Fire and Smoke Control in High-Rise Apartment Complexes


According to the U.S. Fire Administration, between 2013 to 2015 an estimated 109,700 multifamily residential building fires were reported to fire departments within the United States each year. These fires caused an estimated 405 deaths, 3,975 injuries and $1.4 billion in property loss. 

While these numbers are lower than the instances of fire in other types of structures, due in part to fire codes and building regulations, most apartment renters and building owners would still agree that they are all too high.

Fire control in apartments is a multifactorial practice that needs to be approached by both the landlord and the renter. Most high-rise apartment complexes have already been built according to codes that require safety features like flame-retardant building materials and sprinklers, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development states that current fire safety codes for apartments are not enough. 

If you own a high rise building, there are additional steps you can take to help mitigate the risks of fire.

Fire and Smoke Control Practices for Landlords

If you own a high-rise apartment complex, you likely already follow state and local fire safety codes. This will include installing safety features such as automatic sprinkler systems, flame retardant walls for separating apartments and outer framing, as well as flame retardant doors on all apartments and at stairwells. 

Depending on the size of the building, you may also need to include occupancy areas for those occupants who cannot exit their floor safely, such as occupants with mobility problems. And you’ll need to include elements like evacuation maps and the requisite number of egresses for each floor.

Fire Safety Codes for Apartments

As a building owner, you need to ensure that your building stays up-to-date on building fire codes both during construction and after. This means regular checks to verify that systems are operational and inspections to ensure that there are no missed safety requirements in the building process, such as missing smoke baffles or the use of timber or other flammable materials where there should be flame retardant materials.

There are additional steps that you can take, however, that can further minimize both damage and loss of life in the event of a fire. 

For example, automatic sprinkler systems are designed to help contain the fire so that occupants can either safely get to a lower floor or so they can shelter in place until the fire department can evacuate them. 

But sprinkler systems only work if there are active flames in those areas. If the flames are in another part of the building, sprinklers aren’t going to assist those residents who may be overcome by smoke long before the flames reach them. 

One method that can help make your building safer and minimize damage is to install smoke curtains in strategic areas. For example, if your shelter in place plan includes a gathering area at the end of a hallway, then a smoke curtain could be deployed at the entrance to this area, blocking smoke from entering the shelter in place zone. 


Smoke curtains can also be used to help prevent the spread of smoke and flames from the fire’s origin through the building. While flame retardant building materials are enormously helpful in this effort, if an occupant leaves the door to their apartment open while escaping a fire, smoke will now begin issuing into the hallway, followed closely by flames.

If you are able to identify the path that the smoke and fire are most likely to take to get to the other areas of the building — usually through ventilation shafts, stairwells and elevators — you can install smoke and fire curtains at those areas, stopping the smoke and flames from getting any further and limiting the amount of damage to these sections. 

Fire and Smoke Control Practices for Tenants

It’s been found that the most common cause of fire in high rise apartment buildings is cooking. Of these cooking fires, 93% were small, contained fires with limited damage. This means that it’s important for tenants to be aware of building safety and to take steps to protect themselves in the event that a fire was to break out in their apartment or building.

Make sure that tenants know to always keep a fire extinguisher (in ready condition) nearby in the event of a small cooking fire in their apartment. They should also be familiarized with the various exit routes throughout the building — not just the one closest to them — in the event that their normal route is blocked by flames. They should also be aware of any shelter in place zones they can use.

They should also know that if a fire breaks out in their apartment and they must evacuate, they should shut the door firmly behind them. This will help contain the smoke and flames and protect other tenants and apartments as well. 

Designated stay in place areas should be available on every floor, and they can be areas such as wide landing spaces in staircases or contained areas of hallways that have flame retardant doors, sprinkler systems or smoke curtains that can help keep tenants safe until help arrives.

Get Better Fire and Smoke Control for High-Rise Complexes

High-rise apartment complexes have very different needs than small residential buildings. Make sure that your building and the tenants are prepared. Keep the building up-to-date on codes, install safety features such as smoke curtains to mitigate smoke and flames, and make sure that tenants know where all of the exits are in order to help prevent small fires from becoming big catastrophes.

Smoke Guard professionals are available to help you incorporate smoke curtains into your building complex. Contact an expert today.