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Prevention, Detection, Escape

Every person is responsible for their own fire safety. It is everyone's responsibility to implement and practise the three lines of defence against fire: Prevention, Detection, Escape.

Prevention

Check your home for fire hazards and eliminate them, and complete the Home Fire Safety Checklist. Most home fires are still caused by careless cooking, smoking, and candle use. Quick prevention tips:

  • Keep hazards minimized through a regular housekeeping program.
  • Keep all areas of the home, garage and yard clear of rubbish and combustible waste.
  • Clean the dryer lint trap before each use and the whole dryer vent at least yearly. Related video: Clothes Dryer Safety Tips 
  • Practise home heating safety
  • Ensure containers for flammable liquids, solvent, adhesives and pressurized aerosol cans are approved and stored according to manufacturer recommendations.
  • Store gasoline-powered equipment outside of the house.

Detection

Smoke Alarms

Working smoke alarms are so important, it’s the law to have them on every storey of your home and outside sleeping areas. Remember: while installation and maintenance is mandated by the Ontario Fire Code, this code is the minimum standard. Have enough smoke alarms to provide your family with the early warning needed to escape from a fire. For example:

  • if you have family members sleeping on different levels of the home, consider interconnected alarms so that when one rings, they all ring.
  • if you have family members who require assistance to escape during an emergency, install extra alarms so when a fire is small enough you can get to them and all escape safely.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms

The Ontario Fire Code now requires every home that has a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning install a CO alarm outside of sleeping areas. You may require more than one CO alarm if you have family members/residents sleeping on different levels of your home. Learn about CO alarms.

Escape

If a fire occurred in your home tonight, would your family get out safely? Everyone must know what to do and where to go when the smoke alarm sounds. Take a few minutes with everyone in your household to make a home fire escape plan. Download the BFES Fire Safety Plan Kit and include the following information:

Draw a floor plan of your home

Your plan should include a drawing of each level of your home, and all possible emergency exits. Draw in all doors, windows and stairways. This will show you and your family all possible escape routes at a glance. Include any features (such as the roof of a garage or porch) that would help in an escape.

Show two ways out of every room, if possible

The door is the main exit from each room. Identify an alternate escape route, which could be a window, in case the door is blocked by smoke or fire. Make sure all windows can open easily and that everyone knows how to escape through them to safety. If windows have security bars, equip them with quick-releasing devices.

Decide in advance who will assist others

Does anyone need help to escape? Decide in advance who will assist the very young, older adults or people with disabilities in your household. A few minutes of planning will save valuable seconds in a real emergency.

Choose a meeting place

Choose a meeting place a safe distance from your home that everyone will remember. A tree, street light or a neighbour’s home are all good choices. In case of fire, everyone will go directly to this place so they can be accounted for.

Call for help once escaped

Don’t waste valuable seconds calling the fire department from inside your home. Once you have safely escaped, call the fire department from a cell phone or a neighbour’s home.

Practice your escape

Review the plan with everyone in your household. Walk through the escape routes for each room with the entire family. Check your escape routes, making sure all exits are practical and easy to use. Then hold a fire drill twice a year and time how long it takes. In a real fire, you must react without hesitation as your escape routes may be quickly blocked by smoke or flames.

Escape Considerations for High-Rise Buildings

Due to equipment limitations, firefighters cannot rescue people from an outside balcony or window above the seventh floor. Firefighters must do interior firefighting and rescue tactics. If you live or work in a high-rise building, review the following frequently asked questions:

What is a high building?

The Ontario Building Code defines "high buildings" as those being seven storeys or more in height. High buildings are designed to be fire-safe, but, because they may contain many people, and because of the building's tremendous size, emergency response is challenging with significant potential for major incidents.

Due to equipment limitations, firefighters cannot rescue people from an outside balcony or window above the seventh floor. Firefighters must do interior firefighting and rescue tactics.

How am I, as an occupant, protected from fire?

Fire-resistant construction High buildings are designed to be more fire-safe than an average single-family dwelling. Floors and ceilings are constructed with fire-resistant materials and are separated into fire compartments. The compartments act as barriers to resist fire from spreading.

Fire alarm system
High buildings contain a fire alarm system designed to alert occupants when activated. Types of fire alarm devices include smoke detectors, thermal detectors and sprinkler flow switches. If you discover a fire, immediately activate a red manual pull station near a stairwell and leave the floor. This will identify the specific location at the lobby alarm panel to responding firefighters. Your fire alarm system is not connected to the Fire Services. You must always call 9-1-1. Make sure you give your name, the correct address and location of the fire.

Stairway fire escapes
High buildings have interior fire-separated stairwell shafts. Signs should be posted within stairwells indicating which floor level you are on, and also identify the nearest crossover floors, if certain floors are not accessible. If you encounter smoke while descending a stairwell, you can crossover to an alternate stairwell. Keep stairwell doors closed at all times to preserve the safety of these escape stairs.

