Safety Awareness Guide

Perhaps nothing is as devastating as fire out of control. Fire can kill, disable, and completely disrupt people’s lives. Fire can ruin businesses and destroy livelihoods. According to the US Fire Administration, 20 percent of fires in the United States occur in apartments.

This training is provided to help equip you with the information you need to significantly reduce the possibility of fire occurring in your home or apartment. If you have questions pertaining to any information contained in this manual, contact the Elmwood Park Fire Prevention Bureau at 708-452-3934.


The most important aspect of fire safety is getting everyone out quickly and safely. All exit corridors, doors, and stairways must be safely maintained at all times.

  • Keep stairways free of obstructions at all times. Anything which may render the stairway unusable should be kept away from stairs. Propane barbecue grills, motorcycles, and combustible materials should not be stored under stairs.
  • If there are interior corridor systems, ongoing maintenance is necessary.
    1. Keep all storage and obstructions out of corridors.
    2. Maintain and test emergency lighting monthly. Check for burned out bulbs, low and dead batteries.
    3. Maintain exit signs. Replace burned out bulbs as soon as possible.
    4. Fire doors along the corridor should be maintained self-closing, self-latching (especially laundry and utility rooms) and not propped open. Properly maintained fire doors can hold back fire and smoke from the corridor, allowing tenants time to get out.
    5. Post evacuation plans in common areas of the complex. Each plan must indicate two exits from each area and a safe place for everyone to congregate. Provide evacuation information to new tenants regarding procedures to be followed if the fire alarm is activated.
  • All floor levels are required to have two ways out of every sleeping room.
    1. All sleeping rooms below the forth floor are required to have an openable window for escape or rescue.
    2. All floors above the first story used for human occupancy are required to have two separate exits, one of which may be an exterior fire escape built to the (BOCA) National Fire Prevention Code.

      Exception #1: In all occupancies, second stories with an occupant load of ten or less may have one exit.

      Exception #2: An exit ladder device may be used in lieu of a fire escape if the building does not exceed three floors in height. It must be built to Uniform Building Code standards.


It is very important that address numbers are easily seen from the street to assist emergency personnel in quickly locating the appropriate address.

  • The complex address numbers should be at least six inches in height, contrast with the background, and be visible from the street.
  • Post apartment numbers conspicuously, contrasting with background, and at least three inches in height.


Fire alarms are designed to notify residents of a fire in time to safely evacuate a building. Building managers should consider providing residents with information to assist them in planning their evacuation. Keep fire alarm systems in proper operating condition at all times. This can be accomplished by utilizing the following guidelines:

Complete annual confidence testing and maintenance by qualified personnel is mandatory for all fire alarm systems. The results are to be sent to the Fire Prevention Bureau of the Elmwood Park Fire Dept. where they will be kept on file. This includes, but is not limited to, testing all devices, cleaning all smoke detectors, checking battery levels, etc. Documentation may be requested by insurance underwriters seeking verification that reasonable efforts are being made to maintain the system in good working order.

Note: A trouble condition, indicated on the alarm panel by a yellow light, can be caused by numerous conditions. This situation requires contacting qualified service personnel to troubleshoot and correct the problem.

False alarms, besides being annoying, can cause residents to become “desensitized” to the alarm and possibly to disregard it. Proper maintenance can help avoid this situation. Occasionally, manual pull stations are maliciously pulled. If this occurs frequently, contact the Elmwood Park Fire Prevention Bureau for assistance. Fines for malicious false alarms can range from $100 to $500. SMOKE ALARM ADVICE

Smoke alarms are the only tool that gives people a chance to wake up in a fire situation. Having enough time to get out is usually adequate when smoke alarms are placed in correct locations throughout the building. A fire must be discovered at a very early stage to insure escape for everyone from the building.

When you realize that non-related people share walls and floors with each other, you will also acknowledge that tenants generally have no control over their neighbors habits. One person may be a very messy individual, with poor smoking and housekeeping habits. This person is much more likely to have a fire than a person who is neat and takes an active role in keeping their apartment fire safe.

