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What to do if you are trapped in a fire ?

Fires are destructive and can also kill. Precautions, including preventive safety measures and quick action, can keep you safe if you are trapped in a fire. How to stay safe in a fire? Do you know how to escape from a burning building? Check out this article that covers all these issues.


The fire-safety norms in India, have improved over the years, with the government agencies coming down heavily on builders, apartment complexes and offices etc. that flout fire-safety guidelines. A fire-escape or emergency stairwell is mandatory in high-rise buildings. Additionally, every high-rise building must have fire-fighting equipment in place. Fire- extinguishers at floor levels, easily accessible fire-hydrants around the apartment and office blocks, fire-alarms and other stipulated safety measures, are now mandatory, in order to get the requisite clearance from the Fire and Rescue Department, for renewal of the Fire License.

Despite all the precautionary safety measures in place, fires can happen. Fires can be deadly; as they can spread rapidly, causing extensive damage to property and life. The major causes of fires in buildings, both residential and office are short-circuited and gas leaks. In either event, the objective must be to get out of harm's way, to safety. Whenever a major fire happens it is always said that it was a disaster waiting to happen. Meaning that the fires were preventable, had the danger signs been acted upon, on time. Although prevention is definitely the key, what you do when you are trapped in a fire, might just help save your life. Fires find combustion material as they rage, and as the temperature rises, the burning debris gets caught in the swirling fire and is swept up and blown away. These pieces of airborne, burning debris fall on other flammable material (like wooden/plastic furniture, paper, cloth etc.) thus spreading the fire.

Be prepared for every eventuality

Fires are not just about the flames spreading through your house or office. They are more than that. They raise the ambient temperatures to unbearable heat. As the fire rages, engulfing everything in its path it creates a blanket of thick smoke that swamps the surroundings. The visibility drops to notch. There are also a lot of toxic fumes in the air, caused by all the stuff that is burning. Oxygen levels begin to deplete. All of these pose a threat to you. Hence, it is vital that you be prepared to act swiftly, in case of a fire.

Dry Powder  Fire-Extinguisher

Don't ignore basic safety measures

Make sure to attend the next fire-drill that is conducted at your place of work or in your apartment complex. You will learn valuable lessons, such as the right way to use fire-extinguishers, to learn to differentiate between different types of fire extinguishers, how to switch on the fire alarm, how to help others and of course the escape route and other contingency plans.

Fire Alarm System

When you check into a hotel before you hit the bar or the buffet or the bed for that matter, check the emergency fire exits. Every building has one, but guests generally are not made aware of this. Study the floor plan that you will find pasted behind the door of your room. Take a walk and identify the escape route. You'll save precious time if you know which way to go, in case of a fire and you will probably reach safety, instead of perishing in a fire, because you didn't know the layout of the building.

Have an evacuation plan

Know what you must do, in case there is a fire. Your primary plan should be to evacuate your dear ones and yourself from the scene. To be able to do this, you just need to know the layout of the building. Learn by heart the quickest route to the closest staircase, by sight and through feel. You should be able to get to the stairwell, even through smoke-filled corridors.

Fire Escape - Emergency Escape

How to escape ?

  • Move toward the fire escape or the main stairwell : If you encounter the fire blocking the exit route and spreading towards your path, then turn around and head towards the upper floors, preferably to the terrace, where an air evacuation could be attempted.
  • Do not use the lift : Using a lift could be a death trap, as power is generally cutoff when there is a fire. If you get into a lift, you'll get trapped when the power is shut down.
  • Escaping smoke : It is likely that you'll encounter thick smoke in the passageways, so, as a precautionary measure cover your nose and mouth with a thick damp cloth. Smoke rises, so you will find it difficult to breathe in a standing position. Keep low, and crawl your way to the exit. You will find it easier to breathe when you are low down. Don't breathe at your regular pace. This is to prevent inhaling toxic fumes.
  • Smoke entering the house : Don't panic if you are trapped in your apartment and find smoke entering from under the main door. Touch the door and the door handle, if you find them warm or hot, do not open the door. The fire might have reached the corridor outside. If you do open the door, be prepared to shut it quickly, if you see a fire right outside.
  • Prevent smoke from entering : Block the gaps under the doorway by placing damp towels or bedspreads. Keep wetting these. Meanwhile, open the windows so you can breathe easy. Move to the balcony, put distance between the fire and you.
  • Remove inflammable material : As a last resort remove all inflammable material placed near the main entrance - shoe rack, tables or console, curtains etc. If there is nothing to feed the fire, it will not spread into your living space.
  • Get help : Stand in the balcony or at the window and wave a cloth, so people below, can spot you and direct the fire-fighters to rescue you.
  • Hydrate yourself : Keep drinking water, as it could prevent dehydration, which is likely to occur in such conditions. Douse yourself in water to prevent your body from getting overheated. Drink more fluid.

Other precautions to take

If you get trapped in a fire, your top priority must be to escape. However, this might not always be possible and you might find that your escape routes are blocked by the raging fire. You can still make an attempt to escape, by wrapping a wet blanket around yourself and darting towards safety. It takes a special kind of courage to do that, but it could keep you alive. Do not attempt this, if there is a raging inferno outside. In which case, you will probably be safer on the balcony.

When you are in such a perilous situation do not attempt to salvage valuables. Just run and save yourself. A fire spreads rapidly, and every second count.

