Responding safely to a fire in an apartment building

The Seattle Fire Department responded to two apartment building fires recently – one three-story building and one high-rise building. In both fires, residents fled their apartments or sheltered in place for safety.

Do you know what to do when the fire alarm in your apartment building sounds?

For people who live in apartments or condominiums, the sound of the building fire alarm can be jolting and frightening. You may not know if there is an actual fire in the building or if your neighbor burned some toast and has left the front door open. Regardless, it’s important to take every alarm seriously and begin your escape plan quickly.

Do I stay inside my apartment or leave the building? That depends. For people able to use stairs, you have a choice. You may evacuate using the stairs or seek shelter inside of an apartment.

Here are a few tips to help you be better prepared for a building fire alarm.

If you can evacuate, do so immediately.

  1. Leave your apartment.
  2. Close the door as you go.
  3. Use the stairs, not the elevator, to leave the building.
  4. Go to your building’s outside meeting place. Never wait on a balcony, building courtyard or rooftop.
  5. Wait for instructions. Do not re-enter the building until given permission.

Without delaying your escape, you may need to quickly grab a warm coat, phone, keys, ID, and anything you may need for the next couple of hours as you wait outside until it’s safe to re-enter the building. The Fire Department will call for a public bus for temporary shelter but in cold temperatures, you may need a warm coat until shelter is set up. Consider having a go-to kit set up before an actual fire emergency which contains a few essential items.

For people who can’t use stairs or can’t access a stairwell because of smoke in the hallway, 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 inside near a large window and do not wait inside bathrooms or outside on decks.
  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.

For more information, view the Fire Safety Handbook for Multi-Residential Buildings.