Staying Fire Safe in a Hotel

The kids are excited.  It’s time for the long awaited trip to Grandma’s town.  Or maybe it’s that meeting or conference in an exotic city.  Holidays, vacations, business trips; they are all times when a hotel stay may be part of the equation.  Enjoyment and convenience are the first two items we hope for when we check in, but fire safety should be right behind them on the list.

Annually, there are approximately 3,900 hotel or motel fires which result in 15 deaths, 150 injuries, and $76 million in property damage.

            The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that on an annual basis, one out of every twelve hotels reports a structure fire.  They tell us that when sprinklers were present, they were effective 91% of the time.  The fires, caused mainly by smoking, cooking, malfunctioning electrical equipment, or arson, can turn a carefree trip into a night- mare.  There are a few ways to help reduce the odds of being on the bad side of the statistics. 

            Before your visit is the time to conduct the simplest and most important check of the hotel you plan to stay at, and it takes nothing more than a phone call or check of the Internet.   When making the reservation, find out if the facility has complete sprinkler protection and smoke detection.  If not, you may want to reconsider your choice.  These alone swing the pendulum of safety in your direction.

            Upon arrival, there are some additional safeguards you can check and preparations you can make.  Check the escape plan guidance, which should be on the back of the door to your room.  Go out into the hall and find the exits.  Count the number of doors between yours and the exit.  Check the exits.  Fire doors blocked open are a significant problem.  Worse yet is if you find them locked.  Make sure the exit lights are illuminated.  Report any problems you find to the front desk. 

            If the fire alarm activates during your stay, treat it as real; don’t assume it’s a false alarm.  Check the hallway and if safe to do so, use the exit route you planned.  Don’t use the elevators. These can fail, trapping occupants, and shafts can fill with smoke.  Take your room key with you, but don’t stop for your bags or possessions.

             If you can’t exit, create an area of refuge within your room.  Seal the cracks around the door with wet towels.  Don’t break the window.  Fire and smoke can enter from the outside.  Open it a crack if you need air, and hang a towel out to show the room is occupied.  Call 911 and report your situation and room number.  If smoke does begin to enter your room, stay low and get down on the floor beneath it.

            Never disable or cover the smoke detector in your room, and don’t use the sprinkler to hang your wet bathing suit or anything else.  If you break the bulb or link on the sprinkler, you’ll get a very wet surprise.  No one expects a fire when they travel, and hopefully, it will never happen to you.  With these basic safeguards and a few minutes of groundwork, you’ll be much better prepared if a fire does strike.

Gary Ryman is the author of the novels Mayday! Firefighter Down & Fire in His Bones as well as the memoir, Fire Men: Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family.

All three books are available in paperback and ebook versions from For more information, visit

Be safe when traveling…

Choose a hotel/motel that is protected by both fire sprinklers and smoke alarms.

When you check in, ask the front desk what the fire alarm sounds like.

When you enter your room, review the escape plan posted in your room.

Take the time to find the exits and count the number of doors between your room and the exit. Make sure the exits are unlocked. If they are locked, report it to management right away.

Keep your room key by your bed and take it with you if there is a fire.

If the alarm sounds, leave right away. Close all doors behind you. Use the stairs — never use elevators during a fire.

If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.

If you can’t escape…

Shut off fans and air conditioners.

Stuff wet towels in the crack around the doors.

Call the fire department and let them know your location.

Crack the window and hang a towel out to let the fire department know the room is occupied.