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Special Precautions for Fire Evacuations in Historic Buildings

03 February, 2023

The Portland Alder Hotel fire in January 2017 displaced almost 100 residents of the historic building. The fire was caused by a mechanical failure in the building's mechanical room. Visibility, even with smoke and a power outage, can be enhanced with lighting tape to help people navigate exits.


A few years ago, as the city of Portland was pummeled with subfreezing temperatures, impending snow and ice, and winds gusting at almost 50 mph, a fire swept through a century-old apartment building in the city's downtown core. The Alder Hotel, an affordable housing community listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was hit with fire just as many Portlanders were recovering from snow and ice that had shut down the city just a week prior. The fire displaced nearly 100 residents.

The fire was caused by a mechanical failure in the building's mechanical room. Once ignited, heavy winds helped the fire travel vertically and horizontally throughout the building to fan the blaze.

With the fire reported to Portland Fire and Rescue at around 3:00 p.m., crews had it under control, and residents evacuated in less than an hour. The almost 100 residents stayed at a nearby Red Cross shelter and will be able to return, but it will likely take weeks to repair the damage.

While the heating system was old, no fire codes were in violated and it had been inspected recently.

Fire Safety and Aging Buildings

Portland goes to great lengths to retain its historic buildings, with laws continually written into the city's code designed to protect its character. The city built on the timber industry usually enjoys mild temperatures. Many of the historic buildings are framed in wood planks and have large wooden beams running throughout them. Fires are not uncommon, even in a wet winter, and while no safety measures were overlooked in this fire starting, some things can be done to enhance safety overall.

Local company Duralabel salutes Portland Fire and Rescue for ushering people to safety and gaining control of the fire in less than an hour flat, as well as retaining a piece of Portland history. Visual communications can be priceless in the event of an emergency, and the following general safety preparations can help, especially as they apply to aging buildings.

Lighting the Way to Safety

According to a local news report, one resident reportedly had trouble maneuvering to the exits due to poor visibility. "I just knew the way because I live in the building, I knew how the stairs went. There were some lights on the firemen and lights in the hallway but it was pretty much blacked out."

Visibility, even with smoke and a power outage, can be enhanced with glow tape to help people navigate their way to exits in low-light situations during evacuations. A good source for lighting pathways, stair landings, or outlining doorways is PathFinder glow in the dark tape, which stay lit for more than 6 hours. Its aggressive permanent pressure sensitive adhesive will adhere to most any clean, dry surface such as hallway walls.

For extra safety precautions, users can install Glow in the Dark Exit Markers close to ground level, where a person would be crawling under smoke in the event of fire.

Boldly Go With DuraLabel Glow

Another helpful facet that can augment visibility in low-light situations is DuraLabel Glow in the Dark Tape. This phosphorescent off-white tape glows green and offers lasting luminescence for up to eight hours. Great for custom signage, our bold glow in the dark tape can be tailored to a building's unique needs, such as for facility maps and signs that lead the way to stairwells. Similarly, PathFinder tread glow in the dark tape is great for handrails and steps.

Glow in the dark materials are best used for marking exits, switches, facility locations, doorways, and emergency exit routes.

Premade Signs to the Rescue

Create clear instructions on what to do in the event of a fire with premade fire and egress signs that point out exit routes and the location of the nearest fire equipment. You can post exit signs or choose from hundreds of signs showing evacuation routes throughout a building, location of fire equipment, or hundreds of other sign possibilities.