Fire Emergency Planning for High-Rise Buildings

December 2015

High-rise buildings, those seven storeys in height or more, present challenges to emergency and security services. While high-rise buildings are designed to be fire-safe the large number of people living in them and their size present unique challenges and a potential for major problems.

Firefighters cannot rescue people from windows or balconies above the seventh floor without entering a building. This requires them to undertake interior firefighting and rescue tactics.

In the event of a fire do not attempt to leave the building using an elevator. Heat can activate an elevator call button and send the elevator to the fire floor. Smoke can prevent an elevator door from closing. And water from firefighting operations can create a power failure. During a fire emergency, firefighters may require the elevators to reach the affected area.
When a fire is in your condo suite or on the same floor:

  • Leave immediately
  • Close but do not lock doors
  • Call 9-1-1 – Do not assume someone has made this call
  • Exit floor using stairwells

When you hear a fire alarm and the fire does not appear to be on your floor follow the procedures for your building. Many condo buildings ask that you remain in your suite and await instructions. Others may prefer that you immediately evacuate via stairwell and close all doors along the way.

High-Rise Building Occupants are Protected from Fire

High-rise buildings are designed to be more fire-safe than most single-family dwellings. Floors and ceilings are constructed with fire-resistant material. Building sections are separated into fire compartments which act as barriers to help prevent fire from spreading.

High-rise buildings have a fire alarm system that alerts occupants when activated. This may include some combination of smoke detectors, thermal detectors and sprinkler flow switches. If you discover a fire, activate a red manual pull station located near a stairwell and leave the floor. This identifies the alarm location at the lobby alarm panel. Firefighters use this panel to identify the location of an alarm.

Alarm systems are not connected to Fire Services. Someone must call 9-1-1. The caller should provide a name, address and location of the fire. Some condo buildings employ a monitoring service for this purpose.

High-rise buildings have interior fire-separated stairwells. If you encounter smoke while descending a stairwell, cross over to an alternate stairwell. Keep stairwell doors closed at all times to preserve the safety of these escape routes.

High-rise buildings have an interior water supply system including fire hose cabinets on each floor. Most buildings also have portable fire extinguishers in these cabinets.

High-Rise Building Resident Survival Kit

T oronto Fire Services recommends a high-rise survival kit for tenants of high-rise buildings. This should be stored and readily available in the event of a fire. Individual items making up this kit can be purchased for less than $50.

1. Wet Towel – Place at the base of a door
2. Duct Tape – Tape over door and vent openings
3. Foil Wrap – Use to cover vent openings
4. Whistle – Use to signal for help
5. Flashlight – Use in case of power failure, smoke, or to signal for help
6. Bright-Coloured Cloth – Hang in a window, or on a balcony, to identify your location
7. Ink Marker – Use for messages on cloth, door or windows
8. Cotton Bedsheet – If smoke is heavy in your suite, soak the bedsheet with water and make a tent near an open window
9. Washcloth – Place the wet cloth over your mouth and nose to aid breathing in smoke-filled areas
10. Fire Safety Plan – Have a copy of your building’s emergency procedures available
11. Store your survival kit in a plastic pail with lid. In the event of a fire emergency fill the pail with water.