Fire Safety

July 13, 2017, 7:00 am


As we have seen in Oakland, London, Dhaka, Paris, and various other places worldwide, fires can cause complete destruction and loss of life. In occasional situations, the victims were not prepared for a fire and may not have had tips on what to do in the event of a fire. There are certain precautions a person can follow in their dorm, apartment, home, and/or hotel while at home or abroad.

Residential Precautions

  • Learn about fire safety standards in the destination country. (Fire Safety Foundation)
  • When planning a trip, try to avoid staying on a higher floor. In developed countries, no higher than the 7th floor and in developing countries, no higher than the 3rd floor.
  • Upon arrival, check the space for smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, escape ladders (if on a higher floor), etc. Know where these items are in the event they are needed.
  • Make a plan with roommates or the individuals you are sharing the living space with. Plan for an evacuation and a meeting point.
  • Walk through the home/apartment/hotel room to inspect all possible exits and escape routes.
  • When in a hotel or apartment, count the number of doors from the stairwell(s) or exit(s) to your door. In the event of a fire and you will be crawling towards and exit and can count the doors on your way to the exit.
  • Make sure windows can be opened easily in the event of a fire. Keep the area clear. If the windows have security bars, check to see if there is an emergency release device.
  • Have the number for emergency services programmed into a phone or memorized.
  • Have more than one escape planned in the event one exit is blocked or not safe.

Residential Safety Tips

  • When the alarm sounds, get out immediately. Follow the emergency plan created.
  • Once out of the home, stay out. Do not return to the building until authorities give further instructions.
  • Try to choose the evacuation/escape route that is the safest. Be cognizant of any locks or chains on doors. Test door handles or other surfaces with the back of your hand. If it is extremely hot to the touch, try another escape route.
  • In some cases, smoke or fire may prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice ‘sealing yourself in for safety’ as part of your home fire escape plan. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and bottom so fresh air can get in. Call the fire department to report your exact location. Wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.” (National Fire Protection Association)
  • Stay as low as you can when evacuating. Most people elect to crawl, but crawling is not an option, one should stay as low as possible.
  • If the exit is inaccessible due to smoke or fire in the hallway, call the fire department to report your exact location and gather in a room with a window to await their arrival.



Homes and other residential areas are not the only places where fires can occur, as we have seen many times before, such as with Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil, where more than 240 people were killed. Concert venues, theaters, warehouses, factories, and nightclubs have the potential for fires in addition to residential areas. Keep in mind building codes are not the same everywhere; occupancy rates and safety codes can vary from country to country.

  • Get a good look of the location and check for multiple exits. The way in is not always the best way out. Be prepared to use the closest, safest exit.
  • Be cognizant of any locks or chains on doors.
  • React immediately. If an alarm sounds, smoke or fire is smelled or visible, or another disturbance, exit the building in a quick, orderly fashion.
  • Once a building the evacuated, stay out. Do not return inside for any reason. If someone from is missing, tell emergency responders immediately.


Wildfires and Seasonal Fires

Recently, Portugal saw wildfires that took the lives of 62 individuals. Human error and weather events can start a large wildfire in a matter of minutes. Strong winds, drought, and other conditions can help the fires spread quickly and make them hard to manage.

  • Do not burn or start a campfire during extreme droughts or other extreme weather conditions. Most parks and campsites will notify individuals if there is a burn ban in effect.
  • If you see a wildfire and have not heard evacuation orders or emergency crews, call the emergency number immediately.
  • If there is a wildfire in the vicinity, stay up to date by monitoring the local news and fire department announcements. Depending on the proximity, prepare for evacuation.
    • Leave as early as possible. Do not stay or linger once given evacuation orders. Promptly leaving the area helps clear roads for firefighters and crew to fight the fire.
  • If evacuating, do not drive into the location of the fire. If needing to go that direction, use an alternate route to avoid driving into smoke and fire.
    • Some countries have websites or Twitter accounts that follow road closures and provide up to date information on road conditions, like DriveBC in British Colombia, Canada.
  • Do not return until authorities say it is safe to do so.


For more information and resources:


As always, if you are abroad and in need of immediate assistance (medical or security related) please call International SOS at +1-215-942-8059 (collect calls accepted) or UTPD at +1-512-471-4441.