The following information is a general guide for high-rise buildings. Since each building is unique, you should learn the approved “Fire Safety Plan” specifically designed for your building.

Owners: What services can Toronto Emergency Services provide for your building

The Ontario Building Code defines “high-rise buildings” as those being seven storeys or more in height.

During a fire emergency, never attempt to leave a building by an elevator. Heat can activate elevator call buttons, sending the elevator to the fire floor, where dense smoke may interfere with the elevator’s light-sensitive eye and prevent the door from closing. Also, you may become trapped in the elevator if water from fire fighting operations creates a power failure. In addition, fire fighters require designated elevators to carry them and their equipment to the floor below the fire.

In reacting to a fire in a high building, you must decide on two options:

  • Do I leave the building to safety? or
  • Is it safer to stay where I am?

  • Alert everyone in your apartment or office.
  • Leave immediately. Close, but don’t lock, all doors behind you.
  • Sound the fire alarm by activating a red manual pull station on the fire floor (when safe to do so).
  • Call 9-1-1. Never assume that someone else has already done so. Make sure you give your name, the correct address and location of the fire.
  • Use the exit stairwells. Don’t use elevators. Don’t return until firefighters declared the apartment or office safe.

If you choose to leave the building:

  • Leave as soon as possible
  • Before opening any door, feel the door handle and the door itself, starting from the bottom, moving to the top. If the door is not hot, open it slightly.
  • If you see or smell smoke, or feel or hear air pressure or a hot draft, close the door quickly.
  • If the corridor is free of fire or smoke, take your keys, close the door behind you, and leave the building by the nearest exit stairwell, again closing all doors after you.
  • If you encounter smoke in a stairwell, consider taking an alternate stairwell. Be sure to crawl low under smoke. If the alternate is also contaminated with smoke, return to your suite.
  • When you are safely outside call 9-1-1. Never assume that someone else has already done so. Make sure you give your name, the correct address and location of the fire.

If you cannot leave your apartment/office or have returned to it because of fire or heavy smoke:

  • Close, but don’t lock any doors for possible entry by firefighters.
  • Seal all cracks where smoke can enter by using wet towels or sheets. Seal mail slots, transoms and ventilation outlets as necessary (a roll of wide duct tape is handy).
  • Move to the balcony or to the most protected room and partially open a window for air. Close the window if smoke enters.
  • Keep low to the floor. Heat and toxic gases rise.
  • Signal firefighters by waving a white sheet or towel.
  • Wait to be rescued. Remain calm. Don’t panic or jump.
  • Listen for instructions or information from authorized personnel over the building’s internal speaker system.

The Toronto Fire Services recommends a high-rise survival kit for tenants of high buildings, readily available if they become trapped during a fire. You can purchase the following list of items for less than $50. Having these items available for emergency use may improve your chances of surviving a fire.

  • Wet towel – Place at the base of a door.
  • Duct tape – Tape over door and vent openings.
  • Foil wrap – Use to cover vent openings.
  • Whistle – Use to signal for help.
  • Flashlight – Use in case of power failure, smoke, or to signal for help.
  • Bright-coloured cloth – Hang up in a window, or on a balcony, to identify your location.
  • Ink marker – Use for messages on cloth, door or windows.
  • Cotton bedsheet – If smoke is heavy in your room, soak the bed sheet with water and make a tent near an open window.
  • Washcloth – Place the wet cloth over your mouth and nose to aid breathing in smoke-filled areas.
  • Fire safety plan – Have a copy of your building’s emergency procedures available.
  • Plastic pail with lid – Use for storing survival equipment. (Fill with water during a fire)

High-rise buildings are designed to be fire-safe. But, because they may contain many people, and because of the building’s tremendous size, emergency response is challenging with significant potential for major incidents.

Due to equipment limitations, firefighters cannot rescue people from an outside balcony or window above the seventh floor. Also, a rooftop helicopter rescue is too dangerous. Firefighters must do interior firefighting and rescue tactics.

  • Fire-resistant construction
    High buildings are designed to be more fire-safe than an average single-family dwelling. Floors and ceilings are constructed with fire-resistant materials and are separated into fire compartments. The compartments act as barriers to resist fire from spreading.
  • Fire alarm system
    High buildings contain a fire alarm system designed to alert occupants when activated. Types of fire alarm devices include smoke detectors, thermal detectors and sprinkler flow switches. If you discover a fire, immediately activate a red manual pull station near a stairwell and leave the floor. This will identify the specific location at the lobby alarm panel to responding firefighters. Your fire alarm system is not connected to the Fire Services. You must always call 9-1-1. Make sure you give your name, the correct address and location of the fire.
  • Stairway fire escapes
    High buildings have interior fire-separated stairwell shafts. Signs should be posted within stairwells indicating which floor level you are on, and also identify the nearest crossover floors, if certain floors are not accessible. If you encounter smoke while descending a stairwell, you can crossover to an alternate stairwell. Keep stairwell doors closed at all times to preserve the safety of these escape stairs.
  • Interior water supplies
    High buildings contain a standpipe system, that is an interior water supply system of fire hose cabinets on each floor for use by firefighters. Most buildings also have portable fire extinguishers in these cabinets.

“Fire in your High-Rise” pamphlet

“Fire in your High-Rise” pamphlet in multiple languages