Safety 101: Out of Town and In Harm’s Way – Be a Trail Blazer in “Fire-Safe” Travel Thinking

December 2, 2016

By Det. Trent Koppel

It’s 3 a.m., you’re in another city on business, and you’re awakened suddenly by fire alarms sounding. Chances are, you didn’t expect this.  After checking in to your hotel room at the end of a long travel day, you probably fell into bed exhausted.  Now you’re groggy, bleary-eyed, and probably not sure where the nearest escape to safety is located.

Take that a step further, and think about how your overnight meeting guests in the hotel are affected as well. They’re probably just as “alarmed” and unsure of escape routes.

Too often, we become complacent and leave our safety to chance, or in the hands of others.  Here are some hints to help you keep fire and evacuation safety top of mind when you and your meeting group are out of town.

When It Happens

When instinct kicks in during times of emergency, “Where do I run” is likely the first question you’ll ask yourself.  Especially if you’re in an unfamiliar hotel, the sensation is one you won’t soon forget. If you’ve never experienced a fire alarm going off, consider yourself lucky.  But remember, there always should be a plan in the back of your mind.  According to the Quincy, Mass.-based National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 3,250 hotel and motel structure fires each year.  They result in an average of nine civilian deaths, 120 injuries, and $84 million in property damage annually.  Those are serious numbers to consider.

The first time evacuation concerns really sank in for me was when staying with my family on the top floor of a hotel in Costa Rica.  Our room faced the ocean, and in the middle of the night, I suddenly began to think about the devastation that a recent tsunami had caused in Sri Lanka. As my son and daughter lay sleeping in the bed next to me and my husband, I began to wonder if I’d be able to save them from a flood, fire or other catastrophe in an unfamiliar place.  After my initial fears passed, my police officer logic kicked in, and I began to create a safety plan.

How to Handle It

I’ve compiled a few hotel fire safety and security tips you can share with your meeting attendees. When staying at a hotel, try to perform some simple but significant observations that will make you a more informed temporary resident, and safer during your stay.

  • First, don’t put off discussing with your guests what to do in the event of a fire or other emergency. You must figure out where your attendees can meet outside if there’s an evacuation, just like you would do with your family at home. Is there a courtyard or parking lot away from the building where evacuees can gather?
  • Ask the hotel desk agent when you check in if there are printed materials explaining escape routes and safe meeting areas.  Having a plan in place will give your guests greater peace of mind.
  • As you walk down the hallway to your room, observe whether the building has a sprinkler system.  Also locate each lighted exit sign leading to a stairwell or door.
  • In fire emergencies, the stairwell is your safest avenue for exit because the location of a blaze is often unkown.
  • Something as simple as remembering what floor you’re on can mean the difference between life and death!  In a commercial building, spaces between floors are generally 12 to 15 feet.  Most fire department ladders are between 75 feet and 100 feet tall.  Are you on a floor the ladder can reach?  If not, look for other means of egress ahead of time.
  • If you have physical limitations that make stairs difficult to use, ask the front desk agent for a room on a lower floor.
  • If your desk agent doesn’t write your room number on your keycard sleeve, do it yourself.
  • If you do have to evacuate, help others escape with you, and leave personal belongings behind.  Objects can be replaced; people can’t.
  • When you check in, note the wall-mounted locations of AEDs (automated external defibrillators).  These devices, designed for “civilian” use, can save a life if someone experiences a heart attack during a fire or other emergency.
  • If you have taken the time to learn CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, that’s a plus. Having what you need, when you need it, will do you and your guests a world of good in time of need.

If you still find yourself caught off guard in a hotel fire or other emergency, always listen for instructions given by the facility’s employees. Most hotels have an intercom system to relay messages or give instructions.

Finally, NEVER ignore a sounding alarm, even if you think it might be just a drill.  Too often guests discount alarms as false, and rob themselves of precious minutes they need to escape.

(Some information courtesy of Fire Captain Eric Hall, Des Peres Fire Department, Des Peres, Mo.)

About the author

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