Article by Tiffany Flynn – Estimator/Sales Representative
As a high-rise building owner, you are most likely familiar with all the risks associated with operating a building of this type. Since you are dealing with people on multiple floors, you have additional considerations to make even though high-rise buildings are more likely to have fire protection installed than shorter, more traditional buildings. Whether residential or commercial, it is still imperative to have an emergency action plan and to distribute it among your tenants. The information collected below can help to guide you to different resources to help you to create or modify your plan.
The first thing you can start with is to identify which code(s) your Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) has adopted and speak to them regarding what they look for and require.
The International Fire Code 2021, Section 403 Fire Safety, Evacuation, and Lockdown plans are broken down by occupancy to give you information about when you are required to provide a plan. Section 404 then goes on to explain what your building’s plan should consist of, where it shall be stored, and when it needs to be reviewed and updated (Digital Codes, n.d.).
NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, 2021 version, Section 11.8.7 for high rise buildings requires an emergency action plan. You can then find the requirements for what the plan should include in Section 4.8.2 (National Fire Protection Association, 2021). It should be noted that the Life Safety Code does not require drills for residential occupancies, but they may be beneficial in identifying tenants’ special needs.
NFPA 2800, Standard on Facility Emergency Action Plans, 2023 Edition, provides information for all hazard emergencies in occupied facilities with more than 500 people. This standard focuses on the use of total evacuation, remain in place, in place relocation, and partial evacuation referred to as TRIP (National Fire Protection Association, 2021).
No plan is one size fits all, and it must be tailored to the needs of the occupants you are protecting.
Like those living in single family dwellings, it is vital for High-rise tenants to be prepared in the event of a fire. However, given the size and layout of these taller structures, evacuation and fire safety plans can differ greatly.
The NFPA provides the following recommendations for High-rise evacuations :
- 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.
- Stay low
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.
For more information regarding emergency plans and evacuation procedures for High-rise apartment buildings, please visit the NFPA Website.