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High Rise Safety Important for More Tennesseans Every Year

Friday, August 29, 2014 | 05:00am

NASHVILLE – A steadily increasing number of Tennesseans live or work in multi-story or high-rise buildings, structures for human occupancy more than 75 feet above the lowest level. To protect personal health and safety in these buildings, residents need to be aware of unique challenges associated with height and the ability of first responders to provide services in an emergency.

“It’s important for any person living in a multi-story building to be prepared for emergencies and to have a plan for surviving,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH.  “Evidence suggests people with a plan, who have thought it through, are more likely to have a better outcome.”

People living or working in multi-story buildings should have conversations with their building management about safety measures and evacuation exercises. Because large numbers of people may need to leave quickly, practicing an evacuation can prevent injuries and save lives. High-occupancy buildings should have people on each floor designated to assist with emergency evacuations.

“While sprinklers may help confine a fire to one floor, residents should understand fire may still spread and firefighting tactics can be limited in high-rise fires,” said Julie Mix McPeak, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. “Staff from our Fire Marshal’s Office work across Tennessee to ensure safe living environments but residents can’t rely solely on others to protect them. Every person in every home needs to have a plan to protect themselves during and after an emergency.” 

Some tips for what to do in case of a fire in a high-rise building:

  • Call 911 immediately and provide your building address, floor, area and type of fire.
  • Keep and use a larger-capacity fire extinguisher in the kitchen area.
  • Restrict the fire by shutting doors.
  • Do not use elevators to evacuate the building; use the stairs.
  • Pull the fire alarm if there is one on your floor.
  • If you hear an alarm, don’t assume it is a drill; evacuate quickly.
  • Bang on doors to notify others on your floor.
  • If the fire is not in your unit, feel the door before you open it to detect heat. If it is hot and you cannot exit, place wet towels against the bottom of the door and telephone for help.
  • If you are caught in smoke, stay near the floor and crawl if the smoke is heavy and cover your nose with a towel or cloth.

Tornadoes, bomb threats and medical emergencies present their own challenges for multi-story and high-rise residents. A person receiving a bomb threat should immediately call 911 and notify the building manager. If a suspicious package or object is found, it should not be touched nor should anyone other than a trained professional attempt to remove it. First responders can provide guidance on whether to evacuate the building.

To be prepared for tornadoes residents should know, in advance, a safe place to shelter away from windows. Stairwells on the north side of the building may be your best choice. Drapes should be closed on outside windows and valuable documents put into drawers or safes.

If an occupant or visitor has a medical emergency, call 911 and provide exact location information.  Have someone meet first responders at the ground level to escort them quickly to the person’s location. When calling 911, provide as much information as possible about the person’s condition and prior medical issues.

“In rare cases such as flooding, it may difficult to evacuate a building,” said David Purkey, interim director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. “Residents should prepare to shelter in place and have food and water to sustain themselves for at least three days. It’s important to store food and water as exit from the building may not be immediately possible in extreme emergencies.”

“We encourage everyone living or working in a multi-story or high-rise building to have an evacuation plan and to practice it at least once a year,” Dreyzehner said. “Residents should also consider having a network of ‘floor buddies’ to assist each other with evacuations and other emergencies. A little preparation goes a long way in protecting health and saving lives and we all should think about what could happen in the building where we live.”

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments.  Learn more about TDH services and programs at

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