The high risk of high-rises

A catastrophic fire in an apartment building across the pond has shown a bright light on orders given to people in tall structures when a blaze erupts. Specifically scrutinized is the long-accepted and seemingly counterintuitive rule to stay in place and far away from the stairs.

Residents of London’s 24-story Grenfell Tower heard those demands after the fire broke out on a lower floor. That strategy fell tragically short as the flames spread and soon engulfed the building.

Trapped residents had limited options. Some jumped to their deaths rather than be burned alive. Others threw their children to the safety of bystanders below.

When the flamed were extinguished, officials announced 58 people missing and presumed dead.

In the face of that tragedy, fire experts in the United States and United Kingdom claim that “staying put” is still the best advice. One qualification: the building must have fire-suppression protections that include

  • Multiple stairwells
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Fireproof doors
  • Flame-resistant construction materials

Ignoring the survivalist instinct of escaping is difficult. However, Robert Solomon of the National Fire Protection Association, a U.S.-based organization that studies fire safety worldwide people should know about “features and redundancies in buildings that you can count on, and you can stay put.”

High-rises in most major cities enjoy detailed building codes and fire safety rules that require several layers of protections in tall buildings. While rules and advice varies, experts assert that the “stay in place” directive should be applied to buildings of 15 stories or more.

Floors above and below the fire are usually evacuated. Unless told otherwise, other residents are ordered to stay put and use damp towels to block cracks beneath doors. Questions should be directed at 911 operators. That approach helps avoid repeated and unnecessary where panicked people put themselves in unsafe situations, specifically an equally deadly stairwell choked with smoke.

Grenfell in London may have lacked many of the safety redundancies to protect people who listened to orders and stayed put. Some claim that the building had one stairwell and lacked working sprinklers. Also, the building itself may have been constructed with less expensive and more flammable materials.

That so-called “shelter” may have actually been a death trap.

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Steven H. Dorne

Attorney Steven H. Dorne

Attorney Steven H. Dorne is an accomplished lawyer who practices in state and federal courts in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He brings more than 30 years of experience and a long record of success to each case. His law practice is distinguished by careful preparation and thorough analysis of each case...

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