With this in mind, you can see that the messy individual is putting their neighbors lives at risk, with their careless lifestyle. Since landlords have little control over the tenants habits, working smoke alarms and proper exits become the only common denominator for fire safety, between the tenants. Landlords and property managers are the people that can make a difference for the conscientious tenant.

To do your part, the fire department wants to see smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside every sleeping room, and common areas like living rooms, common halls, every level of the apartment and laundry rooms. This is what is required in every newly built or remodeled (improvements over $1,000) residential occupancy.

Existing apartments, according to BOCA, are required to have smoke alarms outside all sleeping rooms, on each floor level of the apartment, and common halls of the building. Spacing in halls is 15 feet from the ends and every 30 feet after that.

The only problem with this is, if a person sleeps with their door closed (as fire departments recommend) and a fire starts in that sleeping room without a smoke alarm, the person sleeping in that room will be overcome with smoke before the smoke alarm outside the room activates.

Young children who are curious about fire, usually use their bedroom to experiment with matches and lighters. Loose combustibles next to space heaters, candles, cigarettes, and baseboard heaters are other reasons why fires start in bedrooms.

Please add another smoke alarm to every sleeping room, and if the landlord chooses not to provide beyond the minimum required by code, the tenant is encouraged to purchase additional smoke alarms that become their personal property. If the landlord does not provide the required number of smoke alarms, ask the landlord or property manager to do so. If the change isn’t made, contact your local fire department for help.

Remember, smoke alarms are required to be working when the tenant moves in. After that it becomes the tenants responsibility to maintain them with fresh batteries when needed while they live there. Beyond that it is highly recommended for the landlord or property manager to change the battery whenever a tenant moves out. Offering the tenants a fresh battery annually, also has shown to keep the number of dead smoke alarms at a much lower percentage.

The tenant must not remove the battery for any reason. If the battery starts to chirp every few minutes, do not remove the old battery until you have a new battery in your hand. Many smoke alarms are forgotten about if the chirping battery is removed before a new one is in hand. Don’t wait, as the low battery warning will only last a few days before it goes dead completely. Change all batteries at least once a year.

The ideal situation for an apartment building is to have wired-in smoke alarms with battery backup. The common areas of the building should be interconnected and the individual rooms would not be interconnected. This way, if a fire was to start in the basement, all common area hall smoke alarms would activate.

A battery operated smoke alarm that works well in a small apartment features a hush button to silence nuisance alarms. Don’t confuse this button with the test button, as the hush model has both.

You may have never experienced a fire first hand. This means only that it hasn’t happened yet. By making your home as fire safe as possible and having a fire escape plan for the building, you are helping to lessen the likelihood of a fire and insuring that all people in the building get out safely if there is a fire.

Landlords are required to provide working smoke alarms in every rental unit when the tenant moves in. They are required to be mounted on the ceiling or wall at a point centrally located in the corridor or area giving access to each separate sleeping area. Where sleeping rooms are on an upper level, the detector shall be placed at the center of the ceiling directly above the stairway. Detectors shall be installed in basements of dwelling units having stairways which open from the basement into the dwelling. Detectors shall sound an alarm audible in all sleeping areas of the dwelling unit in which they are located. It needs to be loud enough to wake the person when they are asleep with their door closed. Additional detectors may be necessary to accomplish this. Batteries need to be changed at least once a year and it is recommended that batteries are changed when the tenant moves out. A maintenance plan that involves the owner and tenant is what is needed.


Fire sprinkler systems are the most effective means of controlling fires, minimizing fire spread and damage caused by smoke and fire. Sprinkler heads are strategically placed throughout apartment living areas. Activated by heat, only those heads near the fire will discharge water. Fire sprinkler systems do require regular testing and maintenance.

  • Testing and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems
    1. Fire sprinkler systems require at least annual testing and maintenance by a qualified contractor.
    2. Standards for testing and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems are outlined in NFPA pamphlet 13A.
  • Central station monitoring

    If the sprinkler system has 100 or more sprinkler heads, the system is required to be monitored by an alarm monitoring company for water flow and tamper. Tamper switches must be attached to the control valves. These switches will send a signal to the alarm monitoring company to notify them that someone is turning a valve.

