I recently wrote about 5 things I always ask the front desk agent whenever I check into a hotel. One thing I always ask is to have a room between the second and sixth floors because they’re technically the safest if, God forbid, there’s ever a hotel fire.
First of all, I’ve stayed in hundreds, if not thousands, of hotels and I’ve only had one serious experience so you don’t have to be freaked out about it. Out of my countless nights of hotel stays, I’ve only had to evacuate a few times and only once was it really scary.
The most serious incident happened was when I was 16 at the old Dupont Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico. Yes, that Dupont Plaza Hotel. It’s known for having had one of the most devastating hotel fires in U.S. history when three disgruntled employees set the fire in the early morning of December 31, 1986. In less than 12 minutes, those bastards killed 97 people; most of the casualties were Puerto Rican, as the fire was limited to the lobby and casino, which was a popular local hangout.
Fortunately, we weren’t there for that fire but we were there for a much smaller one several months earlier. I think the workers may have tried to start fires multiple times but that’s purely conjecture so don’t quote me on it.
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During that terrifying experience, I was with my parents and my mom woke my dad and I up in a panic at 3am saying there was a fire. They always seem to happen in the middle of the night.
We were on the 19th floor and the alarms weren’t blaring but the smell of smoke was definitely filling the air. My mom quickly got us up and while other guests were waiting for the elevator, my mom correctly instructed us to take the stairs.
My mom was always nervous about hotel fires and every time we stayed at a hotel, she mapped out a path to the stairs before going to bed. Sure enough, she knew exactly where they were when it counted. Since I was so young and in shape from playing ice hockey and lacrosse, I jumped down the sets of stairs like they were puddles. But I realized halfway down that my parents weren’t keeping up so I went back to get them.
It turned out that the fire had been started in the stairwell so the smoke was at its worst in there and to this day, my dad believes that’s how I developed asthma (I was diagnosed shortly after), but I’m not sure.
I do know that prior to that experience, I used to think that my mom was overreacting with her routine of locating the emergency exits. She’d leave her purse and valuables, a change of clothes and a flashlight near the bed, so if ever there was a fire, she’d be ready to make a quick escape.
Since that unforgettable night, I began doing it too … though perhaps not as meticulously and minus the purse. I now always take the 30 seconds to locate the exit (there’s usually a map on the back of the hotel door) and I leave my clothes, wallet, passport, phone and shoes near the door so I can quickly evacuate.
I even do it at home since I usually sleep in the buff and don’t want to run outside in my birthday suit hanging out with the neighbors for all hours. That’s exactly what happened in Puerto Rico. Everyone spent hours mingling by the pool and some men were just in their underwear. We all ended up sleeping in pool lounge chairs under the stars, which was quite nice in the warm Puerto Rico air.
However, I’ve recently learned from Peter Greenberg, travel expert and volunteer firefighter, by listening to an episode of Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan’s podcast, called BUCKiT (23 minutes into the show) that if you’re ever in a hotel bed and the fire alarm goes off, you shouldn’t stand up. Instead, he says, you should roll out of the bed onto the floor. If you stand up, the toxic fumes from the fire could kill you.
Once on the ground, you should next crawl to the door to check if the door is hot. If the door is hot or you smell smoke, you should wet a towel and put it under the door. Then, you should turn on the hot water in the shower and tub because the resulting steam will capture a lot of the particulates that you don’t want to inhale.
I asked my friend who is a fireman if it’s a good idea to wear an N95 like a reader suggested and he said: “It can’t hurt but will still be extremely difficult to breathe. The majority of deaths that occur in apartment residential fires could have been prevented if people would have sheltered in place. Modern sprinkler systems do a really good job of containing most if not all fires. Fleeing usually equates to panic. Panicking leads to fatalities. Also, smoke filled environments burn your eyes, so you can count on not being able to breath. Follow the instructions of the emergency evacuation plan. Again, I wouldn’t want an N95 mask giving a false sense of security.”
It’s all good information, which is why I’m sharing it but I hope none of us ever have to use it.