Fire Escape

A fire escape is a special kind of emergency exit, usually mounted to the outside of a building or occasionally inside but separate from the main areas of the building. It provides a method of escape in the event of a fire or other emergency that makes the stairwells inside a building inaccessible. Fire escapes are most often found on multiple-story residential buildings, such as apartment buildings.

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 steel gratings, to prevent the build-up of ice, snow, and leaves. Railings are usually provided on each of the levels, but as fire escapes are designed for emergency use only, these railings often do not need to meet the same standards as railings in other contexts. The ladder from the lowest level of the fire escape to the ground may be fixed, but more commonly it swings down on a hinge or slides down along a track. The moveable designs allow occupants to safely reach the ground in the event of a fire but prevent people from accessing the fire escape from the ground at other times (such as to perpetrate a burglary or vandalism).

IN THE SUMMER OF 1975, a fire broke out on the upper floors of a five-story brownstone apartment building in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Firefighters were on the scene, including a ladder truck and crew involved in the rescue of a young woman and her toddler goddaughter from a top-floor fire escape.

As a firefighter was about to help the woman and child access the ladder, the fire escape collapsed sending the woman and child plummeting to the sidewalk below as the firefighter clung to the ladder. The woman died at the scene; the child survived. The incident launched a discussion of the need for tougher fire safety codes, in some cases leading to municipalities adopting more stringent regulations that included provisions for exterior fire escapes.

At NFPA, the discussion had already been going on for decades. As early as 1913, Municipalities around the U.S. begun to enact laws requiring means of emergency egress from buildings, and exterior stairways fashioned of wrought iron became the prevailing method for achieving that means—but not without creating new problems. In its report to NFPA’s executive committee in 1914, the Committee on Safety to Life noted a number of “common defects” present in “a very large percentage of the outside fire escapes in use to-day.” Those problems included inaccessibility, their tendency to be unshielded against fire, poor design (including supports, width, slope—many older fire escapes were essentially a series of vertical ladders—and other characteristics), absence of ladders or stairs from the second floor to the ground, poor overall condition, ice and snow coverage, and their use as outside storage areas by building tenants. Despite those shortcomings, the committee said, “The fact remains that the outside fire escape is the commonest special provision for escape, [and] that it is written into the Statute books of the states, will long remain with us.”

A century later, plenty of those old buildings—and their worrisome fire escapes—are indeed still with us.

It has long been recognized that the common outside form of iron ladder-like stairway anchored to the side of the building is a pitiful delusion. This device for a quarter of a century has contributed the principal element of tragedy to all fires where panic resulted. Passing successively the window openings of each floor, tongues of flames issuing from the window of any one floor cut off the descent of all on floors above it . . . Its platforms are usually pitifully small, and a rush to them from several floors at once jams and chokes them hopelessly. It is a makeshift creation of the cupidity of landlords, frequently rendered still more useless by the ignorance of tenants, who clutter it up with milk bottles, ice boxes and other obstructions.

The NFPA 101, Life Safety Code—which was approved in 1927 Included a new provision that specified outside stairs, rather than fire escapes, as a means of exterior egress. Outside stairs had more rigorous criteria than fire escapes for stairway width, treads, risers, construction materials, and the protection of the stairway from a building’s interior by rated openings. But even the superior outside stairs constructed in accordance with the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code have serious limitations which may prevent their effective use in time of fire. Even where window protection is provided, conditions may be such that fire (or smoke from the fire) on lower floors may render the stairs impassable before the occupants of upper stories have had time to use them. Outside stairs may be blocked by snow, ice or sleet at the time when they are most needed.

Persons using outside stairs at considerable height are likely to be timid and to descend the stairs, if at all, at a rate much slower than that which obtains on stairs inside buildings . . . Occupants of buildings will not so readily use them in case of fire as they will (tend to) use the usual means of exit, the inside stairway. Because they are an emergency device not ordinarily used, their proper upkeep may be neglected. (From the NFPA Journal September October 2014 edition (Safety Feature/Safety Hazard” by Carl F. Baldassarra, P.E., FSPPE)

In 2009, NFPA in its Life Safety Code 101 recognized and approved platform rescue systems as an additional (“supplemental”) mode of evacuation from multi-story buildings.

In 2007 ASTM International, developed a standard for a new egress solution for emergency escape of persons who cannot use normal means of egress to a safe area and for transport of emergency responders vertically. (Standard Specifications for Multi-story Building External Evacuation Platform Systems” E 2513-07)

 Escape Rescue Systems Ltd. realized that any truly effective solution to the problem of rapid and safe evacuation from multi-story buildings must contend with exceptional circumstances and requirements:

  • Evacuating large numbers of people while access to the building is limited
  • The problem of vertical mobility, for both evacuees and emergency response teams
  • Difficulty of access to the focus of emergency on higher floors
  • The imperative to save people of all ages and abilities
  • The special challenge of applicability to existing buildings, many of which cannot be extensively altered
  • The imperative to require routine-type actions that require no special skills on the part of evacuees

An effective response to these requirements

Escape Rescue System’s crucial insight and innovation was installing the rescue system on the outside of the building. This not only enables installation on almost any building, but ensures evacuees are led rapidly away from potentially dangerous situations inside burning or smoke-filled corridors and stairways.

Another critical feature is the system’s ability to transport upwards as well as downwards, allowing rapid delivery of rescue personnel straight to the focus of emergency.

As the system’s cabins go up the building, they stop at each floor level, allowing for people with mobility difficulties to go in to the cabins, the same way one would board a regular elevator. This unique feature is especially effective in hospitals, old age homes and buildings in general, where elderly people who cannot walk down the fire stairs, in an emergency situation.

The Escape Rescue System – a Revolution in Rapid & Safe Evacuation

An advanced multi-platform rescue system installed unobtrusively on the roof-top, requiring almost no alteration to the building, Suitable for both existing and new structures.

The only platform solution to comply with the American Society for Testing and Materials - ASTM Standard E 2513 for Multi-Story Building External Evacuation Platform Rescue Systems.

NFPA Building Construction and Safety Code (NFPA 5000) and the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) include adoptable annexes that specify the conditions for installation of Platform Rescue Systems (Such as the Escape Rescue System)

  • Saves lives!
  • Protects property by facilitating a speedy response to emergencies
  • Ensures peace of mind for tenants, employers, owners and building management
  • Provides effective and guaranteed means of escape for hospital bedridden patients or people with mobility problems, from any floor of a hospital, regardless of their mobility impairment.

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