  • If the fire sprinkler system has less than 100 sprinkler heads, lock sprinkler system control valves in the “open” position to avoid tampering by unauthorized persons.


Fire extinguishers, when operated by a person knowledgeable in their use can significantly reduce fire damage. Training is essential. If you have a fire extinguisher available, be sure it is a Class ABC extinguisher, with a testing laboratory label. Use an extinguisher only if . . .

  1. The fire department is being called. (9-1-1)
  2. The building is being evacuated. Activate fire alarm, if available.
  3. You know you have a 2A-10BC extinguisher and already know how to operate it.
  4. The fire is small and contained in the area where it started.
  5. You can fight the fire with your back to an exit.

If any of these is not true, get out immediately and dial 9-1-1.

Extinguishers are required to be installed in common halls or outside so no one has to travel more than 75 feet to reach an extinguisher. The extinguisher should be mounted so its top is not more than 54 inches above the floor.

Training information pertaining to fire extinguishers is available from the Elmwood Park Fire Prevention Bureau.

Maintenance:Keep fire extinguishers in good working order at all times. Be sure they are mounted in conspicuous, accessible locations. Annual servicing by qualified personnel and monthly inspection by maintenance personnel is required.


Fire lanes are designed to provide direct access for emergency activities and emergency vehicles. Most frequently, they are used for fire apparatus during medical emergencies. When fire lanes are blocked by vehicles, a delay in receiving emergency assistance may occur. In a fire or medical emergency, seconds count. Proper signage is very important to enforce no parking in the fire lane. The police department will cite vehicles illegally parked and may assist apartment managers with enforcement. Contact Elmwood Park Fire Prevention for information on signage wording and placement.


  • Learn CPR. Contact the American Red Cross.
  • Place 9-1-1 stickers, your address and phone number, and emergency numbers on or near the phone.
  • When dialing 9-1-1, be sure to answer all the dispatchers’ questions and follow their directions. Speak slowly and stay calm. Stay on the phone until instructed to hang up.
  • Provide specific information about where the emergency is taking place. For example, the building number, apartment number, nearest entrances, which pool, etc.
  • To direct emergency personnel to the scene, turn on an outside light and, if available, send someone out to meet them.
  • Unlock gates or doors leading to the apartment so firefighters can make entry.


Many water-related incidents occur each year. These frequently involve young children, but adults can also be victims. Water-related incidents include not only drowning, but near drowning, which can leave the victim severely brained damaged. Also, diving from other than designated areas can cause head and spinal cord injuries if the victim strikes his/her head on the bottom. Permanent paralysis can result. Alcohol consumption may precipitate water-related incidents by impairing judgement.

  • Adults, as well as children, should never swim alone. Children must always be directly supervised by an adult.
  • Provide approved life-saving equipment, such as a pole with a hook or a styrofoam ring, in the pool area.
  • Persons supervising others should know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Interior perimeter pool fences should be installed. Fences should be at least 4 1/2 feet in height, with self-closing and self-latching gates, which should be checked frequently. Vertical bars should not be spaced more than four inches apart.
  • Keep pool area free of toys and other objects that might attract children.
  • Keep tables and chairs away from the outside of the interior perimeter fence, so children cannot climb over the fence by using furniture or other objects.
  • Do not allow pets in the pool area when young children are present.
  • Post pool rules conspicuously and enforce them. Suggested rules include:
    1. Children must always be directly supervised by a responsible adult.
    2. Rules addressing the consumption of alcoholic beverages should be considered.
    3. Roughhousing is not allowed.
    4. Dive only from the diving board, not from the side of the pool.
    5. Gates must be closed after entering or exiting the pool area; never prop them open.
    6. Glass containers are not allowed in the pool area.
    7. Buggies and strollers should be kept away from in ground pools.
  • It is recommended a telephone be near the pool, with 9-1-1 posted for emergencies.



Pool chemicals:

Store pool chlorine and muriatic acid separately in a well-ventilated area.

