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Before a Building Fire

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Fires can spread quickly and become life-threatening in minutes. By the time you notice a fire on your floor or hear an alarm, it may be too late to plan an escape. Do not waste time gathering valuables or making phone calls. Evacuate immediately. Prepare now to protect yourself then.

Consider guests as well as yourself, and what you can do together to reduce the likelihood and severity of fires:

  • When partying, pick someone to be a safety monitor, someone who will remain sober and reliable.
  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Supervise children, especially if they’re near cooking surfaces or space heaters.
  • If you are a Virginia Tech employee, be sure that you comply with fire safety requirements (learn more about Virginia Tech's Fire and Life Safety Program.

In regular housekeeping, remove wastes and reduce combustibles in work spaces:

  • Minimize the storage of flammable items such as cardboard boxes, old newspapers, magazines, etc.
  • Keep combustibles (including drapery) away from space heaters and halogen lamps.
  • Limit the storage of flammable liquids in shops or laboratories. Where large amounts are required, use flammable-liquid storage cabinets.
  • Store matches and lighters up high, preferably in a locked cabinet, out of children’s reach.

Flammable items, such as fuel (propane, lamp oil, solvents, gasoline, etc.), may not be stored in rooms or around residence halls. Items that require an open flame, operate on fuel, or produce heat, such as Bunsen burners, lighted candles, incense, and alcohol burners, are prohibited. Candles, incense, and other items producing an open flame may not be burned in the residence halls, except as part of a regulated religious ceremony approved in advance by Environmental Health and Safety.


  • Never leave food unattended. A serious fire can start in just seconds.
  • Wear short or tight-fitting sleeves rather than loose long sleeves when you cook.
  • Keep towels, pot holders and curtains away from flames.
  • Never use the range or oven as a space heater.
  • Double-check the kitchen before you go to bed or leave the house.


  • If you must smoke, smoke outside.
  • Do not smoke if you are drowsy.
  • Don’t smoke in bed.
  • Extinguish all smoking materials thoroughly. Put it out — all the way — every time!
  • Use ashtrays with a wide, stable base that is hard to tip or trip over. If it wobbles, it won’t work!
  • Douse ashtrays with water before emptying them in the trash.
  • If people smoke in your home, be sure to check for cigarettes butts near the furniture and under sofa cushions before you call it a night.

Maintaining your home

  • Keep electrical wiring in good condition. Use extension cords only rarely and temporarily.
  • Sleep with bedroom doors closed. Doors offer some protection from heat and smoke and slow a fire’s progress.
  • Maintain smoke alarms. Properly working smoke alarms more than double your chances of surviving a fire.
  • There should be functioning smoke alarms on every level of your residence. They are normally best placed outside bedrooms on the ceiling or high on a wall, at the top of open stairways, or at the bottom of enclosed stairs and near (but not in) the kitchen.
  • Smoke alarms should be tested and cleaned once a month and batteries checked or replaced at least once a year.
  • Detectors ordinarily should be replaced once every 10 years.

Have a plan

  • Develop a plan for responding to fire in or near the places that you occupy.
  • Discuss the plan with the people who share your area.
  • Notify caregivers and babysitters about your plan. Include pet care.
  • Practice using the plan. Review escape routes.
  • Identify alternate exits and be prepared to use them. Know what to do if the nearest exit is blocked or unsafe.
  • Locate or draw a picture showing escape routes for every room in your area and share it with those around you.
  • Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut and that security gratings can be opened from the inside when necessary.
  • Prepare for the possibility that exit signs will be hard to see. Note exactly how many doors you will have to pass before you reach the nearest exit and an alternate. 
  • Upper floor windows should have fire escape ladders. Since they vary in design, check to be sure that you know where the ladders are and how to use them.
  • Post emergency numbers by every phone and on your cell. Be sure that everyone knows how to call for help.
  • Plan on a meeting place outside (e.g., per the building evacuation plan).
  • Hold fire drills every three months, especially if there are small children or disabled persons present. Hold some drills during nighttime hours.

Get a kit

  • Get a kit with essentials ready to grab and go in case of fire.

For more information on building fires, see: