A Fire Escape Guide for Wheelchair Users

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are more than 8 million people who live with mobility issues over the age of fifteen. On September 11, 2001, power wheelchair user John Abruzzo escaped the 69th floor of the World Trade Center tower one building with the assistance of co-workers and first responders. The attacks on the World Trade Center towers highlighted the need to create special evacuation protocol for people with limited mobility. Below is a guide for improving your chances of evacuating your home or public building safely.

Home Preparation

Install smoke or heat detectors throughout your home. Common locations for detectors include the basement, kitchen, attic, bedroom, hallway, storage areas and garage. Also, mount personal fire extinguishers in accessible areas in your home. You will need to place them strategically for easy access and use. You can take your safety measures a step further by asking a representative from the local fire department to provide valuable details related to escape routes and potential hazards in your home.

Home Fire Prevention Tips

  • Avoid leaving the stove unattended
  • Unplug appliances that produce smoke or smell unusual
  • Replace old or damaged electrical cords
  • Avoid using appliances with exposed wires
  • Avoid wearing loose fitting clothing while cooking near an open flame
  • Avoid overusing extension cords
  • Avoid smoking in bed
  • Never leave lit cigarettes or cigars unattended
  • Avoid smoking after taking medication that causes drowsiness
  • Keep the chimney clean and checked
  • Keep space heaters located at least 3 feet from flammable items
  • Avoid keeping flammable materials in your home such as gasoline in the garage



Map Out an Escape Route

Carefully plan escape routes from different areas of your home. Fires don’t always begin in the kitchen you need to have a safe route planned if a fire breaks out in any room of the house. For example, if you are in your bedroom when a fire occurs, you will want to escape through the nearest exit, most likely the back or front door. Homes are designed differently and can provide a variety of escape routes. Remember to make your escape options easy and quick. Don’t rely on complicated tasks to help you escape. Quick and easy is your goal.

What to Do in Case a Fire Occurs

Remain calm when you hear the smoke alarm. First, you will need to be in your wheelchair and calmly find where the smoke has originated from. This can be accomplished with a quick glance down the hallway. Once you see the source of the smoke, exit through a safe route in your home. Avoid being a hero and putting out the fire. Heat and flames travel quickly you will put yourself in further danger by attempting to put out the fire on your own. Instead, focus on exiting your home safely and calling 9-1-1 for assistance.

Take the following steps if the fire has reached a level that causes you to be trapped in a room.

  • Close all doors between the fire and you
  • Use towels or clothing to fill the open space under the door to prevent smoke from entering the room
  • Call 9-1-1 to advise them about the fire. You will need to inform them of the location you are trapped inside the house.

Public Building Codes

Depending on the state you live in, building codes for newly constructed buildings include key features such as wide staircases that allow at least three fire rescue fighters to have enough room to carry a person to safety, special areas of refuge for persons with mobility impairments and safe havens that provide two-way communication with emergency personnel during the evacuation process.

Fire Safety in Public Buildings

Public buildings usually have detailed evacuation maps displayed in the lobby of each floor. Always take time to become familiar with evacuation routes when entering an unfamiliar building. If you have worked in the same building for many years, make sure you are aware of any changes to emergency routes and procedures. You can also discuss options for a special evacuation plan with your company’s human resource office.

Your goal is to develop an evacuation route from various places you visit in the building. This means you will need to create a safe exit route from your desk, office, restroom, lunch room, meeting room and any other place you visit in the building. It is wise to develop a buddy system. This is someone in your office you can contact during an emergency. It’s best to choose two people, in case one is out the day of the emergency. Keep them updated on your evacuation plan so they know exactly what is needed to assist you.

Ask for Help

Emergency situations can cause the calmest person to behave aggressively. It is often their fear that drives them as they focus on only saving their own life. Do not pay attention to these people, because there is always a person who is willing to help you along the way. Make sure you speak up and ask for help. Sometimes the kindness of strangers will get you out of the building faster than you think. You always want to be independent and stick to your evacuation plan. However, fires are unpredictable and you may have to change your plans on the spot. This is when input from others, even if they are strangers, will help you find the quickest route to safety.

As a wheelchair user, you will always want to carry a cell phone with you at all times. It is an important communication device that can save your life and provide much-needed assistance during emergencies. During a fire, always remain calm, focus on the safest and quickest exit and call for help. Remember to involve family members or co-workers in your plans as extra assistance.


←  Back to News