Interior water supplies
High buildings contain a standpipe system, that is an interior water supply system of fire hose cabinets on each floor for use by firefighters. Most buildings also have portable fire extinguishers in these cabinets.

What actions must I take in a fire?

During a fire emergency, never attempt to leave a building by an elevator. Heat can activate elevator call buttons, sending the elevator to the fire floor, where dense smoke may interfere with the elevator's light-sensitive eye and prevent the door from closing. Also, you may become trapped in the elevator if water from fire fighting operations creates a power failure. In addition, fire fighters require designated elevators to carry them and their equipment to the floor below the fire.

In reacting to a fire in a high building, you must decide To Go? or To Stay?
  1. Do I leave the building to safety? or
  2. Is it safer to stay where I am?

If you choose to leave the building:

  • Leave as soon as possible.
  • Before opening any door, feel the door handle and the door itself, starting from the bottom, moving to the top. If the door is not hot, open it slightly.
  • If you see or smell smoke, or feel or hear air pressure or a hot draft, close the door quickly.
  • If the corridor is free of fire or smoke, take your keys, close the door behind you, and leave the building by the nearest exit stairwell, again closing all doors after you.
  • If you encounter smoke in a stairwell, consider taking an alternate stairwell. Be sure to crawl low under smoke. If the alternate is also contaminated with smoke, return to your suite.
  • When you are safely outside call 9-1-1. Never assume that someone else has already done so. Make sure you give your name, the correct address and location of the fire.

If you cannot leave your apartment/office or have returned to it because of fire or heavy smoke:

  • Close, but don't lock, any doors for possible entry by firefighters.
  • Seal all cracks where smoke can enter by using wet towels or sheets. Seal mail slots, transoms and ventilation outlets as necessary (a roll of wide duct tape is handy).
  • Move to the balcony or to the most protected room and partially open a window for air. Close the window if smoke enters.
  • Keep low to the floor. Heat and toxic gases rise.
  • Signal firefighters by waving a white sheet or towel.
  • Wait to be rescued. Remain calm. Don't panic or jump.
  • Listen for instructions or information from authorized personnel over the building's internal speaker system.

Escape Considerations for Seniors

Many seniors still depend on escape routes that were planned when the kids were young. Update these plans with their current capabilities in mind, and practice with them. Place a telephone beside the bed, as well as a list of current medications, slippers, house keys, eyeglasses and a flashlight – anything you may need to take with you if you have to leave quickly. Related video: Fire Safety for Older Adults

Escape Considerations for Mobility Issues

Now that you’re in, how do you get out? The most important step is to invest a few hours to pre-plan for a fire emergency. Knowing what to do in case of fire may save your life! Talk to family, friends, neighbours, and building supervisory staff about your special needs in an emergency. Review the frequently asked questions:

How can I protect myself?

Depending on your physical limitations, here are some things that you can do to protect yourself from fire. In some cases, you may be able to do some of these things yourself. In other cases, you may need someone to help you.

  • Install smoke alarms
  • Ask the superintendent of your building, a friend or relative, to install at least one smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially adjacent to bedrooms, to provide early warning of fire. Make sure your alarms are tested monthly and ensure the batteries are changed at least once a year.
  • Remember 9-1-1
  • In case of fire, always attempt to get out, then call 9-1-1 and give your street address. If you can't get out, call 9-1-1 even if Toronto Fire Services has been called or already arrived and tell them exactly where you are in the building. Don't panic. Stay calm.
  • If possible, live near ground level
  • If you live in a multi-storey home, sleep on the first floor and keep a telephone by your bed. If you live in an apartment, consider living on the ground floor. Living closer to the ground and to an exit will make for evacuating easier. Also, consider having doorways widened and ramps constructed.
  • Plan and practice your escape
  • Know two ways out of every room, especially bedrooms. If one exit is a window, make sure that it opens easily. If you live in an apartment building and you are able to use stairs, map out as many routes as possible. Never take elevators to escape fire. Elevators may become trapped between floors or they may take you directly to the fire!
When fire strikes, what must I do?
  • Get out and stay out. If you leave the building, leave as quickly and safely as possible. Never go back in. Never return for personal possessions. They are not worth your life. Call 9-1-1 from outside
  • Crawl low under smoke. If you can, crawl low while you exit and keep your head down. Hot toxic gases rise. The cleanest, coolest air is near the floor.
  • Keep doors closed. A closed door will help slow the spread of fire, smoke and heat. If you hear a smoke alarm, smell smoke or suspect fire, feel the door. If the door feels cool, open it just a crack to check for smoke. If there is none, leave by your planned escape route. If the door feels hot when you touch it, don't open it. Don't panic. Escape out the window or use your alternate exit.
  • If you can't leave your room or apartment Stay calm. Seal cracks around doors and vents as best as you can, using wet towels if possible. Open a window and stay low by it to breathe fresh air. If there's a phone in the room, call 9-1-1, tell them you are trapped and exactly where you are in the building. Shout for help or use a whistle and signal your position by waving a bright cloth, towel, sheet or flashlight.

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