation equipment.

Guidelines For Safer Evacuation

Fire drills are important to teach you 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 high rise building fire is to stay put and wait for the firefighters.

  • Know the plan – You should take the time to make sure that you fully understand your building’s evacuation plan. This plan should illustrate what occupants are supposed to do in the event of an emergency. The evacuation plan should be posted in places where all occupants can see and review it, and the building management should hold a fire drill with occupants at least once a year. Make sure that you actually participate when your building drills take place as you will not learn the procedures otherwise. 
  • Practice is key – It doesn’t matter if your building has one floor or 50, it’s essential that you and your family are prepared to respond to a fire alarm at the drop of a hat. 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, never use the elevator, use only the stairs. This should also be practiced during your drills. If you know of occupants that will struggle with all of the stairs, put this into your plan and decide how it will be dealt with. 
  • Stay low – The smoke from a fire is deadlier than the fire itself. When you hold your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low, staying 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 a building due to smoke or a 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. Keep all doors that are between you and the fire closed to prevent the spread of the fire. Use anything you can 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.

Avoid delays

Some high rise buildings have “vanity addresses,” or building names which are not actual addresses. To avoid a delay, use your building’s street number when reporting an emergency.


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