The Bottom Line on Urban Fire Safety

These city-parenting experts -- and authors and moms -- share research-tested advice for apartment building fire safety.

Building Fire Safety 101

Fire Extinguisher

We researched advice from fire departments, emergency agencies, and independent commentators all over the continent to come up with the most up-to-date views on urban fire safety. We have three conclusions:

1. The old ways are still best. In the many years we've been "drilled" in offices and schools, the edict has always been to stay where you are unless a fire was actually threatening your safety. First, a comforting fact: Urban fire departments are remarkably fast in getting to the scene of the action. In Houston and NYC, for example, typical response time is a shade over 4 minutes -- plenty of time to get you help if you need it.

There are compelling reasons behind the principle of staying put: Fire safety experts have long held that people in high-rises just don't understand how dangerous smoke is. Not that there aren't times when you should evacuate, but it seems that the advice given by your local fire department and the presentations the kids get in school are probably right on.

2. Emergency planning needs more than lip service from you, your kids, and your caregiver. In New York City, new laws included a provision to increase fire safety awareness. Building managers were required to prepare and distribute a fire safety plan to all building residents, including posting it in an accessible area as well as on the inside of every apartment door. 

Did it work? Hardly. Apartment dwellers all over town were up in arms because they felt the posting made their homes look like hotel rooms. And we'd bet a thousand bucks that most folks didn't even read the plans.

Do you think you'll have more presence of mind than they did? Don't kid yourself. You need to be serious about this stuff. Have a fire safety plan, read it, and go over it with your loved ones again and again.

3. There are numerous things that can be done on a building-wide basis to facilitate fire safety and, indeed, are applicable in other emergencies as well -- terrorist attacks, power outages, you name it. If your building is behind the eight ball, why not get involved? All too often, emergency preparation and prevention actions mandated by local laws are just ignored or, as discussed, are less than adequate. Don't let your building be the next cause celebre.

Especially if you're in a building that is older or without sprinklers, you need to get with the program. If you take all of this stuff as seriously as we do, you'll take the time to understand what each of these points requires from you.

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