January 14, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Arts & Humanities, Architecture
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 Fire escapes can be found on many multi-story structures, such as;  commercial buildings,  industrial buildings,  schools,  apartments houses,  hotels,  wood frame dwellings.  While designed for a buildings occupants as an emergency egress, they are actually used more by FF’s.

 Provides a method of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency when stairs inside the building are inaccessible,  A fire escape consists of a number of horizontal platforms, one at each story of a building, with ladders or stairs connecting them.  The platform and stairs are usually open gratings, to prevent the buildup of ice, snow, and leaves


HISTORY  One of the first fire escapes of any type was invented in 1784 in England. Daniel Maseres, invented a machine called a fire escape, when fastened to a window, would enable anyone to descend to the street without injury.

 On 2/2/1860, a fatal fire in a NYC wood framed tenement, killing 10 people, led to the first egress law in NYC.  In 1867, NYS passed a public law, “The First House Tenement House Act ” requiring fire escapes and every room must have a window.

HISTORY  In 1887, an American inventor named Anna Connelly registered a patent for the exterior steel staircase that would serve as the prototype for the modern metal fire escape. Connelly’s invention introduced a cost-effective way to add safety to both existing buildings and new construction in the 1900s. It became mandatory under the building codes that cities began to adopt at the turn of the century.

 Although fire escapes were still being constructed after 1930, they were no longer recognized as a safe, acceptable means of egress.


CODES  Fire escapes are not allowed to be installed on new building construction,  Interior exit stairways or ramps shall be provided and enclosed with fire barriers that have a fire resistance rating,  Existing fire escapes are accepted means of egress from existing buildings,

CODES  New fire escapes can be installed on existing buildings only where exterior stairs can’t be utilized due to limits of lot lines, sidewalks, alleys or roads at grade level. (NYS Existing Building Code, Section 303.1.3)  Made of metal or approved noncombustible material. Wood can be used on Type V (wood frame) construction.



 an emergency means of egress from a building consisting of metal balconies on the outside of a building connected by ladders to each other and to the ground. Some fire escapes have a ladder from the top floor balcony to the roof.  DROP LADDER:  a vertical ladder normally held in the "up" position at the second floor balcony of the fire escape by a hook. When this ladder is to be used, the hook is released and the drop ladder is lowered or dropped to the ground.

DEFINITIONS  GOOSENECK LADDER:  a vertical ladder, the side rails of which are curved at the top, used between the top floor balcony of a fire escape and the roof.  PARTY WALL BALCONY:  a structure built as an emergency means of egress from a building which will afford horizontal access to an adjoining building or apartment separated by a fire wall. They do not have ladders to ascend or descend from floor to floor or to the roof.

DEFINITIONS  EXTERIOR STAIRWAY:  a semi-enclosed means of egress serving all floors with landings at each floor. Entry is through a doorway instead of a window.


 There are many designs, variations and styles of fire escapes, but they can be categorized into three types;  the Standard,  the Party Wall Balcony and  the Exterior Stairway.


 The STANDARD:  most common found, normally accessed by windows,  metal balconies with metal ladders,  metal parts usually connected with bolts or rivets and some were welded,  width 3-4 ft., with stairway angles 45, 60, 75 degrees or steeper,  some can be 50 to more than 100 yrs old.

STANDARD FIRE ESCAPE COMPONENTS  The DROP LADDER  a vertical ladder fixed to the front or side of the lowest balcony,  held in the up position at the second balcony by a hook,  lowered by lifting off the hook and letting it drop to the ground,  are heavy and can come free of track guides.


 The GOOSENECK LADDER  a vertical ladder with cured rails at the top,  normally used from the top floor balcony to the roof,  normally lagged into roof joist,  sometimes have meal supports tied to parapet or roof joists for support.

STANDARD FIRE ESCAPE COMPONENTS  The COUNTER-BALANCED STAIRWAY  supported on a pivot, balanced in a horizontal position by heavy counterbalancing weights,  weights are either attached to one end of the stairway or held by a steel cable against the side of the building,  located directly below or adjacent to the lowest landing,  more likely found on commercial buildings.

COUNTER-BALANCED STAIRWAY  heavy metal or concrete weight attached,  can have wall mounted pulley system counter weight,  age/rust can cause brackets or cables holding counter weights to fall,  designed to gradually go down as person walks down.


