Close the Door for Life!

From our very beginning in New Amsterdam, the role of the fire service was to be proactive and save lives through fire prevention. In 1647 Fire wardens would inspect houses and chimneys, fining the owners for potential hazards, to prevent fires from happening. If the early firefighters were not actively inspecting, then they were patrolling the streets looking for fire. A team of firefighters would walk the streets with wooden rattles and would sound the alarm upon discovery of fire. The intent of this team was to find the fire in it early stage so major disaster and loss of life would be prevented.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2013. The fire service has many roles today from EMS to fighting fires. With all these added roles and responsibilities, it is easy for us to lose focus of our original intent to prepare residents for fires and prevent them.

The fire service of America has many traditions that have been carried down throughout the generations and much to be proud of. The one we should be most proud of is that from our beginning, and even to this day, we have made it our mission to save lives and property through preventive measures and how to react when there was a fire.

Every fire department has an obligation to not only prevent fire, but also prepare people in the event they have a fire. A major role of preparing our community is to teach Fire Escape Planning.

Most fire departments are involved in teaching their communities fire escape planning and usually teach Get Out and Stay Out. This is a very good message and should be taught in every community, however I feel we need to take it a step farther.

The next step we must take is to put a major emphasis on once you get out, CLOSE THE DOOR FOR LIFE

The simple act of closing the door reduces fire growth, spread, damage to the home and can save lives


More FDNY Community Awareness Videos

The tale of two fires:

While I know all the variables are not the same in these two fires. The point I want to make is the outcome. One had a door left open by an escaping resident and the other had a door closed by the escaping resident.

17 Vandalia Avenue New York City New York (Door Left Open)

Early Friday morning December 18, 1998, tragedy struck the NYC Fire Department for the 3rd time that year. A mere 7 days before Christmas the Red Devil claimed the lives of 3 fire fighters.

At 0454 hours Brooklyn transmitted box 4080 for a top floor fire at 17 Vandalia Avenue in the Starrett City development complex. The sprawling complex is located on Brooklyn’s south shore in the Spring Creek section. The 10 story 50 x 200 fireproof building is used as a senior citizen’s residence.

Engine 257 and ladder 170, both quartered in Canarsie, were assigned 1st due and arrived within 4 minutes. By that time the fire already could be seen blowing through two windows. Second and 3rd alarms were quickly transmitted.

As the 1st due ladder company, L170′s duty is to search the fire floor. Lieutenant Joseph Cavalieri, and fire fighters Christopher Bopp and James Bohan ascended 10 flights of stairs with extinguishers and forcible entry tools. Their mission was to rescue the resident of apartment10-D who was believed trapped inside.

Fortunately for the elderly resident she escaped shortly before the forcible entry team arrived. Unfortunately for them, she left the apartment door wide open. The additional oxygen from the hallway fed the inferno within and blew out the windows.

Additional Info:

NIOSH Report:

230 E. Ontario Chicago Illinois (Door Closed)

An extra-alarm fire at a Near North Side high-rise building was largely confined to the unit where it started because the apartment’s resident remembered to close the door after fleeing the fire, according to the Chicago Fire Department.

Crews were called about 11:15 a.m. to a building in the 200 block of East Ontario Street, according to Larry Langford, a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department. The fire was raised from a still and box alarm to a 2-11 alarm just before 11:30 a.m. Traffic around North Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River was affected.

The woman who lives in the apartment, age 25, was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in good-to-fair condition to be evaluated, Langford said.

When the fire started, the resident may have tried at first to put it out herself, but she soon left, shutting the door behind her, Langford said.

“That kept it confined to that unit,” Langford said.

The woman went downstairs and told building management about the fire, and the Fire Department was called, he said. When firefighters arrived and went into the burning unit, windows blew out, but they were able to keep the fire contained, he said. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire on the seventh floor of the 27-story building by about 11:45 a.m., Langford said.

Fire crews also called an EMS Plan I for the fire, automatically sending at least five ambulances to the scene, according to Langford. Several people were checked at the scene for smoke inhalation.


Chicago News and Weather | FOX 32 News

Additional Info:

Picture Gallery:

As I mentioned before I am very well aware that there were a lot of different variables between the two fires but the outcome with the closed door resulted in not only civilians life’s being saved but NO Firefighters died! It is paramount that we as a fire service are more proactive in teaching our community about getting out alive but also CLOSING THE DOOR FOR LIFE! For more information concerning our Fire Prevention message check out

Here are the links of two fire departments that understand the importance of this message.

Please share this message with every firefighter you know who is serious about saving lifes.


Lt. John Shafer



  • Ed Hartin says:

    Not only excellent, but Most excellent! I would only add sleep with your bedroom door closed and save yourself (see the UL Vent Studies)!

  • VincentLuis says:

    Doors should not be held open by any non-approved device or stoppers. Operate swinging doors that are normally held open at frequent intervals to test automatic closing devices. Maintain and make available to AHJ, state and local regulatory agencies all records of fire door maintenance and repair.

    frames for fire doors

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John Shafer

An 18 year veteran of  the fire service, and currently a Lieutenant and the Training Officer for the Greencastle Fire Department.  An Indiana regionally recognized instructor on building construction, fireground search and command management, he has traveled throughout the State of Indiana delivering specialized training programs on building construction, fireground search and firefighter safety.

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