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Safety Tips

How to Survive a Fire in a Public Building

Consider your personal safety before you enter a public building.

Look at the doors and windows. Door and window security bars that lack quick-release mechanisms could slow or impede escape if there is a fire. Narrow exits or too few exits, and exit doors that open inward, instead of out toward the street, are also danger signs.

Based on building design and other criteria, buildings are rated for a certain number of people to be inside at a given time. Too many people inside could overload the exiting arrangement in an emergency, making it difficult for people to safely escape. If the building looks or feels overcrowded, don't go inside.

Once inside a building, immediately look around. Look up, toward the ceiling. Can you see fire sprinkler heads spaced along piping, or inset in the ceiling? If you can, that's a good sign.

You must be able to see EXIT signs and the exit doors they identify. If you cannot, leave immediately.

All exits should be clearly marked with the doors unlocked and unobstructed. All pathways leading to the doors should be clear.

If you enter a public building and cannot easily locate exit signs and doors, or if you see exit doors with padlocks or obstructions, leave immediately. Inform local fire officials if you notice padlocked exits in any public building.

If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, such as open flames on candles or torches, or perhaps pyrotechnics displays don't stay. Leave the building if you don't feel safe.

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to respond immediately if there is an emergency. If you hear the fire alarm sound, don't assume it is a false alarm even if others don't respond. React fast, moving quickly but calmly toward the exit that is closest to you.

Remember that the closest exit could be behind you. And remember that the closest exit isn't necessarily the door you came in.

If you are on an upper floor of the building when the alarm goes off, use the stairs to exit; don't use the elevator.

As soon as you are outside, move well away from the building and meet up with the rest of your party. Stay clear of fire and emergency vehicles.

It's a good idea to have a meeting plan when you are out with friends - know in advance where you will meet, or how you will contact one another - if you get separated

When choosing a hotel, it's good practice to ask if fire sprinklers are installed in all guestrooms before you make hotel reservations

Fire Sprinklers in Public Buildings

Automatic fire sprinklers have been saving lives and protecting property for more than a century.

Fire sprinklers are widely recognized as the single most effective method for fighting the spread of fires in their early stages - before they can cause severe injury to people and major damage to property.

Sprinklers are linked by a network of piping that is constantly filled with water under pressure. The pipes are in the ceilings or behind walls. The sprinklers are attached to the pipes. Each sprinkler protects an area beneath it.

Fire sprinklers are individually activated by a fire's intense heat, and often just one sprinkler successfully extinguishes a fire. Only the sprinklers closest to the flames spray water; the other sprinklers do NOT activate at the same time.

Smoke cannot activate a fire sprinkler. And the chances of a fire sprinkler accidentally spraying water are extremely remote.

The costs for installing fire sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings range from under a dollar to about $2.00 per square foot in most new construction and $2.50 and up per square foot for retrofitting sprinklers in existing buildings. These figures are averages and can vary considerably based on the size and nature of the project. Installation of fire sprinklers often nets discounts on insurance premiums for building owners.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, "When sprinklers are present, the chances of dying in a fire and the average property loss per fire are both cut by one-half to two-thirds, compared to fires where sprinklers are not present." NFPA analysis of civilian deaths per thousand fires in 1989-1998 showed the reduction associated with sprinklers is 60% for manufacturing properties, 74% for stores and offices, 75% for selected health care properties for the aged or sick, and 91% for hotels and motels.

Average property damage per hotel or motel fire was 56% less in structures with sprinklers than in structures without sprinklers during the years 1989-1998, according to NFPA. (Average loss per fire was $5,900 in sprinklered buildings and $13,400 in unsprinklered buildings.)

Sprinkler usage is growing in most properties. Nearly half of all hotels and motels, according to a 1988 survey by the American Hotel and Motel Association, have sprinkler systems. Other high levels of sprinkler usage are seen in facilities that care for the aged and sick and high-rise office buildings. In 1998, sprinklers were present in 77% of the fires in facilities that care for the aged, and 66% of high-rise office buildings.

NFPA has no record of a fire killing more than two people in a completely sprinklered building where the system was properly operating, except in an explosion or flash fire or where industrial fire brigade members or employees were killed during fire suppression operations.


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