Fire safety in flats and high-rise buildings

Fire safety in flats and high-rise buildings

If you live in a block of flats, it’s important for you to understand what to do in the event of a fire, whether it is inside your flat or somewhere else in the building.

What is a high-rise building and why are they different?

A high-rise building is typically a building that is 18 metres high, or six storeys or above, including the ground floor. However, much of this fire safety information can be applied to smaller blocks of flats.

High-rise buildings such as purpose-built blocks of flats and apartments are designed with fire safety as a priority and are built to delay the spread of fire.

    What to do if there is a fire inside your flat

    • You should plan and practise escaping from your flat.
    • The best way to escape is to take the normal way out – but don't use the lift if there is a fire.
    • Keep door keys where everyone you live with can find them easily.
    • Move as quickly but as safely as you can, and don’t stop to investigate or pick up valuables.
    • Close doors behind you to slow down the spread of fire and smoke.
    • Get out, stay out, call 999 as soon as you are safe to do so.

    Fire or smoke inside your flat but your escape route is not clear?

    If you can't use your planned escape route safely, it may be safer to find a ‘safe room’ in your flat and wait for the fire service to rescue you from there.

    A safe room should be as far as possible from any fire or smoke (with a window if possible).

    • A safe room should have a window that opens, and a telephone.
    • Get everyone into the safe room, close the door, and put bedding, cushions, or towels along the bottom to seal the gap.
    • Open the window for fresh air and shout “HELP, FIRE”.
    • Call 999. Be ready to describe where you are in the building and the quickest way for firefighters to reach you.
    • Think now - which room might be best for this? If possible, you need a window that can be opened easily and has a phone for calling 999. We recommend you have a phone and torch in the bedroom when you go to bed, in case there is a fire.

    What to do if there is a fire somewhere else in the building

    Purpose-built blocks of flats or maisonettes are built to contain a fire within a flat for 60 minutes.

    If your building has a ‘stay put’ policy:

    • close your windows and doors
    • call 999. Don’t assume someone else has made the call
    • follow your local news online or tune in to your local TV or radio
    • stay put unless advised by the fire service.

    Why is it safe to 'stay put' in a fire?

    It is often safer to ‘stay put’ (stay in your flat) unless your flat is being affected by fire or smoke. This is because the building is designed so that fire does not spread from where it starts. However, if you feel threatened by smoke or fire, get out and stay out.

    When you stay put in your flat, you reduce the risk of entering a smoky corridor unnecessarily and potentially being overcome by smoke. Staying put also means firefighters can tackle the fire safely and quickly without being delayed by many residents evacuating down the stairways.

    If the fire service needs to fully evacuate the building, they will knock on your door. Unnecessary evacuation can obstruct the fire service and delay them putting the fire out.

    If the advice for your building is for full evacuation

    When the alarm sounds:

    • leave your flat and close the doors behind you
    • move as quickly but as safely as you can, and don’t stop to investigate or pick up valuables
    • use the stairs to make your way out of the building - never use the lift
    • call 999 as soon as you are safe to do so - don’t assume someone else has made the call.

    Reduce the risk of a fire happening in the first place

    The best way to keep yourself and your family safe is to take action to reduce the risk of a fire happening in the first place.

    Read our top tips for reducing the risk of fire at home.

    Check you have working smoke detection

    It’s really important to have the right number of smoke alarms in the right places in your flat. You should have at least one – probably in your hallway.

    Don’t put a smoke alarm in your kitchen. It is likely to keep sounding when you cook; this will become annoying, and you may start to ignore it, or worse still, take the batteries out or remove it entirely. If the smoke alarm doesn’t work, it can’t help to save your life.

    Read more about smoke alarms, and where to put them.

    Be safety aware

    Communal corridors

    It is important to keep communal corridors free of clutter, including bikes, pushchairs, bins and mobility scooters. This is so that they are free for access and that there is nothing that could start a fire.

    Flat entrance doors

    Your flat’s front door is an essential part of the fire precautions for your building. It must be maintained as a self-closing fire door.  

    If you want to change your own flat’s door you must make sure that it meets the required standard, is installed correctly and certified.

    Fire extinguishers

    You would not usually see firefighting equipment in the communal area of flats as they do not contain anything which could catch fire.

    Riser pipes (either wet or dry) are installed in your building for the fire service to use to supply water to each floor. The pipes are usually painted red and access points are normally via a secured cabinet. It is important that any damage to this equipment is reported to the building owner, landlord, residents committee, housing provider, or managing agent as soon as you see it.

    Emergency vehicle access

    We need to get as close as possible to the entrance so it is important that access areas are kept from obstructions.

    Fire safety concerns in your building

    If you are concerned about any aspect of fire safety with your building, including questions about the type of cladding, issues with blocked exits or cluttered corridors, damaged risers, you should contact the person responsible for fire safety. This could be the owner, the landlord, the resident's committee, the housing providers or the managing agents.

    If you are not happy with the response, you can contact your Local Authority or report it to our fire safety helpdesk. Read more about how to report a fire risk.

    If you would like home fire safety advice or would like to arrange a free home safety visit please contact our home safety team on 0800 05 02 999.

    Don’t be alarmed when we arrive to fight a fire

    Don’t be alarmed by the scale of the fire service’s presence. We need a large amount of resources to get our equipment from the ground up to the floor of the fire and to protect our firefighters.

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