Fire Safety in Florida Condos
Fire safety and prevention are important no matter where you live. However, if you live in a condo building, there are specific considerations you will have to make when creating an escape plan. Don’t wait until you are in a fire emergency to think about your escape route! Create a plan with your household and practice evacuating your unit twice a year. Smoke can make it difficult to see your escape path, so practice is necessary to help you stay oriented when you can’t rely on your vision. A fire can destroy a condo unit in a matter of minutes, so exiting the building as quickly as possible is key to avoiding tragedy.
Condo Fire Prevention in Florida
Some fire prevention tips are applicable to everyone, no matter what kind of building you live in. Regularly inspect your outlets and cords on your electrical devices for frays, loose wires, or other signs of damage. Unplug electronics when not in use or use a surge protector. This is especially true here in Southwest Florida where lightning strikes are so common. Be sure to clean the lint filter in your clothes dryer and avoid running it or other heat-generating appliances when you aren’t home or are after you go to bed.
Candle Fire Safety
Candles and cigarettes are two common causes of fires. Never leave a burning candle unattended, and If there’s a power outage, opt for flashlights instead of candles. Be careful to keep lit candles away from papers, curtains, clothes, or other flammable materials. If you smoke, do so outside and away from anything flammable. When you’re done, make sure the cigarette is completely extinguished before throwing it away. If you have children or pets, keep all candles, matches, and lighters out of reach.
Kitchen Fire Safety
Prevent fires from starting in your kitchen by turning your oven and stovetop off when you leave the house. Store cooking oil away from heat sources. Grease fires can be especially dangerous, so if you're cooking and your oil begins to smoke, turn the heat off to keep it from igniting. If cooking oil does catch fire, do not throw water on it! Instead, cover the pan with a lid or baking sheet and wait for the fire to go out before moving the pan. If the fire has spread out of the pan but is still small, you can smother the flames with salt or baking soda. Don’t use flour or baking powder, as these materials will only add fuel to the flames. For larger fires, you can use a class B or ABC fire extinguisher. If you live in a condo, your unit must have a functioning fire extinguisher. Familiarize yourself with its location before you need it. If the fire gets out of hand, call 911 or your local fire department.
Smoke detectors are vital as an early warning of a fire. Install smoke detectors in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level. Interconnected smoke alarms are a great choice because if one goes off, they all go off. That way if a fire starts far away from the bedrooms in the middle of the night, there is a greater chance of being awakened by the alarm. Once a smoke detector alarm goes off you have only two minutes to evacuate, so even saving a few seconds is worth it. Be sure to test your smoke detectors twice a year. A good way to remember is to test your alarms when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. If you live in a condo building, your property manager should maintain smoke alarms in all hallways, elevators, lobbies, and other common areas.
If you are looking for a new condo, you want to consider moving into a building with a sprinkler system. Highrise buildings are more likely to be fully sprinklered than other types of buildings. A sprinkler system will prevent a fire from spreading throughout the building, and help protect your life and property if a fire starts in a neighbor’s unit. Contrary to popular belief, fire sprinklers are not triggered by smoke, so don’t worry about setting them off accidentally if you burn something in the oven. If you’re concerned about possible water damage, know that fire sprinklers will only go off in areas where they’re needed, and any water damage will be extremely minor compared to the damage a fire or fire-extinguishing chemicals can do.
Grill Safety for Florida Condos
With the year-round warm weather here in Southwest Florida, it’s always grilling season! But if you live in a condo building, grilling can be hazardous. According to FEMA, 24% of residential grill fires start on balconies and unenclosed porches. In fact, it is against the Florida fire code to use a grill on or under an apartment or condo balcony, or within 10 feet of any structure. Many condo associations will have even more stringent regulations regarding grills, but most also provide designated grilling areas that are a safe distance from the building.