No Gooseneck Ladder

No stairs or ladders between floors

 The PARTY WALL BALCONY:  a fire wall separates the buildings, Fire Wall  may connect two or more Fire Wall buildings,  mostly found in old tenement areas,  no ladders or stairs connecting the balconies to allow floor to floor movement.

PARTY WALL BALCONY  Occupants escaping fire conditions;  occupants use the balcony to enter adjoining building(s), (essentially a horizontal exit),  entry into adjoining building(s) may be hampered by window gates or other security measures,  may have to be removed by ground and/or aerial ladders,  may become overcrowded very quickly, causing overloading and possible collapse.


 can not be used to go from floor to floor for VES,  can not be used to gain access to the roof,  can not be used to stretch hoselines,  may be found in the rear of buildings making it difficult to remove occupants,  adjoining building may be vacant or boarded up hindering occupant escape, contact your building dept.  survey your community to ascertain if any are within your response area.

March 1912

Front Party Wall balcony connecting five buildings 260-268 Elizabeth Street, NYC, NY.

Same building almost 100 years later

Old photo of Party Wall Balcony at the rear of a building


 The EXTERIOR STAIRWAY:  often found where large number of people are within the building, (manufacturing, schools, public assemblies)

 some have screened fence at stairway,  there also may be a cover over the platform and stairs,  also exposed to the elements,  entry normally through doorway instead of a window.

Exterior Stairways come in many forms


FIRE ESCAPE STRUCTURAL HAZARDS  May have been present for more than 50 years,  Exposed to the elements and weakened by corrosion,  Neglect or improper maintenance making them extremely dangerous.

Broken, missing steps, the most severe hazard to firefighters

Open mortar joints or cracked bricks at the connection points


FD OPERATIONS ON FIRE ESCAPES  Can be used to gain access to upper floors for Vent, Entry and Search (VES),  If gooseneck ladder is present, can be used to access the roof,  Hoselines can be stretched up the fire escape,  Use FD ladders if uncertain about drop ladder or stairs integrity,  Use FD ladders to ease over-crowding on the fire escape.

Raise 1st ladder to first balcony opposite of drop ladder

Raise 2nd ladder to second balcony

 To ease fire escape overcrowded with people

Are there permits for this installation?

How is it secured to the building?

They are even be found on residential wood frame dwellings

No gooseneck ladder

Multiple dwelling exposure 3 or C side

Notice vertical ladder instead of stairs from balcony to balcony


Same multiple dwelling exposure 2 or B side

Typical stairs

Something different

Twin fire escapes in the French Quarter


SAFETY CONCERNS ABOUT FIRE ESCAPES  Broken steps cause most FF injuries,  climb the steps smoothly, place your feet close to the side of the step, continue to grip some part of the railing,  Always face the stairs when ascending or descending,  Drop ladder not within the tracks and falling to the ground,

SAFETY CONCERNS ABOUT FIRE ESCAPES  Ice conditions during the winter,  Don’t lean against the balcony railing,  Shake the gooseneck ladder before ascending or descending, to make sure it is secure,  Venting debris, especially glass can be as slippery as ice,  When lowering the drop ladder, stand beneath the fire escape.

SAFETY CONCERNS ABOUT FIRE ESCAPES  Items such as flower pots, barbecues, etc., can fall injuring the FF, code violation, notify inspector,  Don’t stand beneath counterbalanced stairs or counterweight, have been known to fall,  Climbing a gooseneck ladder is dangerous when carrying tools or a saw, use a strap or rope,  Keep one hand free while ascending or descending to grip the fire escape,


On July 22, 1975 in Boston, a 19year-old and her 2-year-old goddaughter were trapped in a burning building. A firefighter, Robert O’Neill, shielded them from the flames as a fire ladder inched closer. As the firefighter climbed on the ladder, the fire escape collapsed. Although the woman died from her injuries, the infant survived.


SUMMARY  Fire escapes can and do collapse,  Many are old and lack proper maintenance,  One missing step should serve as a warning that more can be missing and to the condition of the entire fire escape,  Fire escape inspection should be a high priority, if you observe something wrong, report it,  IC must be informed if there is a party wall balcony in the rear of the building,

Prepared by Thomas Bartsch Chief Fire Inspector, (ret)

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