Hostel fire safety
It's 3am. You're sleeping off a few beers and great party in a hostel. Suddenly you're woken by screams, panic, flames, no lights and thick smoke. In the next two minutes you will either survive or die. Would you know what to do?
What to do in a fire
STEP 1: Don't panic. Take two seconds to think. You're going to be scared, but you need to stay calm to get out alive.
STEP 2: Feel the wall/door with the back of your hand. If it's very hot don't go out - there is a fire behind it
If you can't leave the room
Consider lowering yourself out of the window:
- You should survive a two-floor jump onto tar/concrete. Anything higher is questionable;
- Ideally throw a mattress out first to land on. Don't launch yourself out of the window, but hang down by your arms before dropping to the ground to minimise your fall. Bend your knees when you land;
- Don't break the window until you're about to jump as you can't stop smoke coming in afterwards.
If a window jump is impossible:
- Fill the bath/basin with water and use dampened bed sheets, towels or clothes wedged in door cracks to stop smoke entering. Wet the walls and doors. No water? Pee on them!
- Then signal to rescuers from the window using a torch or a white sheet.
If you can leave the room:
- Take the room key with you if it's to hand. You may need it to rush back in;
- Smoke rises and so will be high, filling down to the floor. Keep low or better still crawl where the oxygen is;
- Stay close to the walls to avoid panicking guests and to count doors to the fire exit;
- Don't use the lift - that's an oven you don't want to be trapped in;
- Don't re-enter under any circumstances until you've been told it's safe by the fire brigade - it's better to lose a backpack than your life.
Is the exit corridor filled with smoke?
Don't try and cover your mouth and run through it unless you can guarantee a maximum five second clear run to the outside (if you have walked the route when you checked in you will know if you can make it or not). If the smoke gets in your eyes they will shut and not open again. If you get trapped the smoke will then kill you, so don't try and beat it. Head back to your room.
Hostel fire safety check list
Before you check-in, make sure you've checked this lot out:
- Ask if the hostel has fire alarms and smoke detectors. Consider staying elsewhere if not (do not take a room above the second floor if no fire alarm system);
- Ask where ground floor fire exits are and work out how to get to them from your room;
- Walk the fire exit routes and check the final exit doors before unpacking or going out for a beer;
- Ideally sleep in a room below the second floor with a burglar bar-less window;
- Do a quick count of the doors from your room to the emergency exit. Note if its left or right out of your room to the exit. If you turn the wrong way out of the room in a panic it may be your last mistake;
- Sleep with a torch close to hand, vital not just for when you want to pee at 4am;
- For extra peace of mind consider buying a travel smoke detector.
Things to look out for in hostels:
- Lack of fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, alarms, notices, emergency 'route maps';
- Fire exits blocked with beds, junk, storage;
- People smoking late at night near obvious fire hazards.
By Tom Griffiths, Founder of gapyear.com.
Hostel fires: the facts
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