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Plan for Home Fire Safety

smoke alarm

In 2021, the Seattle Fire Department responded to 703 residential fires in both single-family and multi-residential homes. While that may seem like a small number, every fire has the potential be destructive. Fortunately, none of the fires in Seattle came close to the impacts of the New York City high-rise apartment building fire that killed 17 people, including eight children, earlier this year. This tragic fire provides a grim reminder about the potential danger of fire and the importance of planning for fire emergencies. 

Staying safe starts with having a plan, making sure smoke alarms are working properly, identifying at least two escape routes, and identifying an outdoor meeting place. Following are ways that people living in single family homes and apartments/condominiums can respond safely to fires. 

For single family homes  

Fire spreads quickly. If the smoke alarm sounds, it’s important to follow these steps: 

  1. Get away from the fire and outside if possible. 
  2. Close doors to confine the fire as you exit, if possible.
  3. If you encounter smoke, crawl under it to your exit. 
  4. Go to your pre-established outside meeting place and call 911 as quickly as possible. 
  5. Once out, stay out. Do not go back for anything. 

If you can’t escape: 

  1. If smoke or fire blocks your first exit, try your second escape route. 
  2. If you can’t escape, you will need to seek refuge inside a room with a window.
  3. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use towels or bedding to seal the door cracks to keep smoke from coming in.
  4. Call 911 to report your exact location.

For apartments and condominiums 

Multi-residential homes present additional considerations but the same is true—make sure you have a plan and know what the options are before a fire emergency.

If a fire starts inside your unit: 

  1. Leave your apartment and close the door behind you as you exit. This will contain the smoke and fire to your apartment and protect others on your floor. 
  2. Use the stairwell and go down if it is safe to do so. Do not take the elevator to leave the building. If the building alarm is not sounding, pull the fire alarm as you exit.
  3. Go to your building’s outside meeting place and call 911 to report the fire. 
  4. Wait for instructions. Do not re-enter the building until given permission. 
video screenshot

Click on the image above to watch an animated video with additional home fire safety tips.

If you are unable to use the stairs because you use a wheelchair or walker, or if smoke is blocking your exit, seek shelter in a neighbor’s apartment or enter and wait on the stairwell landing, and call 911.

If the building alarm is sounding but no fire is inside your apartment, follow these shelter in place guidelines: 

  1. Stay inside your apartment. 
  2. Keep your doors and windows closed. 
  3. Place a towel or clothing at the base of the door to keep smoke from entering. 
  4. Stay near a large window. Do not wait in a bathroom or on a balcony. 
  5. Call 911 if smoke comes into your apartment. 

Please create a plan for your entire household before the next fire alarm sounds. For fire safety videos on these and other topics, visit Seattle Fire Department’s Fire and Life Safety Education website. For printable handouts that you can share with family, friends, and neighbors, click here.


Seattle Fire Department Public Affairs contributed this article. In addition to the links above, for information about free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for older people, click here. If you live outside of Seattle, contact your local fire department or the American Red Cross Northwest Region.

Posted in Safety