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Do You Know What to Do If There’s a Hotel Fire?

Are you sure you know what to do in case of a hotel fire? What about a hotel fire in another country? Some of the most frequent flyers in the world have gotten together to talk about different fire safety standards and procedures that could mean the difference between safety and something else. 

On April 14, 2011, a fast-moving blaze started on the ground floor of an apartment building in the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris. There were no alarms or smoke detectors or fire escapes. By the time firefighters contained the resulting inferno, 57 people were injured and five people died, four of them after desperately jumping from windows to escape the flames. Among those killed was 20-year-old American study abroad student Jasmine Jahanshahi.

Fire Safety Standards Are Different in Different Places

Jahanshahi’s death was a tragic reminder that fire safety standards are different around the world. Jahanshahi’s family founded the Jasmine Jahanshahi Fire Safety Foundation as a means to help raise awareness of the issue as well as helping to educate and equip all travelers (“but specifically students abroad,” the victims of this particular fire were studying at Sciences Po and the Sorbonne) with the tools to stay safe.

While student travelers have their own unique set of challenges, the rise of house-sharing apps such as Airbnb means travelers can’t always count on well-thought-out emergency plans at their overnight accommodations whether traveling domestically or traveling abroad.

So, What Should I Do? The Experts Weigh In

On FlyerTalk, you can find a thread on almost anything, including How to Survive a Hotel Fire. And, it’s a pretty entertaining internet hole to tumble into before your next trip. Frequent flyers (including those with expertise in fire safety) share their best advice, stories of near-catastrophic mistakes and a few words of warning in the name of fire safety for those on the road.

Be Prepared to Leave in a Hurry

“Once slept through a fire alarm at a hostel, because I thought it was an alarm clock. It was a false alarm, but I could have died because I wasn’t prepared for such an event. When I’m getting ready for bed, my things I think of is,

(A) where are my pants, shirt and shoes

(B) where is my phone, room key and wallet and

(C) where are the emergency lights, the fire alarms and the fire bells. If I were to get up at 0230 to the sound of a fire bell, will I get up, or assume it’s a false alarm and do nothing. I look in the room to see if there is a light which would go on, and if not, I look for one in the hallway.”

Waking Up in a Strange Place

While you know how to get out of your house in an emergency, what about leaving a hotel in Bangkok at night? Taking a few moments to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land could make all of the difference in an emergency. Or, as this FlyerTalker warns in quite a lot of caps:

“You open the door and drop your luggage. AT THAT VERY MOMENT, turn around and go back into the hallway to check your Exit.

“You may NEVER get another chance. Don’t go into the bathroom, open the curtains, turn on the TV, smarten your appearance, or crash out on the bed.

“I know you’re tired and you want to relax, but it’s absolutely essential … no … CRITICAL that you develop the HABIT of checking for your exit after you drop your luggage.

“It won’t take 30 seconds, and believe me, you may NEVER get another chance.”

Learn From Their Mistakes

Other survivors learned their lessons the hard way and never made the same mistakes again.

“I was in the fire at the Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas. Since then, after dumping my bags in the room, the first thing I do is check the way to the emergency stairs. I count how many paces to the fire exit, then I feel along the walls, counting how many other doors I will have to pass.

“This is because I may not be able to see and I may be crawling, so I will need to find my way by touch. In addition, I always have a small torch (flashlight) attached to my handbag at all times and I keep one on the bedside table at night.”

Keep the Windows Closed

It has been a few years since most of us learned fire safety rules in school, but a refresher on the finer points of fire safety could be a lifesaver. Something as simple as knowing to not open the window of a hotel room during an emergency could save lives.

“Many people think to open the window, however, if there is smoke outside, keep the window closed as the smoke will enter your room and suffocate you.

“My father was one of (the MANY) attorneys who worked on the infamous MGM hotel fire in Vegas and people opening the window cost many lives.”

Official Instructions

The U.S. State Department has specific fire safety advice for Americans traveling abroad. “If you are staying in a hotel, talk to the staff to be sure you know the hotel’s emergency plan for a variety of crisis events – fire, flood, electrical outage, storms, etc,” The Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends. “Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important safety and security messages and make it easier for us to locate and assist you in an emergency.

In addition to providing free-of-charge fire safety devices for students traveling abroad, the Jasmine Jahanshahi Fire Safety Foundation offers a downloadable fire safety guide. The Fire Safety Abroad: Be Aware and Prepare guide is geared to students studying overseas, but offers potentially life-saving advice for anyone traveling away from home. The foundation also has a handy reference to jurisdiction-specific emergency phone numbers for more than 30 countries.

Do you have a fire safety tip that could be a lifesaver if an emergency occurs when spending the night away from home? Flyertalkers are sharing their best advice, warnings, and tales of survival right now in the forum.

travellingmip February 17, 2020

I haven't yet fully read the forum post on the topic yet. Things I do when I check in is ask what the emergency number is in the country, and when I get to my room take a photo of the floor plan on the back of the room door.

discountsae January 17, 2020

This post on the FlyerTalk forums is also excellent about hotel fire safety: https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travelbuzz/289078-how-survive-hotel-fire.html