CO2 Fire Extinguisher

Types of fire

  • Electrical fires : Electrical fires are caused by short-circuit. The Miniature Circuit Breakers (MCBs) fitted in the electrical switchboards are designed to trip, in case of an electrical fire caused by a short circuit. But, it can sometimes malfunction and fail to do so. You can manually turn off the supply to the entire house, to prevent a catastrophe. Fires can spread unseen, through the concealed electrical conduits. When you detect a fire, do not use water to put out the flames, for that would be inviting death. Use fire-extinguishers or sand.
  • LPG fires : An LPG leak can also spark a fire. You must attempt to prevent the fire from spreading, by removing inflammable materials away from the scene of the fire, including extra LPG cylinders standing in the kitchen. If the cylinder is on fire, extinguish the flame using a fire extinguisher, but if one is not available then wrap a damp cloth over it, in one swift movement and tap it down along the sides, so it sticks to the cylinder's body. The fire will be put out immediately. Move the leaky cylinder out into the open, where the leaking gas can disperse into the air. Call your LPG agent/distributor and report the leak

Apart from the safety measures already mentioned, here are some other things that you can do –
  • Fire-extinguisher : Use the fire-extinguisher to put out a fire, when you see one. Contain the fire; do not allow it to spread. Also, ensure that the fire-extinguishers are refilled and functioning properly. A fire-extinguisher can also help you clear the path, so you can reach a safe area.
  • Water, sand and oxygen : Water can be used to extinguish all fires, except electrical fires, where the mains are still on. Sand also smothers fires. Pour buckets full of sand on fire, to prevent it from spreading. Suffocate a fire, by depriving it of oxygen – beat it with wet cloth pieces and that should help douse it

Other measures

  • While evacuating the place alert others by shouting 'FIRE, FIRE' loud and clear
  • Ring doorbells to warn people
  • Help the invalid, the aged, pregnant women and young children reach safety
  • Sound the Fire-Alarm, by breaking the glass and releasing the button
  • Call the Fire Brigade, alert the police and call for medical assistance and Ambulance once you are out of the building. Your first priority is to step out of danger
  • Once you're out of the burning building. move away to a distance. Burning debris from the building and shattered window panes could cause you injury

Fire Alarm - Break Glass

Fire safety

  • Have the electrical wiring checked and get them changed to prevent mishaps
  • Remove stashes of files and wooden crates from your premises. Especially from corridors and emergency stairwells. These are combustion material and fuel the fire
  • Install fire-alarms in the building
  • Install sprinklers that can get activated in case there is a fire
  • Ensure that the emergency exits are easily accessible in case of a fire evacuation
  • Install fire extinguishers at prominent places
  • Use fire safe materials for the upholstery
  • Place sand buckets at strategic points
  • Educate people around you about fire safety

Pan India Important Helpline Numbers

  • Fire-Brigade - 101
  • Police - 100
  • Ambulance - 102

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: Natarajan26 Sep 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 2

A detailed article that's a must-read for everyone living in flats/ apartments. The author has paid attention to details and valuable suggestions to save oneself, help elders and children, not going after valuables and panicking which is often the reality that hampers escape of many people safely.
I do not how many apartments actually practice mock drills to see how many residents respond and what is time taken for them to reach safety etc.

Author: Juana27 Sep 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 9

Mock drills are conducted in my apartment complex. The fire department is also involved in the exercise, and it is conducted on an annual basis. The fire alarms are sounded along with the siren on the fire engine as the latter traverses between the towers. We also have announcements made over the megaphone and the PA system installed on every floor.

Residents congregate in a ‘safe area' where fire safety practices are demonstrated. The demonstration includes the correct method of operating the sophisticated fire-extinguishers. It is quite a ‘tamasha'. And I'll be honest I have been part of so many fire drills that I no longer participate in them. I haven't participated in a single fire-drill in my current residence complex, because I am aware of what to do, because of years of watching the procedures.

Apart from all these, the fire alarms are also sounded periodically, to test them. Same is the case with the water hydrants that dot the apartment complex. The pumps are checked to ensure that they are working and the water outlets are not choked.

We also have a full-fledged fire safety team on the payroll. The fire safety regulations set by the State Government are quite stringent and Housing Societies have to comply with them, in order to renew their licenses. And all the things listed above are mandatory.

If this is not followed in your apartment complex, you can perhaps suggest it to the association office bearers and see that this practice is introduced, at the earliest.

Author: Natarajan27 Sep 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 1

Glad to now, will pass it on to the association/suggest to follow this in our apartment complex too. We hear and have all the basic facilities but many places ( workplace, high-rise buildings, hospitals) don't practice mock drills regularly.

Author: Juana02 Oct 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 6

It is in our interest that we push the authorities to conduct mock drills. We may know what to do, but our neighbours might not.

It is true that many people, who move to big cities, live in a high-rise building, for the first time in their lives. They are unaware of the dangers and the precautions that they should take. It is their ignorance that causes them to get trapped in fires. They unwittingly create zones that can become a firetrap.

I have been to residential complexes where the emergency stairs were used as a storage area. Residents stash unwanted items, most of which are inflammable. They block the paths and prevent the escape routes from being accessed. There is a lack of awareness, and this is a major problem that needs to be addressed. And this can be done through mock-drills.

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