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Fire safety experts say planning, quick reaction key

As smoke poured through the halls a New York City high-rise on Sunday, killing 17 people in the Bronx, tenants were faced with a life-or-death decision: Should they stay put or try to escape?

Several survivors later told reporters that when they saw their hallways fill with smoke, they returned to their apartments to await rescue rather than make a run for it. That was the right response, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit that writes codes and standards and educates the public about fire safety.

Just what you should do in a fire, though, depends partly on the design of the building and where the fire is located.

Generally, the NFPA says people should evacuate a burning building if it is safe to do so. First, they should feel doors before opening them, leaving them closed and looking for another way out if they are hot to the touch. Residents should shut all doors behind them to prevent the spread of smoke and fire. They should be sure to take their keys with them in case they have to return to their apartments.

In most high-rise buildings, the nearest stairwell is the emergency exit, but if it is filled with fire or smoke, people should look for another exit. If no exit is safe, they should return to their apartments and shelter in place. In the Bronx fire, survivors told reporters that both the hallways and stairwells were thick with smoke.

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