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"Fire!" The very
exclamation itself is enough to render the most
stout of heart and soul into victims of panic
and fear, if not into another fire fatality
statistic. For there is something primeval about
fire, one of the great dual-edged swords of
civilization: when under our control, we can't
imagine living without it. When fire is its own
master, it is a malevolent and indiscriminate
The threat of fire may be a
remote thought for the seasoned business
traveler, who stays in a modern hotel, and who
assumes every precaution has been taken to
ensure that safety is paramount. But the fact
is, when staying overnight at even the nicest of
establishments, you may be at greater risk than
you ever imagined. While there are no hard
figures, the U.S. Subcommittee on Science,
Research and Technology finds that as many as 85
percent of U.S. hotels lack fire sprinkler
At Greatest Risk
Each year some 32.6 million
fires strike Americans at home, in hotels, or at
the workplace. That's one fire virtually every
second of the day. Fire is the third largest
cause of accidental injury and death in this
country. Injuries by fire total two million
annually, and one out of every eight accidental
deaths is from fire.
And the U.S. and Canada have
the highest rates of death by fire than any
other country in the world. But it isn't
necessary to die in the event of fire, even if
you are thousands of miles from home in a hotel
room with no fire sprinkler system. However, you
have to take charge of your own safety. And you
have to be prepared in the event the worst
1. Plan Ahead
Plan your escape from a fire
before you are caught in one. Here’s what I do
- every time.
Before I hang up my clothes
or plop down to relax, I familiarize myself with
the locations of the fire exits nearest my room.
These are generally shown on a map posted on the
back of the room door or in a closet. I use the
map to locate the two exits nearest my room.
Next I take my key and head
out the door. I try to imagine how I would find
my way to the nearest fire exit in the dark
while crawling on my hands and knees. I count
the doorways between me and the fire exit and
note any obstacles that could get in my way.
When I reach the exit, I
open the door. A locked door will surely be a
death trap if a fire were to occur. (By the way,
if the door is alarmed, I first notify the hotel
security department of my intention to open the
door. Then, without letting the door close
behind me, possibly trapping me in the
stairwell, I take a look inside to get an idea
of its configuration and to confirm that the
stairwell is free of obstacles that could block
On my way to or from my
room, I find the nearby fire alarms and fire
extinguishers or fire hoses. If there are none
visible, I’ll call the front desk when I
return to my room to ask their location. Then I’ll
go verify their actual presence.
Because it’s possible that
my path to the nearest fire escape may be
blocked during an emergency, I map out a
secondary escape route that would take me in the
opposite direction as the route I just followed.
Again, I note the locations of the fire alarms
When I return to my room, I
look out the window to see if it would be
possible to jump without breaking my neck. In
case I’d have to escape that way, I look for
obstacles under my window.
I verify the operation of
the smoke detector in my room. Typically, a
small light on the smoke detector indicates its
operation. If I’m unsure that it is working, I
call the front desk for assistance.
I figure out how to turn off
the fan that delivers air into my room. I find
the location of both the entry- and return-air
vents and make a mental note of how I could seal
them if I were trapped in my room during a hotel
fire. Then, because I’d need to let others
know I was in my room, I make sure that I can
get an outside telephone connection - typically
by pressing “8” or “9” - without relying
on a hotel operator.
Finally, with an escape plan
in place, now I relax.
2. If There is a Fire
If there is any indication
or even a suspicion of a fire, call the hotel
operator immediately. Give your name, room
number, and a brief description of the
Before attempting to leave
your room, grab your key. If your family is with
you, determine a meeting place outdoors so you
will know everyone is safe.
Feel the door with the back
side of your hand. (if you used your palm, it
might burn your hand due to heat transfer and
you would have a hard time using it) If the door
or knob is warm, do not open it.
If the door is not warm,
drop to your knees and slowly open the door, but
be ready to slam it should a cloud of smoke roll
in. If the hallway is clear, head for the exit,
not the elevator. Close your door behind you.
Take your key with you.
Do not stand upright, but
crawl or keep low to the floor to avoid smoke
and odorless carbon monoxide.
Stay on the same side of the
hall as your exit, counting the number of doors
to the exit. When you reach the exit, walk
quickly, but cautiously down the stairs, and
hold on to the handrail as you go. Smoke will
sometimes get into an exit stairwell. If you
encounter smoke, do not try to run through it.
Turn around and walk up. Proceed to a smoke free
corridor and cross the building to an alternate
If you are unable to leave
your room, make every effort to notify someone
that you are in your room. If you cannot reach
the hotel operator, call the local fire
department and identify your exact location.
Signal to them by hanging a bed sheet from your
If there is smoke in your
room, open the window. Do not break the glass
unless it is absolutely necessary because
heavier smoke may begin to enter from outside.
Fill the bathtub with water.
Wet towels and sheets and stuff them around the
door and vent which is allowing smoke to enter
If the door and walls are
hot, bail water on them with your ice bucket to
keep them cool·
Place the mattress up
against the door and hold it in place with the
dresser. Keep it wet. Keep everything wet·
A wet towel tied around your
nose and mouth will help filter out smoke if you
fold it into a triangle and put the corner in
If there is a fire outside
of the window, pull down the drapes and move
everything that is flammable away from the
Do not jump from the room. A
fall from this height can cause serious injury.
Rather, continue to protect yourself from the
fire and signal from your window for help.
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