The Ugly American: Don’t Sleep Naked and 9 Other Tips to Survive a Hotel Fire

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1. Size doesn’t matter … for flashlights that is. So always pack one. Even the little key-chain kinds are good for finding your way down a darkened hallway. Just make sure the batteries are working.

2. Check the fire-escape route posted on the back of your hotel door before going to sleep that night. Even better, go out and get a visual on the actual door you’ll be using in the event of an emergency. Count the doorways between yours and the exit. You may need to feel your way down a smoke-filled hallway.

3. Don’t sleep naked. Pulling on clothes in the event of a fire takes up precious time. Instead wear something comfortable that will translate to street wear should you find yourself watching the flames from the front curb with the rest of the hotel guests. Just make sure it’s not made of synthetic material. A nylon nightgown, for example, might as well be made out of plastic sacks filled with lighter fluid.

4. Before you go to sleep, make sure you have at least two things within easy reach on the nightstand; your cellphone and your room key. Your phone for obvious reasons, but your room key is necessary in case you leave your room in response to a fire alarm only to find that the fire is on your floor and blocking your way to the stairwell. In that case, you’ll need to get your ass back in your room, soak a bunch of bath towels, shove them in the door jam, call for help and hope the ladder on the fire truck reaches your floor.

5. Don’t get a room above the fifteenth floor. Any higher and the ladder on the fire truck won’t reach your floor.

6. Don’t panic. Panic causes people to act idiotically, like follow the crowd that is running for the elevator, for example, or charge out of the room without your key in case you need to be let back in to escape a ball of fire coming down the hallway. Instead stay calm and assess the situation.

7. Assess the situation. If there is smoke in your room, get down and crawl to your door on your hands and knees. You need to stay low because smoke rises and the breathable air will be at knee level. Touch your door with the back of your hands. You need to use the back of your hand because if the door is hot, better to burn the back of your hand than the palm of your hand, because you’ll be needing the palms of your hands to be agony free as you scale the exterior balconies to safety below.

8. If the door seems cool, don’t swing it open and barrel into the hallway. Open the door a smidge to take a peep and be poised to slam it shut again if necessary. If the hallway is flame clear, exit your room carefully and make sure you have your room key with you.

9. Don’t use the elevator. Everyone knows this, but few know why. Here’s why, the electrical system could be affected by the fire, causing the elevator to free fall or, probably worse, take you straight to the floor with the billowing inferno. The stairs are your best bet, because credible hotels have stairwells built within fire walls.

10. Be careful on the stairs: Always use the handrail. If you fall there’s a chance the panicked people behind you will trample your poor ass. When you reach the bottom floor, exit to the street and run a safe distance from the hotel. But if there is smoke in stairwell that gets more dense the further down. Immediately about face and head to the roof. Once there, try to prop the door open wide in order to clear the air in the stairwell and make it easier for others to join you. Hopefully some of them will be naked.

Hollis Gillespie writes a weekly travel column for Paste. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, coming out in June. Follow her on Twitter.

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