Making safe fire escape plans

BURLINGTON, Iowa (KWQC) – To jump or not to jump? That is the question residents of a Burlington apartment building had to face just this weekend, with some jumping out of third story windows to escape the burning South 3rd Street building early Sunday morning.

“I think when the time comes and it’s ‘I’m going to either get burned or suffocate in this fire or jump out the window, they chose to jump out the window,” Burlington Fire Chief Matt Trexel told us. “It was a very fast moving fire.”

Click here to see our earlier coverage of that fire.

The residents who chose to jump made a terrifying split second decision, weighing the odds.

“I would say even over three and four stories, you’re taking a chance of not surviving the fall,” Davenport Fire District Chief Neil Gainey said. “The people are going to make a decision as to what they can do to save their own life.”

But, fire officials say there are life-saving steps people who live in taller buildings should take now to avoid having to make that choice.

“I would say the biggest advice would be prevention,” Gainey said.

Many of the preventative measures recommended are simple common sense: Don’t leave candles unattended, make sure your smoke alarms are working, and practice your escape drills.

“So you know multiple ways to get out and what to do in case there is a fire, not only in your apartment, but if it’s in the hallway, or a couple apartments down,” Gainey explained.

If one of the ways out of your upper level apartment or condo is a window, getting an emergency escape ladder could help.

They’re a sort of chain link ladder that you can attach to your window to climb down to safety, depending on your physical ability to climb down the side of your building.

“If you’re elderly or maybe if you’re heavy set, you may not be able to do that. If you’re a small child, you might not be able to do it, and then if an adult tries to carry a child in one arm while they’re holding the ladder with the other arm, it may physically be impossible,” Gainey said.

“So it may be a good choice for just the right person,” he added.

Obviously, for everyone, jumping should only be a last resort.

“First choice would be to get out safely. And then second choice would be to shelter in place. And then, if the fire is moving too quickly that we just don’t have enough manpower and equipment to make it to your specific apartment,” Gainey said, “then you may have to make that last minute choice as to what you want to do to escape the fire.”

Sheltering in place is encouraged in some of the elderly housing complexes where residents may not be able to safely make it down the stairs to escape.

If you do have to shelter in place, staying put to wait for help to arrive to get you out, you should stuff wet towels or sheets around your door to keep the smoke out and tell the 9-1-1 dispatcher exactly where you are.

“Life safety is our first priority,” Gainey said.

And District Chief Gainey says the first priority for any apartment hunter considering living in a taller building should be fire safety.

“Not only location, if it has the right amount of bedrooms, and things like that, but if it has a good safety record,” he said. “And then, if at all possible, live in an apartment that has fire safety equipment such as alarm systems and sprinkler systems.”

Fire officials say whether you exit down your building’s stairways, have to shelter in place, or even go out the window, it is important to make sure your apartment door is closed to keep the fire and smoke from spreading and to keep any extra oxygen from coming in and fueling the flames.

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