The Odyssey
     Some years ago I worked for a company that had a major building contract overseas at one of our military bases in the pacific. There was to be a meeting of all the disciplines for a walk of the site and the drawing up of preliminary design requirements. Several members of the electrical engineering department went overseas a few days earlier so they could spend some time touring and seeing the sights. The day before our engineering team was to fly out, we heard there was a hotel fire and many of the electrical engineers perished in the inferno. The hotel in which they stayed didn't have adequate fire safety procedures and failed to alarm its guests in a timely manner. There were many fatalities that night, but deaths the people we knew and worked with hit home extremely hard. In the end, with the loss of so many electrical engineers, we had to withdraw from the project.
     Whenever you travel, you must be vigilant of your surroundings and safety. And it isn't only at some far away destination. Several years ago I recall a disaster in Rhode Island at a night club which included an indoor fireworks display (flash-pots) which started a disastrous fire. No matter where you are and what kind of place you enter, make safety your highest concern.
     October is Fire Safety Month. Throughout the nation there will be reminders to check your home smoke detectors and replace the batteries if necessary. You will be reminded to not overload your wall plugs, and to replace frayed cords and cables. Safety at home will be drummed into your head for the next month. And rightfully so, considering the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holidays are just around the corner. But safety shouldn't be a seasonal thing and it shouldn't be something we practice only at home. This month we'll review some fire safety issues that you should consider whenever you travel, be it here at home or abroad.
     First and foremost, know before you go! Find out if the hotel or motel has smoke alarms and an automatic sprinkler system. It's okay to call the reservation desk and ask before you book your room. If they have a smoke detector but no sprinkler system, you might want to consider staying someplace else. Also, if they do have smoke detectors, make sure that they are hard-wired, single-station alarms in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 72.
     When you first arrive at your hotel, familiarize yourself with the floor layout. Where are the elevators and stairways? (In the event of a fire, elevators are to be avoided.) Know how many doors the emergency stairs are from your room and in which direction. And don't just look at how far the nearest exit is from your room; look for a secondary exit as well. A fire could block the path to the shorter exit. Locate the fire alarms on your floor and read the hotel fire evacuation plan. If one is not posted in your room, request one from the front desk.
     Most people who perish in a hotel fire do so because they are unprepared. While they could easily have saved themselves, they've often done the one thing that no one should do in such a situation. They panic. While evacuating a burning building can be a frightening experience, following a few safety recommendations can mean the difference between survival and becoming another statistic.
     There are two hotel fire scenarios you might face. The first is if the fire is in your room and the second is that the fire is in some other room, be it on your floor or on one of the other floors. Let's assume you are in a hotel that has neither smoke detector nor automatic sprinkler. While their number may be few here in America, there are many hotels in foreign countries where this may be the case. They simply do not build to the safety standards we do. Such a scenario can be especially true if you are staying in a cheaper facility.
     If the fire is in your room, get out quickly. Forget the laptop, smart-phone, and wallet. Close the door, sound the alarm and notify the front desk. Some forethought and vigilance will minimize this possibility. Don't smoke in bed and, if you do smoke, make sure all your cigarettes are completely extinguished. Watch for frayed electrical cords. If the room lights flicker when you turn them on or bump against the lamp, ask for a different room. Keep an eye on electrical appliances - irons, coffeemakers, hairdryers - and unplug them when not using them.
     You have no control over the likelihood that a fire will break out somewhere else in the hotel; our second scenario. To prepare yourself for this possibility always travel with a small pocket flashlight that has fresh batteries. Many travelers still are not aware that it is not the heat and flames that claim most victims, it is the smoke. The purpose of the flashlight, and how it is used to guide you through the thick smoke, will be covered later in this article.
     If there is a fire, whether you hear an alarm or just smell smoke, check the door before you open it. Feel the door with the back of your hand to test the temperature. If the door is cool, crack it open and be prepared to crawl to the exit. If the hallway is filled with smoke, stay low (the freshest air is near the floor) and use your flashlight. Get out of your room if you safely can and make your way to the fire exit (the stairs - never the elevator). Make sure you take your key! If the fire blocks your path, you may have to return to your room and wait for the fire department.
    If the door to your room is hot, stay put. Do not open it even to see how bad the situation may be. Seal the door with wet towels, turn off the fan, heater, and air conditioner. Call the fire department first to let them know. Give them your location. If you are not sure where the hotel is located, look for the book that hotels leave in every room that list the amenities they offer. After you call the fire department, call the front desk and let them know your predicament. When the fire department arrives, signal from your window by waving pillow case or t-shirt; use your flashlight at night. Never open the window! The window might pull air from the hallway, and your room can quickly fill with smoke.
     If the fire department arrives with a hook and ladder truck, wait until they tell you to open the window before doing so. However, be aware that most rooms over the seventh floor are too high for the ladder to reach. Stay put and let them know that you are in the room by signaling. And do not even think about jumping, even if the hotel pool looks like an easily reachable way out.
     A little preparedness can go a long way, so review these suggestions from time to time and always keep them in mind whenever you check into a hotel, be it here or abroad.
Fire Safety While Traveling