Flammable and combustible liquids:

Store gasoline in approved safety cans only. Do not exceed five gallons. Place caps tightly on container. It is recommended that flammable and combustible liquids be stored in a well-ventilated area, away from open flame (i.e. gas water heaters and other ignition sources).

Combustible and flammable liquids stored in excess of ten gallons, must be stored in an approved flammable liquid storage cabinet. Contact Elmwood Park Fire Prevention for cabinet specifications.


Any structure equipped with an automated sprinkler system, elevator, commercial or industrial buildings, or pool shall have a knox box. A knox box is a vault in which the keys to the structure are stored. The box is usually mounted to the right of the front door. Applications for this program are available through the Bureau of Fire Prevention.


Heating and ventilation units require regular service. Develop and use preventative maintenance programs for all mechanical equipment. Keep motors free of grease and dust. Check filters regularly and change them when necessary. Make sure fresh air returns/vents are kept clean and open to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.


A laundry room is another area of fire hazard. Lint and combustible debris can accumulate behind the dryer, and can ignite easily when heated.

  • Clean dryer lint screens after each use.
  • Dryer vents should be continuous to the outside.
  • Clean dryer and washer motors as needed to eliminate grease and lint accumulation.
  • Gas vents for water heaters and dryers should be maintained in good repair and continuous to the outside.


Locate dumpsters away from buildings. Maintain a five (5) foot separation from combustible construction and eaves. The intent is that in the event of a fire in the dumpster, the fire may be contained to the dumpster and not spread to adjacent buildings.


Storage of combustibles in furnace rooms, electrical rooms and mechanical rooms is not allowed. Fire Departments see situations where wood, cardboard, paper, plastic, clothes, etc., are stored or discarded wherever the people in the building can find room. This includes inside the rooms where sources of ignition are most common. Most often there is no order to these articles and the increased fire load from unnecessary accumulations of combustibles adds to and increases the likelihood of a fire.

If a furnace is in a large open basement where storage is needed, a one hour fire separation can be built around the furnace that includes 2×4 inch stud walls with 5/8 inch Type X sheetrock on both sides of the walls. Proper venting needs to be included, so we insist that the Building Department be involved with approved plans and a building permit before we will accept the separation.

Storage rooms and storage areas need to be kept in an orderly manner, with thought given to need, quantity, order and location. Many people use areas under stairs for storage. This is not allowed as means of egress can not be put in jeopardy in a fire.

Remember that people have a need for storage, so in an effort to accommodate this need, use common sense by using designated areas, limiting the amount, and getting rid of combustibles that are not needed and add unnecessary fire load to the building.


Many apartment fires are caused by electrical problems. These include improper use of extension cords, damaged flexible cords, overloaded circuits, and defective appliances.

Electrical installations and wiring throughout the home or apartment should be installed by a qualified electrician, in accordance with the National Electrical Code.

Extension cords: Do not use these as a replacement for permanent electrical wiring. Extension cords are designed for temporary use only. They should be kept free from damage, and the wiring size should be appropriate for the amperage of the appliance it is supplying. Use only UL listed cords.

Flexible cords: Maintain flexible cords to appliances (i.e. lamps, toasters, etc.) in good condition and place them where they are not subject to damage. Replace damaged, frayed, dried, or cracked cords.

Overloaded circuits: These can occur when too many appliances are plugged into one circuit, exceeding the capacity of the wiring, heating the wiring, and possibly starting a fire. Never plug in more appliances than the receptacle will accept. Two plugs are usually allowed in a typical household receptacle.

Never allow tenants to run extension cords from one apartment to another to supply power to an apartment without electricity.


Use only enough charcoal lighter to start the fire. Keep the flame low. Never use gasoline to start the fire.

Keep the grill lid closed when cooking or waiting for charcoal to properly heat.

When cooking, the grill should be constantly attended.

Have an approved fire extinguisher close by and know how to use it.

Let coals cool overnight or wet the ashes thoroughly prior to disposal. Dispose of ashes by placing them into a metal container with a tight-fitting metal lid.

Keep matches, lighters, and combustible liquids out of reach and out of sight of children.

