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Securing a Room of Refuge

What happens if the apartment is too far from the stairwell?


(Fire Engineering/David DeStefano photo)


By Mark van der Feyst| Fire Engineering

Seconds count on the fireground when it comes to saving lives. This is what the fire service always strives to reduce when responding to any fire call. The same is true for the firefighter on the fireground, as seconds count for buying them more time to get out.

When it comes to firefighter survival, the main premise taught is to avoid flashover. If the firefighter can buy themselves a few more seconds, it will assist them in getting out or into another area that is tenable to buy them additional time to get out. Wall breaching is an example of this – gaining access to a room of refuge to buy some more time.

When conducting high-rise or low-rise operations, establishing a place of refuge never really gets attended to. For the most part, protected stairwells will serve as refuge areas as this is where the standpipe will be connected and worked from. Most departments view this area as the place of refuge because they are securing the standpipe there. But what happens if the apartment/unit is too far from the stairwell or if quick refuge is needed or if the standpipe is not in the stairway but rather in the hallway?

One idea is to establish a safe area of refuge with the adjacent apartment or unit. When approaching the fire apartment/unit, force the door of the apartment/unit prior to the fire apartment/unit to see the layout and to give you a place of refuge should you need to escape quickly. Leave the apartment/unit door slightly open for quick access. Seeing the layout will help with the search operation.

Normally this is done the floor below the fire apartment/unit. However, firefighters will not add more time to the operation by checking the layout on the fire floor instead and simultaneously establishing a place of refuge. 

Equipment needed: self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), full structural firefighting gear, portable radio, search tools, hoseline

Goal: To practice and become familiar with establishing a room of refuge. Use a burn/training building that has a second floor or, if possible, a public building that has a second floor. In this training drill, the team will practice establishing a room of refuge before the fire unit.  


  1. As a team of two or three firefighters, secure and advance a hoseline from the standpipe or fire truck to the upper floor.
  2. Prior to entering the fire unit, have a team member “force” open the door of the unit adjacent to the fire unit.
  3. Once the door has been forced open, the firefighter will close it using their halligan tool. Communicate to the team that the room of refuge has been established.
  4. The team will enter the fire unit to initiate an interior attack.
  5. Once inside the fire unit, the training officer/instructor will indicate that a flashover or a wind-driven fire or a loss of water in the hoseline has just occurred. The team will escape the fire unit and head to the room of refuge.
  6. Once inside the room of refuge, the team will call for a Mayday.

Key points:

  1. Prior to entering the fire unit, establish the room of refuge.
  2. Know which room/direction is the room of refuge.
Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).

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