Fire Safety Procedures for High-Rise Condo Buildings

December 2018

High-rise condo buildings include life safety systems designed to protect occupants. In the event of a fire, procedures high-rise condo dwellers should follow differ from other forms of housing.

The unfortunate reality is that many condo residents in high-rise buildings don’t know what to do in the event of a fire. Some scramble out of their suite and head up or down to escape. Others remain in their suite waiting for instructions.

During 2015 there were an estimated 430 fires in Toronto high-rise buildings resulting in two fatalities and 59 injuries. 2016 figures are estimated to be slightly higher.

It is difficult to escape a fire in high-rise condo buildings. Fortunately, buildings are constructed in ways to aid occupants awaiting assistance.

When a fire alarm goes off the first step should be to check the door for heat. This can tell you if a potential fire is near your area of the building. In most situations the best response is to remain in your suite.

Leaving your suite likely means contending with smoke or heat in a stairwell or hallway where the natural response is to go up in an effort to escape a fire. This would be a mistake. People have died trying to make their way through smoke-filled hallways and stairwells. From the roof, assuming you make it there, no escape is possible as there is no way to get people off a roof. Ladders are not long enough and helicopter rescue options do not exist.

The proper response is to return to your suite which is the safest place so long as the fire is elsewhere in the building. Close the door. Use duct tape or a wet towel along the bottom of the door to keep smoke out. Repeat this process anywhere air circulates. That would be around the door frame and possibly air vents. Call 911 and inform them you are trapped in your suite.

If the fire is in your suite, leave the suite and close the door behind you.

Buildings are designed with fire-resistant materials the keep flames from spreading quickly from one suite to another. As a general rule one can assume an hour between suites and two hours between floors. Sprinkler systems may also help delay the spread of fire. During this time fire crews should arrive to render assistance. Their response time to a high-rise building fire is a little more than five minutes.