Do not use or store barbecue grills on common balconies used for exiting.

The use of any cooking device on balconies is strictly prohibited.


(LPG/Propane Use and Storage/Natural Gas)

It is strongly recommended that LPG cylinders (such as barbecues) not be used or stored inside buildings or on balconies, but preferably in a secured shaded area outside, away from building openings and stairs. If a cylinder leaks or vents, flammable vapors may travel inside buildings.

Check rubber “O” rings and supply hose every time the cylinder is filled.

Protect natural gas meters and piping from damage by vehicles.


The information provided on this page, regarding fire and life safety, is intended to raise your awareness of safety issues and assist you in recognizing potential problems. To supplement the information in this manual, the Elmwood Park Fire Department is available for use in employee and tenant training. On-going education and training is essential.

As a manager or landlord, you have the ability to significantly reduce safety hazards by being observant and by following up on concerns forwarded to you by tenants.

Tenant Complaints

Occasionally complaints are received and evaluated by the Elmwood Park Fire Prevention Bureau. The first question asked is, “Have you notified your apartment manager or landlord?” If not, it is usually suggested they notify the manager prior to any intervention by the Elmwood Park Fire Department.

If fire department intervention occurs, an inspector will first discuss the concern with the manager and perform an inspection to evaluate the situation. If a problem exists, the inspector will then present recommended solutions to the manager and agree on a reasonable time frame for correction.

Manager Complaints/Landlord Complaints

If the tenant is maintaining an unsafe condition, the fire department, when requested by the manager or landlord, will determine if intervention is called for and the type of intervention necessary. Often, as a manager or landlord, the lease may allow you the ability to act on a problem, depending on the nature of the situation.


Fire safety checks can easily be included during your inspection of the building. Since an unsafe condition in a tenant’s apartment can affect other tenants, it is crucial the condition be corrected. Questions about specific problems can be addressed by contacting the Elmwood Park Fire Prevention Bureau.

The Elmwood Park Fire Department tries to include all apartment buildings and congregate residences (5 or more non-related people) in an annual inspection of the property. The fire department tries to gain access to common areas such as furnace rooms, laundry rooms, halls, and storage areas. Try to leave these areas unlocked if possible. The fire department is looking for such problems as non-working smoke alarms, non- maintained fire extinguishers, unnecessary combustibles, blocked exits, addressing, openable windows in sleeping rooms, and combustibles in furnace rooms etc.


A safety committee may be formed to provide management with additional input into developing fire evacuation plans, fire safety, and other safety matters. The committee may also solicit and receive notification of safety concerns from tenants. If requested, the fire department will gladly provide assistance with training safety committees. Fire and life safety video tapes are available with Elmwood Park Fire Prevention personnel doing a presentation.


A newsletter may be helpful in keeping tenants informed of important issues within the complex. Fire safety information on topics pertinent to apartment fire safety may be included. The fire department has information which may be printed in your newsletter.



___ ___ Smoke detectors are installed and operating properly.

___ ___ All exterior doors and locking devices are in good working order so, in the event of a fire, tenants can exit quickly.

___ ___ Windows open easily so they could be used as an alternate exit in the event of fire.

___ ___ Stove vent hoods, ducts, cooking surfaces, and cabinets are free of accumulated grease.

___ ___ The apartment number is properly posted.

___ ___ If a barbecue grill is used, there is a closed metal container for ash storage.

___ ___ All fireplace chimneys are cleaned regularly and checked for leaks by a qualified person.

___ ___ There are no obvious electrical problems (i.e. blackened areas around electrical plugs, badly damaged cords).

___ ___ There are no excessive quantities of flammable and/or combustible liquids stored in the apartments.

___ ___ Unnecessary accumulations of combustible materials are eliminated, and the remainder stored away from sources of ignition.

___ ___ GFI (ground fault interrupter) receptacles are functioning properly. Push the test button. The power should now be cut to the receptacle. By pushing the reset button, power is restored. GFIs are typically installed in bathrooms and near kitchen sinks and may prevent shock/electrocution accidents.