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Online Lecture Series


At the end of this lecture, students will have a basic understanding of how a multi-storey office building functions in a fire.


Danny Spadaccini

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1998 The SafetyLine Institute.
House and Building Fire Safety

A fire can engulf a structure in a matter of minutes. Understanding the basic characteristics of fire and learning the proper safety practices can be the key to surviving a house or building fire.


Install smoke detectors.
Check them once a month and change the batteries at least once a year.

Develop and practice an escape plan. Make sure all family members know what to do in a fire.

  • Draw a floor plan with at least two ways of escaping every room. Choose a safe meeting place outside the house.
  • Practice alerting other household members. It is a good idea to keep a bell and a flashlight in each bedroom for this purpose.
  • Practice evacuating the building blindfolded. In a real fire situation, the amount of smoke generated by a fire will most likely make it impossible to see.
  • Practice staying low to the ground when escaping.
  • Feel all doors before opening them. If the door is hot, get out another way.
  • Learn to stop, drop to the ground, and roll if clothes catch fire.

Post emergency numbers near telephones.
However, be aware that if a fire threatens your home, you should not place the call to your emergency services from inside the home. It is better to get out first and place the call from somewhere else.

Purchase collapsible ladders at hardware stores and practice using them.

Install A-B-C type fire extinguishers in the home and teach family members how to use them.

Do not store combustible materials in closed areas or near a heat source.

Keep the stove area clean and clear of combustibles such as bags, boxes, and other appliances. If a fire starts, put a lid over the burning pan or use a fire extinguisher. Be careful. Moving the pan can cause the fire to spread. Never pour water on grease fires.

Check electrical wiring.

  • Replace wiring if frayed or cracked.
  • Make sure wiring is not under rugs, over nails, or in high traffic areas. Do not overload outlets or extension cords.
  • Outlets should have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
  • Only purchase appliances and electrical devices that have a label indicating that they have been inspected by a testing laboratory such as Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).

Contact your local fire department or American Red Cross chapter for more information on fire safety.


Get out as quickly and as safely as possible.

Use the stairs to escape.

When evacuating, stay low to the ground.
If possible, cover mouth with a cloth to avoid inhaling smoke and gases.

Close doors in each room after escaping to delay the spread of the fire.

If in a room with a closed door.

  • If smoke is pouring in around the bottom of the door or it feels hot, keep the door closed.
  • Open a window to escape or for fresh air while awaiting rescue.
  • If there is no smoke at the bottom or top and the door is not hot, then open the door slowly.
  • If there is too much smoke or fire in the hall, slam the door shut.

Call the fire department from a location outside the house.


Give first aid where appropriate.
Seriously injured or burned victims should be transported to professional medical help immediately.

Stay out of damage buildings.
Return home only when local fire authorities say it is safe.

Look for structural damage.

Discard food that has been exposed to heat, smoke, or soot.

Contact insurance agent.
Don't discard damaged goods until after an inventory has been taken. Save receipts for money relating to fire loss.

Heating Devices
Heating devices such as portable heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces demand safe operation. Use portable heaters in well-ventilated rooms only. Refuel kerosene heaters outdoors only. Have chimneys and wood stoves cleaned annually. Buy only approved heaters and follow the manufacturers' directions.

Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors more than double the chance of surviving a fire. Smoke detectors sense abnormal amounts of smoke or invisible combustion gases in the air. They can detect both smoldering and burning fires. At least one smoke detector should be installed on every level of a structure. Test the smoke detectors each month and replace the batteries at least once a year. Purchase smoke detectors labeled by the Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).

The U.S. Fire Administration has more information on fire safety and firefighting.


Home and Building Fires
Adobe PDF Icon Fire (Factsheet and Backgrounder) -- 112 KB
House and Building Fires: Factsheet
Fire Safety During or After a Disaster

Quicktime Icon Holiday Tree Fire Hazards -- Quick Time Movie

You are your own best insurance against fire and burn injury. With a few simple steps, you can help prevent home fires.

  • Insist on careful smoking. Even though many people have stopped smoking tobacco, smoking materials are still the No. 1 cause of home fires. Have large, deep ashtrays for smokers to use. Empty ashtrays in a safe place such as a metal can. Always check upholstered furniture for dropped cigarettes before leaving home or going to bed. Make it a rule never to smoke while in bed, when drowsy or when taking medication that makes you sleepy.
  • Space heaters need space. To be warm and safe, give all space heaters at least 36 inches of clear air on all sides.
  • Wear tight-fitting sleeves when cooking. Loose sleeves, flowing robes or frilly aprons might touch the burner and catch fire.
  • Stay in the kitchen when frying foods. If you have to leave the kitchen, set the timer or carry a potholder with you as a reminder to turn the burner off.
  • Check electrical appliances. Check the plugs and cords of all electrical appliances for wear. Replace worn appliances.  
  • Use smoke detectors. Most fatal fires at home happen while people sleep. Properly maintained smoke detectors, though, are always on the alert. Make sure you have a smoke detector near every sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test your smoke detector according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Know how to escape to safety. Recognize the sound of the smoke detector or other fire alarm. Fire grows with amazing speed, so get outside right away whenever the detector or alarm sounds. Know two ways out of every room, just in case smoke or flames block one way out. Remember, more breathable air will be near the ground, under the smoke. Crawl on your hands and knees or stoop low under smoke.
  • Don’t leave a fireplace or wood stove fire unattended. Keep the glass doors or fire screen closed to keep logs in place and to prevent sparks from flying out.
  • Make sure you use seasoned wood, and don’t burn treated lumber. When treated lumber is burned, the chemicals in it can create vapors that aren’t good for your health. Take care if you use wood-wax fireplace logs, especially in metal fireplaces. These logs burn much hotter than normal wood because of the wax, and can warp your chimney system. Follow package directions and use only one log at a time.
  • When you clean the fireplace, put ashes in a metal container with a lid. Embers can burn for weeks and have been known to cause fires when placed in a garbage can with other trash. Have your chimney and fireplace checked every fall or winter before you use it.  

Mitigation (Risk Management Activities)
HMGP logoThe Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) provides grants to States and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration. The purpose of the program is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster.


Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." When terrorism strikes, communities may receive assistance from State and Federal agencies operating within the existing Integrated Emergency Management System. FEMA is the lead Federal agency for supporting State and local response to the consequences of terrorist attacks.

FEMA's role in managing terrorism includes both antiterrorism and counterterrorism activities. Antiterrorism refers to defensive measures used to reduce the vulnerability of people and property to terrorist acts, while counterterrorism includes offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism. Within the emergency management arena, antiterrorism is a hazard mitigation activity and counterterrorism falls within the scope of preparedness, response and recovery.

Terrorism is often categorized as "domestic" or "international." This distinction refers not to where the terrorist act takes place but rather to the origin of the individuals or groups responsible for it. For example, the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was an act of domestic terrorism, but the attacks of September 2001 were international in nature. For the purposes of consequence management, the origin of the perpetrator(s) is of less importance than the impacts of the attack on life and property; thus, the distinction between domestic and international terrorism is less relevant for the purposes of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery than understanding the capabilities of terrorist groups and how to respond to the impacts they can generate.

Additional Information
Terrorism Backgrounder
Terrorism Factsheet
Adobe PDF Icon Terrorism (Backgrounder) -- 32 KB
Mitigation (Antiterrorism)
New Risk Management Publication Series