Hotel Fire Safety

January 4, 2016

The terrible hotel fire in Dubai on New Years Eve highlights the importance of being prepared for  emergencies and contingencies when you are traveling. Hotels can sometimes give you a false sense of security because they are, generally, modern, clean and comfortable.

But it’s easy to forget that you could be at considerable risk if there is a fire on the premises. There are roughly 3900 hotel fires in the United States every year. There are no reliable statistics for foreign hotels, but odds are their record is even worse. Additionally, the U.S. Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology estimates that up to 85 percent of American hotels do not have sprinkler systems up to current standards. So it makes sense to be fully prepared for what could be a life-threatening event.

I’ve been in several hotels that have experienced fire alarms. Only one was an actual fire, but you need to treat every hotel fire alarm just like you treat an engine fire indication in flight: assume it’s the real thing. That means you need too evacuate.

Now, if you’ve performed a room and evacuation inspection when you checked in, as explained in Ready For Takeoff podcast Episode 6, you’ll know exactly what to do. To briefly recap, when you check in at your hotel, you should always check out the evacuation diagram on the back of the door to your room as soon as you enter. The diagram will show you the closest two emergency exits. I recommend you actually leave your room and go to each exit, just to learn the route. At night, in a smoke-filled hallway, it may be too late to try to find the emergency exit if you don’t already know your way. Keep in mind that the EXIT signs in the hallway are near the ceiling, and you may not be able to see them due to smoke, which rises.

I need to point out that the elevator you used to get up to your room is never an emergency exit! Elevator doors are controlled by microprocessors that prevent the doors from closing if a person or object is in the way. That stops you from being injured by the door closing on you if you attempt to enter the elevator when the doors have started to close. Those same protective systems can be fooled by smoke, and you could find yourself trapped in a elevator with doors that do not close.

If a fire alarm goes off, first check that the door to your room is not hot, which would indicate the fire is in the hallway outside your room. Take your key with you (in case you need to return to the room), take a towel that you’ve made wet, and proceed to the nearest exit. You can use the towel to protect your nose and mouth if there’s smoke, and it can also be used to prevent the door to the roof from locking on you if your only escape path was to ascend the stairs rather than going down.

If you find stacked smoke in the stairwell as you descend, don’t try to go through it. Go to the other exit, go back to your room, or go up to the roof. Every situation is different, and a lot will depend on what floor you were assigned. If you’re at or below the third floor, you’ll be able to escape using the ladders on the fire truck. If you’re higher up, the fire truck ladders may not be able to reach your level. That’s one reason I recommend asking for a room on the third floor if it’s available.

The key to getting out of a hotel fire situation depends a lot on preparation and, frankly, luck. You have no control over the latter, but you can do a lot to make your stay safer by being prepared. There’s more information in Episode 6 of Ready For Takeoff podcast, so please subscribe, download the episode, and stay safe.

And please leave a Review on iTunes. Thanks!