How Do You Save Yourself in a High-Rise Emergency?
When the twin towers of the World Trade Center were attacked and burning, many television viewers gazed in shock as people jumped through windows to escape the smoke and fire only to face a certain death. The jumpers represented more than 10 percent of the people who died in the disaster! While it is not likely that such a traumatic experience will happen again, the panic created by a fire in a tall building is not unusual and may happen anytime.
There are more than 17,000 tall buildings in North America, ranging from 10 to 100 floors. In the US, there are over 10,000 fires in these buildings each year. While most of them are small and easily extinguished, there are others where the experience is no less traumatic than the case of the World Trade Center.
Modern fire departments have aluminum, hydraulic-lift aerial ladders with a maximum length of 100 ft which means they can reach vertically not more than 80 ft from the ground. Hydraulically elevated platforms, called snorkel units, can reach vertically up to 150 ft but, when available, can rescue only a few people at a time. In October 2004, 6 people died in a relatively small Chicago fire when they were trapped by smoke on an upper floor.
Fires are not the only hazards that may call for evacuation of high-rise buildings. Despite various security measures that have been initiated during the past year, buildings are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks including explosives, as well as biological and chemical agents that can be spread in the lobby. Earthquakes sometimes cause the bottom floors to collapse trapping people above in anticipation of after-shocks.