Very recently, I experienced first-hand a spectacular and unfortunately tragic high rise condo fire where I live in New York City for 22 years now. It was always a dream of mine to live in a New York City high rise, to have a skyline view on a high floor. I love it and I’ve always felt perfectly safe where I live and I still do, even more so now actually. You’d think otherwise after a 3-alarm fire was ablaze almost right above my head just one floor up and one unit over, right? My partner and I got out quickly and safely and we’re well on our way to recovering from any material loss, damage repairs, etc. We were shaken up a lot. We are fortunate. Unfortunately, we lost a promising young resident which compels me to share this story.
In addition to being a long time resident, I’m a board member of the condo association so I’ve attended the emergency late night meetings, I’ve talked with our amazing NYC firefighters and officials, I spoken with residents/neighbors who have questions or who just want to share their personal survival story. This whole experience has opened my eyes to some very important information that I feel must be shared about what do and not to do in a high rise residential fire as so many owners and renters do not take the information they are provided seriously or even read it. As real estate professionals, I feel it’s important for us to impress upon our buyers and renters to be prepared, read the safety instructions provided no matter if they’re living one floor up or 90. This information saves lives. How we naturally react to a fire seems so very common sense and our instincts kick in to flee. Surprisingly much of what we think is correct, turns out to be potentially harmful in a residential high rise and, as in my building’s case, fatal.
- Know your building. Is it fireproof constructed? Mine was and it worked! A 3 alarm blazing fire burned close to 2 hours without breaching the walls, floor or ceiling. Remarkable. The apartment next door never saw a flame. A real life saver.
- Where are the alarms located, exits/stairwells in your building? Know this.
- Stay calm. Firefighters will tell this is the key difference between life and death.
- Heading down the stairs is usually not a good idea especially if the fire is below you as stairwells can become chimneys quickly (confused further by elevator signs that say “In case of fire, use stairs”).
- If there fire is in your unit, make sure everyone is out, get out, close the door behind you even if you think it’s self closing. This keeps the smoke inside and deprives the fire of oxygen. Pull the fire alarm! Knock on neighbor’s doors on your floor and alert them.
- Read your specific building’s fire safety instructions! You’d be amazed at how most people do not read and know them or know that they are provided this information with their annual window guard forms in most cases.
- Call 911, stay in your apartment, wet towels under door, wait for instructions if there’s a fire in your building and you see smoke in the hallway. A fireman will come get you, if necessary. 911 will call you back with any instructions. I’m told in a fireproof constructed high rise building, you’re always safest in your own unit where you can maintain some control of your situation. Think about it. In your apartment, you can get air from window, go out on a balcony, call 911 vs. being in a smoke filled hallway where you may not be able to see or breath with no where to go, no options. We would not have lost a resident if this had been followed by the two gentleman who tried to escape and lived some 20 floor above the fire. The status of the surviving partner is serious as he remains unconscious. He has no knowledge that his husband and their two dogs have died.