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During a Building Fire

Building Fire During Icon Large

NEVER IGNORE A FIRE ALARM! Your first reaction should be to grab your room keys, alert the people around you, and go.

  • Act immediately but try to stay calm.
  • Stay low in case of smoke or fumes. If you’re in bed, roll off the bed and crawl to the door.
  • Don’t waste time getting dressed or searching for valuables.
  • Do not attempt to extinguish a fire unless you are trained to do so. Leave fire fighting to the professionals.
  • To waken anyone who may be asleep, shout, “Fire! Everyone out!”

Feel the doorknob or higher on the door with the back of your hand. If it feels hot, fire may be on the other side of the door, so keep it shut. Stuff clothing, towels, or newspapers in the door’s cracks to keep smoke out.

  • Even if the door is cool, open it slowly. Stand low and to one side of the door, in case smoke or fumes seep around it.
  • If heat and smoke come in, slam the door tightly, stuff clothing, towels, or newspapers in the door’s cracks to keep smoke out, and use your alternate way out.
  • If you will open a window for your escape, be sure the other windows and door(s) in the room are closed tightly. Otherwise, the draft from the open window may draw smoke and fire into the room.

If the hallway is clear of smoke, walk in a calm manner to the nearest fire exit and evacuate the building.

  • Use the stairs – NEVER use elevators. Elevators are normally tied to a fire detection system and are not available to occupants once the alarm sounds.
  • Stay low to avoid smoke, fumes, and super heated gases that may have entered.
  • Close doors as you leave to confine fire as much as possible.
  • If the alarm is not already sounding, pull the fire alarm on your way out of the building. If there is no alarm to activate, yell “fire” as you leave.
  • Move quickly to an open area, away from buildings, trees, power lines, and roadways. If your building has a designated assembly area and it is safe, head there.

If trapped in a room

Retreat. Close as many doors as possible between you and the fire. Seal cracks around the door to prevent smoke from entering. If you have a working phone, dial 911 or Virginia Tech Police and report the name of your building or address, the room number, and the fact that you are trapped and need to be rescued. Stay on the phone until the fire department arrives at your room.

Be prepared to signal from a window but DO NOT BREAK THE GLASS unless absolutely necessary (outside smoke may be drawn in). Open the window a few inches for fresh air and hang a brightly colored cloth or bed sheet out the window to alert the Fire Department to your location. If you have a flashlight, use it to signal at night.

If you are trapped on the upper floors of a tall building:

  • Put a wet cloth under closed doors to help prevent the spread of smoke.
  • If you have a working phone, dial 911 or 540-231-6411 and report the name of your building or address, the room number, and the fact that you are trapped and need to be rescued. Stay on the phone until the fire department arrives at your room.
  • If you must escape through a window and there is no adjoining roof or fire escape, hang from the window by your hands and drop to the ground to shorten the height of the fall.
  • If you must break a window to crawl out, use a chair, a drawer, or a similar object. Throw a blanket over the windowsill to help protect you from broken glass while crawling out.

If caught in smoke

Drop to hands and knees and crawl or crouch low with head 30" to 36" above the floor, watching the base of the wall as you go. Avoid crawling on your belly, because heavier toxic gases can settle and form a thin layer on the floor. Hold your breath as much as possible and breathe shallowly through your nose using your blouse or shirt as a filter.

If you are forced to advance through flames:

  • Hold your breath. Move quickly, covering head and hair. Keep head down and close eyes as often as possible.
  • If clothing catches fire, stop where you are. Drop to the ground, and cover your mouth and face with your hands to protect them from the flames. Then roll over and over to smother the fire.

Assemble at the area designated in your departmental Emergency Action Plan, if applicable, and remain there until instructed by a public safety officer or the fire department that it is safe to re-enter the building. If there is no designated assembly point, maintain a safe distance from the building to allow ample room for emergency personnel and equipment to access the building. Dial 911 from a safe place and report the nature and location of the fire. Follow directions of emergency personnel, if present. Do not go back inside the building until instructed by a public safety officer.

If you encounter a small fire

A small fire is defined as wastebasket-size or smaller. Under special conditions, small fires can be extinguished before there is a full evacuation, if you have been trained and feel comfortable using an extinguisher. The fire must be truly small and controllable and you need both the right fire extinguisher and knowledge of how to use it. NEVER ENTER A SMOKE-FILLED ROOM, even if it looks free of fire. In any case, constantly evaluate and be ready to evacuate if the fire cannot be easily controlled. Under all circumstances:

  • Alert people in the area.
  • Activate the fire alarm.
  • Maintain an accessible exit.
  • Avoid smoke and fumes.
  • Smother the fire or use the correct fire extinguisher. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Only trained personnel should use fire extinguishers. Use fire extinguisher on small fires ONLY if it is safe to do so; otherwise GET OUT.
  • Remain available to answer questions from public safety officers or the fire department.
  • Contact Physical Plant (540-231-4300) or Facilities Services (540-231-4300) to replace the fire extinguisher.
  • Report all fires to a supervisor.

Fire extinguisher instructions

P – PULL safety pin from handle.

A – AIM (nozzle, cone, horn) at base of the fire.

S – SQUEEZE the trigger handle.

S – SWEEP from side to side (watch for re-flash).

High rise apartments

If you live in a high rise apartment, there are a few added things you should know in case there is a fire in your building:

  • Learn your building’s evacuation plans. Know the location of fire alarms, and learn how to use them. Post emergency numbers for the fire department (911) near all telephones.
  • If your building has a public-address system, listen carefully and follow instructions.
  • Never take an elevator when leaving a burning building. Instead, go directly to the nearest fire- and smoke-free stairway.
  • If you cannot get to a fire stairway, go to a room with an outside window.
  • If there is a working phone, dial 911 and report where you are. Do this even if you can see fire trucks on the street below.
  • Stay where rescuers can see you through the window, and wave a light-colored cloth such as a hand towel to attract their attention.
  • If possible, open the window at the top and bottom. Be ready to shut the window quickly if smoke rushes in.
  • You may need to be patient – the rescue of occupants of a high-rise building can take as much as several hours.

For more information on building fires, see: