Public Education

Survival Tips

When you’re escaping a fire, you must be prepared for the unexpected.

Closed doors protect you

Even a lightweight hollow-core door delays a fire. Some parents argue that they prefer to leave their bedroom doors open so they can hear their children, but slowing the spread of fire to sleeping areas gives everyone more time to escape. For the same reason, you should close doors behind you, along your escape route, as you leave a building during a fire.

Whether bedroom doors are open or closed, everyone should be able to hear the smoke alarms near his or her sleeping area. If family members sleep with the doors closed, install interconnected smoke alarms inside all sleeping areas.

Testing doors before opening

You can easily be overcome by heat, smoke, or flames rushing into a room when you open a door to an area where a fire has spread. During a fire, before opening any doors along your escape route, kneel or crouch at the door, reach up as high as you can and touch the door, the knob, and the space between the door and it’s frame with the back of your hand. If the door is warm, use an alternate escape route. If the door is completely cool, open it cautiously. Put your shoulder against the door and open is slowly. A fire that has died down for lack of oxygen can flare up when a supply of fresh air rushes through the door you open. If heat or smoke enters the room, slam the door and make sure it is closed securely. Take steps to seal around the door with duct tape or wet towels or sheets to prevent smoke from entering the room.

Escaping through windows

If your primary exit is blocked by fire or smoke, your secondary exit may be a window. Before opening a window during a fire, be sure the door to the room is closed tight. The draft created by the open window could bring fire and smoke into the room.

If you are on the first floor, you can probably drop safely to the ground from your window. Back out, feet first, on your stomach. Hold onto the window sill with both hands, lowering yourself as far as possible. Then, drop to the ground, bending your knees to cushion your landing.

You can lower small children from windows. If there are people outside, they can break the child’s fall. If not, lower the child as far as possible, without risking falling out yourself, and then drop the child to the ground.

Do not go out a window first and expect a child to follow you. If he or she refuses to exit, there is no way you can get back inside to help.

What to do if you are trapped

If your window is above the first storey, you should not drop to the ground. Unless you have an escape ladder or can climb down a balcony, porch, tree, or garage, wait at the window for the fire department to rescue you. If possible, open the window a few inches at the top and bottom. Fresh air will enter at the bottom, and smoke will leave through the top. If the open window is drawing smoke into the room from any source, close the window tight.

Stuff clothes or towels in the cracks under the door or seal around it with duct tape to keep smoke from entering the room. If there is a working phone in the room, call the fire department and tell the dispatcher where you are. The information will be relayed to the firefighters at the fire scene. Stay at the window and wave a flashlight or large light coloured cloth, such as a towel or sheet, to help the firefighters find you.

Crawl low under smoke

During a fire, superheated air and smoke fill the room from the top down. Some poisonous smoke may settle in a layer near the floor. In between, this will leave a “safety zone” of breathable air about 1 to 2 feet above the floor.

If you encounter smoke during your escape from a fire, turn around and use an alternate route. If you must exit through an area with smoke, crawl on your hands and knees to your exit, keeping your head in the safety zone.