As an Emergency Support Services (ESS) Director with over 30 years of experience, I have witnessed the devastating impact of apartment and house fires on evacuees.  Being forced to flee their burning homes with little time to gather essentials can be a harrowing experience.  In this blog post, we’ll discuss the challenges evacuees face, the crucial items people want to retrieve, and how to prepare better for house and apartment fires to ensure a safe evacuation.

The Top 8 Items People Want to Retrieve when Evacuated:working with Apartment fire Evacuees - Global Photo

I’ve often waited with evacuees to receive the all-clear so they can return to their units.  Sometimes, they can go back in, but often, they are only allowed back in for a few minutes. For safety, they are escorted by a firefighter to gather essential items and then must leave for temporary accommodations or to stay with family or friends as their home is not safe to occupy.  From my experience, these are the items evacuees are desperate to retrieve:

  1. car keys,
  2. identification,
  3. cell phones and chargers,
  4. jewelry & valuables
  5. medications,
  6. photos,
  7. work laptops,
  8. clean, dry clothes.

Knowing what you will need when you evacuate can help you prioritize your actions during a fire evacuation, but read on for some simple solutions to help ensure you have what you need when evacuated.  Here are some essential tips to consider:

Stay Calm:

Staying calm during a fire emergency is vital.  Panic can hinder your ability to make rational decisions and could put you and others in danger.  Focus on the steps to escape safely and take deep breaths to maintain composure.

Have a Grab & Go Kit:

Grab and Go Kit for EmergenciesPrepare a Grab & Go Kit with essentials like spare keys, a change of clothes, and medications (consult with your Dr or pharmacist on how best to store your medications).  Keeping your Grab & Go Kit by the front door makes it easy to Grab and Go and helps ensure you have the basics you and your family will need during an evacuation.

Prepare Your Pets:

cat in cat carrierEnsure your pets are accounted for during an evacuation.  Have a Grab & Go Kit with their essential items, and if you have a dog, keep a leash by the door for quick evacuation.  If you have a cat,  they will typically hide the second the fire alarm blasts.  Prioritize your safety when searching for your cat, and if you must leave before finding your cat,  let the fire department know, as they may be able to assist in locating your pets.

Know Your Escape Routes:

Familiarize yourself with escape routes in your building before an emergency occurs.  Identify the nearest exits; fire escapes, and stairwells.  Always use stairways to evacuate and avoid elevators, as they may become inoperative during a fire.  I would encourage you to practice evacuating your home or apartment as a trial run.  Do this as a family; it will help your family members remember what to do when faced with an actual evacuation.  In addition, set up a family meeting place outside of your home or building in case you get separated or leave from different exits.Exit sign for evacuating building

Bonus Tip:  Stay Low in Smoke:

If there’s smoke during the evacuation, stay close to the ground, as cleaner air is closer to the floor.  This simple action can significantly improve your chances of getting out safely.

Dealing with Lack of Insurance:

Home or tenant insurance can provide valuable support during and after a fire emergency.  However, if you don’t have insurance, exploring other options, such as staying with friends or family is essential.


Facing a house or apartment fire is a terrifying experience, but being prepared can help you navigate the situation with greater ease and ensure your safety.  By staying calm, having a Grab & Go Kit, and familiarizing yourself with escape routes, increases your chances of a safe evacuation.  Remember that your safety is paramount, and you should not re-enter the building until it’s declared safe by the authorities.

Remember, the time to prepare is now!  Once the fire has happened, it will be too late.

Stay Safe!

Jackie Kloosterboer


Meet Jackie Kloosterboer

Jackie KloosterboerJackie Kloosterboer is a renowned Emergency & Disaster Preparedness leader, boasting an impressive 30 years of frontline experience that has allowed her to witness firsthand the life-saving impact of preparedness.  Her unwavering commitment is evident through her dedication to presenting Disaster Preparedness Workshops, responding to disasters across BC, supporting evacuees, and skillfully leading Emergency Support Services teams during activations, most notably in her recent role with the City of Vancouver.

As an instructor at the Justice Institute of BC, Jackie travels across Canada, empowering volunteers with essential workshops and training.

Her profound expertise in disaster preparedness has made her a sought-after resource by the media, who frequently seek her insights, underlining the crucial significance of preparedness.  Moreover, her book, “My Earthquake Preparedness Guide,” is the quintessential resource, offering practical tips to equip individuals for any disaster.  Jackie’s expert advice is the compass pointing toward safety and readiness for those seeking to face whatever challenges come their way.