After deadly DC fire, firefighters remind residents of steps to take when smoke first starts

After an early morning fire that left two people dead inside their southwest D.C. apartment, some residents mentioned that since they’ve often heard the building’s fire alarms go off before – with no apparent emergency — they weren’t sure if Tuesday’s blaze was a real fire.

It was, and eventually hundreds of people evacuated the building, some of them racing down smoke-filled stairwells to get out. But if you live in a high rise apartment, D.C. Fire and EMS would rather you stay inside your apartment unless that’s where the fire is.

“When you hear the alarm you should very carefully check the hallway before you leave your apartment,” said Vito Maggiolo, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and EMS. “If the conditions are severe or even if there’s a lot of smoke, remember if you’re on an upper floor as you try to flee and the fire is below you, you may find a more intense environment as you go down the staircase.

“Our policy is to shelter people in place unless they’re in immediate, extreme danger,” he added. “You can always call 911 and let them know what apartment you’re in, what floor you’re in, and if you need assistance we will send firefighters up to you.”

While sheltering in place, he says you can always stuff towels in the bottom of your doorway to help prevent smoke from seeping into your unit. But if the fire is actually in your apartment, then you absolutely get out as soon as you can. Just make sure you close the doors behind you.

“Close the door to the bedroom, as you leave the apartment, close the door to the hallway,” Maggiolo said. “Those are barriers that will prevent heat and smoke from escaping and threatening other people and enlarging the fire.

“That’s one of the most important aspects of a high rise fire, is to close the door,” he said.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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