The NYC high-rise fire and how to prevent and prepare

On Sunday, January 9, 2022, a fire in a New York City high-rise apartment building killed 17 people, including eight children. This horribly tragic event is a grim reminder of the devastation that can occur from fires in residential buildings. The loss of life from major fires is always difficult and we want share important fire safety information with our communities with the hope of preventing such tragedies.

Early reports from this fire tell us that an electric space heater started the fire. While the details are not known as of this writing, we know that most fires involving space heaters start when items are placed too close to a space heater or when a space heater is plugged into an extension cord and not directly into the wall outlet.

Be safe with portable space heaters:

  • Give your portable heater at least three feet of clearance from all items.
  • Never use an extension cord with a portable heater. Plug the heater directly into a wall outlet.
  • Turn off and unplug portable heaters before leaving the room or before going to bed.

More on heating safety from the National Fire Protection Association

We also learned from this fire that the apartment door where the fire started was left open after the residents fled the apartment. In addition, some exit doors did not self close which allowed for smoke to enter stairwells and hallways and spread throughout the building and made evacuating the building dangerous and deadly. Fire doors should never be propped open. An open fire door allows smoke to travel throughout a building or enter an exit stairwell. Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation, not fire, which is what kills most people in a fire.

Smoke is what kills people in most fires, so it’s important to make sure fire doors are never propped open. An open fire door allows toxic smoke to travel down hallways or enter an exit stairwell putting all residents at risk.

What to do if a fire starts inside your apartment

If you can evacuate, do so immediately.

  1. Leave your apartment if there is no smoke in the hallway.
  2. Close the door behind you as you exit. This will contain the smoke and fire to your apartment and protect others on your floor.
  3. Use the stairwell and go down if it is safe to do so. Pull the fire alarm as you exit if the building alarm is not sounding. Do not take the elevator to leave the building.
  4. Go to your building’s outside meeting place and call 911 to report the fire.
  5. Wait for instructions. Do not re-enter the building until given permission.

If you are unable to use the stairs or if smoke is blocking your exit, shelter in place:

  1. Stay inside your apartment.
  2. Keep your doors and windows closed.
  3. Place a towel or clothing at the base of the door to keep smoke from entering.
  4. Stay near a large window. Do not wait in a bathroom or balcony.
  5. Call 911 if smoke comes into your apartment.

Make a plan before the next fire alarm sounds. Your plan should include all members of the household.

Please watch and share this video on responding to a fire in an apartment building.

Fire Safety Handbook for Multi-Residential Buildings.

For more information on fire prevention and safety visit the Seattle Fire Department website.