Are high-rise apartments as safe as they can be should there be a fire?

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 17:47:05-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A heartbreaking fire in New York City has people asking questions. Are high-rise apartments as safe as they can be, should there be a fire?

Seventeen people died over the weekend when a fire in one unit sent smoke throughout the Bronx high-rise. The Medical Examiner said all seventeen people, eight of them children, who lost their lives, died of smoke inhalation.

“It is not those orange flames that kill. It is the smoke,” said James Harris, Chief of the Community Relations Division in the Detroit Fire Department.

Harris works to educate the public about how to prevent and survive fires. He says people often don’t understand just how important it is that fire doors in stairwells or by elevators not be blocked so that they can close properly.

Residents who live in Detroit’s Lafayette Towers tell 7 Action News the fire in New York made them feel lucky. They survived a fire in September, even though many residents complained they didn’t hear fire alarms before they saw smoke. A Detroit City report showed that the city after investigating told the property owner fire alarms needed to be upgraded. It is one example of a problem city fire inspectors work to find.

“There are over 125 high rises in the city,” said Shawn Battle, Detroit Fire Marshall.

Battle says every year the city’s team of fourteen fire inspectors and six fire prevention captains inspect every single high rise. High rises are prioritized because the buildings themselves contain some of the fire-fighting equipment. They have systems to deliver water to fires should there ever be one in the building. Firetrucks, after all, can only reach so high.

“The ladder, it goes up only about 100 feet. We can access only about six or seven stories due to the height of the floors,” said Battle.

If you live in a high rise and suspect a fire, even floors away, the message is don’t hesitate. Call for help. Go to the stairs and get out. Close the fire door behind you.

“Minutes count. Seconds count. Get low and get out,” said Harris.

If you suspect something is not safe in your building officials recommend you call your fire marshall or building department and report it.