Hurricane Shutters and Impact Glass
Florida building codes require all newly installed windows to have either impact-resistant glass or be equipped with hurricane shutters. If you have hurricane shutters, leave them off unless there is an imminent threat of a hurricane. Hurricane shutters can trap you inside a burning building, and they seriously slow down firefighters’ rescue efforts. If you have impact glass windows, know that they can impede firefighters as well, but they can get through them with the right equipment. If you need to be rescued from a fire and you have impact glass, you should let the fire department know when you make your emergency call.
How to Make an Escape Plan if You Live in a Condo
Even if you do everything correctly to prevent fire, they can still sometimes happen. That’s why it is important to have an escape plan and to practice it regularly with your household. If you have children, involve them in helping to create the plan. Test your smoke alarms with them so they know what they sound like. Have them walk with you through your unit and identify all doors, windows, and fire escapes they could use in an emergency. Walk through the building and identify any alternate routes you can take if your main exit is blocked by fire or smoke. In general, you should plan on using the stairs when escaping from a fire, but some new elevators are designed to be safe to use in a fire. Check to see what kind of elevators your building has when you and your family are planning your escape route.
When planning your escape route, make sure the floor is free from debris and clutter that could slow you down in an emergency. Alert your building manager to any hazards in common areas. Check that doorways are clear and doors and windows are able to be opened. Ask your building manager if there is a designated meeting area for the building in the event of an evacuation. If there isn’t, decide on a safe meeting place with your household. Small children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and pets may require extra help in evacuating. Make sure someone is designated to help them in an emergency.
What to do in a Condo Fire
If there is a fire, don’t panic, but exit the building as quickly as possible. If the fire is not in your unit, feel the front door before you open it. If the door is cool, proceed out of the building through whatever exit has the least amount of fire and smoke. Pull a fire alarm on your way out to alert your neighbors and the fire department. Close doors behind you to slow down the spread of fire. You may need to crouch down to get under the smoke. Once you are out of the building, go to the designated safe meeting place. If you have people in your household who are unable to crouch below the smoke or go down the stairs, they may be safer waiting for rescue in the condo unit. If someone is unable to make it to the meeting place, call the fire department to alert them that someone is trapped inside.
If you are unable to leave your unit due to the fire or a disability, you can “seal” yourself into a room. First, go to a room with a window, closing all doors between you and the fire. Call the fire department to let them know exactly where you are. Use duct tape or stuff wet cloth into vents and cracks around the door to prevent smoke from getting into the room. You can open the window to allow fresh air in, but be ready to close it quickly if smoke blows in. If you can, hang a bright-colored cloth outside your window, or shine a flashlight outside to alert firefighters to your presence.
What to do After a Condo Fire
Once you are safely outside the burning building, call 911. Get medical attention for yourself or others if necessary. Even if you are not burned, you could have lung damage from toxic smoke. Check to see if your pets need veterinary care. Call friends and family to let them know you’re OK. Don’t go back inside until the fire department says it is safe.
The fire department will let you know if it is safe to stay in your condo. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to find temporary lodging. If you have children or pets, you should find care for them to keep them safe when you eventually go back into the damaged unit. Food and other items not directly burned in the fire need to be thrown away due to smoke damage or contamination from toxic chemicals used to put out the fire.
Call your insurance company to report the damage. Your insurance company will also have information about what you should do and who you should call to clean up. You may need to replace documents like driver’s licenses, passports, and birth certificates. Try to find as many of these important documents as you can. Save any receipts for money spent due to the fire so you can prove the losses on your income tax.
Surviving a fire is a traumatic experience, and rebuilding and recovering from the damage can be a stressful ordeal. Be sure to take care of your mental and emotional well-being by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy meals, and drinking enough water. Stay connected to friends and family, and reach out to a mental health professional if you need to. A fire can be a particularly distressing event for children, so keep an eye on them for any changes in behavior that may warrant professional help. Agencies like the Red Cross may be able to provide additional support. You can call or text the Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990.