Apartment Fires: What You Should Know

This list accompanies Help – House Fire. Be sure to read that as well as the following tips.

Apartment Fire - Help Me Now!

If there is a fire:

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Pull the fire alarm near the closest exit.
  3. Use your fire escape plan. Go to the designated family meeting place outside the building.
  4. WHN TIP: Stay Safe - Stairs Only!

    Never take the elevator during a fire! Use the stairs!

  5. Do NOT go back into the building. Help others when they are out of the building but do not go back inside.

After the Fire

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Do not re-enter until authorities allow it.
  3. Contact the Red Cross for help with immediate needs such as housing, food and clothing.
  4. Make sure you walk through before the property is turned over to the landlord. Landlords are not required to recover your belongings.
  5. Insured? If you have renter’s insurance, review your policy for what is and isn't covered. If you have no insurance you will be financially responsible for replacing all items yourself.
  6. If the fire was caused partly or wholly by your own or your family’s fault, you may be held liable for damages by the landlord.
  7. If you cannot live in your apartment and it has been deemed ‘uninhabitable,’ you may be able to terminate your lease, receive a refund or cease payments. Consult your state and county legal codes for renter’s rights about payment, termination and other legal issues. Click here to find your state’s legal codes, renter's rights and tenant union information.

Be Prepared - Just In Case

  1. Before leasing or renting, make sure your building is safe and up to code.
    • Look for smoke alarms in the hallways and in the apartment – ideally, you should have multiple alarms in your unit. Existing apartments require smoke alarms in the hallway outside sleeping areas. Newly constructed apartments now require them IN the sleep room, as well.
    • Look to see where the fire extinguishers are located. There should be at least one fire extinguisher in the cooking area or kitchen.
    • If you believe you need to add smoke detectors or fire extinguishers, talk to the landlord about your safety concerns and what you both can do to improve your safety situation.
  2. Make a fire escape plan and practice it.
    • Know where all fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and fire escapes are located.
    • Know where the fire alarms are located in your building and how to operate them in an emergency.
    • Floor plans and evacuation procedures should be posted on every floor. Take time to learn them and teach your family.
    • Meet with your landlord to discuss the best escape plan for each room in your unit and other areas in your apartment complex. If the landlord doesn’t know, ask a fire official about the best escape routes for your apartment.
    • Remember, in apartments or condos, often there is only one way in or out---no back door. Know at least two ways to get out of your apartment.
    • Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room. Place a copy of the plan in the bedroom of each family member. Make sure the plan is easily accessible.
    • Pick a family meeting place outside the apartment building. Be sure that there is another way to exit the apartment and that the routes are secure, safe, and intact.
  3. Make sure there’s a number on your apartment door. If there isn’t, contact management to get one.
  4. Every month test and check your smoke detectors. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year.
  5. Learn to recognize the sound of the fire alarm in your building, and leave the building immediately when you hear it. Never ignore the alarm, as fire may be present in any part of the building.
  6. Keep your balcony clutter-free.
    • Don’t barbecue on your balcony. When in use, barbecues should be located on ground level and be a minimum of five feet from buildings, structures, covered walkways or roof overhangs.
    • Avoid overloading a balcony with piles of furniture, plants, toys and junk. A balcony fire also blocks an escape.
  7. Be aware of elderly neighbors. In case of fire, direct firefighters to the elderly person’s apartment.
  8. Look into renter’s insurance. While the landlord is responsible for damages and losses for the physical structure of your apartment, you are responsible for your personal belongings.
    • Check to see if your policy provides the necessary coverage and protection you need.
    • Ask your agent questions about the terms and coverage in your policy.
    • Take pictures of valuables and personal belongings.
  9. Create a household inventory - videotape, photograph or compile a written inventory of your home and belongings. Read our article Create a Household Inventory. This will help when you file an insurance claim.
    • Keep the inventory off-premises in a safety deposit box or with an out-of-the area contact. The inventory will provide a record for you and the insurance company.
    • Update your inventory every two to three years and every time a major purchase is made.
    • Prepare a Master Information Box which contains copies of important documents and records, photos and contact information. Click here for a “starter list” of what to include in your box.

    5/2009