Two recent apartment building fire events in the Northeast region of the United States resulted in over 35 deaths and countless injuries to residents of those structures. Questions concerning fire and life safety components have arisen leading to studies of the reasons for such high numbers of lives lost.
Basic safety preparations before a fire emergency can have a greater impact on the survival of building residents. This starts with the selection of the building you are going to rent or purchase a unit in. Included in the selection process are the location of the property, its condition, and maintenance (or lack thereof).
It is incumbent upon potential renters and buyers to ensure the building they are considering moving into has taken a positive and proactive approach to fire and life safety issues. That means it has proper warning devices and escape plans in place and has updated the building systems in accordance with local and state fire codes to ensure safe egress from the structure in the event of a fire.
Fire Safety Considerations While Searching for an Apartment
When searching prospective living locations, you should check for the following:
- Have a meeting with the building owner or property manager to discuss all the fire safety features of the building to make yourself familiar with all aspects of the safety components.
- Choose a fully sprinklered building over a non-sprinklered building. This is a building equipped throughout the living spaces, common areas, hallways and stairwells, mechanical rooms and all other spaces with a fully functioning water-based fire sprinkler system.
- Ensure there are smoke detectors and alarms located in every bedroom and on every level of the structure.
- Make sure there are 2 means of egress from every bedroom and apartment. Are the windows large enough to accommodate escape? Is there a fire escape? Is the fire escape operational?
- If the window is the second means of escape can it be accessed? Is it blocked?
- How close is your travel distance from the apartment to stairwell? Does that stairwell lead downstairs to an exterior exit?
- Are all the doors located in corridors (apartment doors, stairwell doors) closed? Do they contain self-closing devices to ensure they stay closed? If they are open are they connected to the fire alarm system through self-closing magnetic hold devices that release the door to close when the alarm activates?
- Are any doors with self-closing devices illegally propped open?
- Are all hallways and exits clearly marked with exit signs containing directional arrows? Are any of the signs not illuminated or not working properly?
- Do hallways and stairwells have emergency lighting fixtures to illuminate the areas in the event of a smoke condition or loss of power?
- Are there fire alarm activation devices such as manual pull stations near the exit doors which would allow someone discovering a fire to activate the alarm system manually on their way out?
- Does each apartment have a posted fire escape plan on or near the exit door?
- Does each apartment or hallway contain portable fire extinguishers?
- Are residents instructed to use the stairways and not an elevator in a fire emergency?
- Are residents instructed in the proper procedures to take in the event they cannot exit their apartment in the event of a fire?
The Big Picture
When searching for an apartment or condominium it is important to not only take into account the foregoing list of fire and life safety components, but to ensure that the building is being properly maintained and upgraded.
Absence of any individual feature may not necessarily indicate the building as a whole is unsafe, as some of the life safety features present or absent may be based on:
- The age of the building
- Its height in stories
- Its square footage or number of units
However, the presence of any of these features that are not working, are damaged or in a state of disrepair can be indications the building is not being maintained properly or that ownership doesn’t take life safety features seriously.