On a Sunday morning in January 2014 a fire broke out in one unit of a high-rise condominium building near Times Square in New York City.
Because the building was made of fire-resistant materials, the flames never spread from that single unit on the 20th floor. Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames within two hours.
However, one man died from smoke inhalation and several others were injured while trying to exit through stairwells. All residents that stayed in the building were unharmed, including those in a unit adjacent to the fire.
Incidents like this call into question our instincts regarding high-rise fires.
“In fireproof residential buildings, 99.9% of the time you’re safer in your fireproof apartment,” FDNY chief of operations James Esposito told the New York Daily News.
In most jurisdictions building management is responsible for distributing a fire safety guide each year. But it is the responsibility of tenants to know the fire safety plan and adhere to it in the event of an emergency.
This begins with reading and understanding the fire-safety notice that is supposed to be fixed to the inside of each unit entry door. Also, investigate whether or not your building is made of fireproof materials and whether or not it has sprinkler systems and intercoms for receiving instructions from fire fighters. Remember that high rise buildings are usually high density structures so a mistake by any one person can affect many others.
Fire safety plans will be different for each building depending on its design and safety systems. However, the U.S. Fire Association offers these general tips for high-rise residents:
The man who died in the New York City fire attempted to descend what is known as the “attack stairwell.” This is the stairwell firefighters use to access the building and to vent smoke away from burning floors. As a result, it is very dangerous for anyone to enter the attack stairwell from above.
Stairwells with water pipes are typically designated as attack stairwells so that firefighters have quick access to water for their hoses.
Locate the stairwell with the water pipe in your building and do not use it in the event of a fire.