By: Joe Pronesti
As we slowly approach spring and I do mean SLOWLY, the nicer weather is allowing companies the ability to get out and do some outside training and building familiarization. One item that can be overlooked on our site visits, inspections, etc. are fire escapes.
In many older downtowns or “Main Street” areas these life safety devices were part of the original construction and just like parapet walls for example can deteriorate and weaken causing issues on the fire ground. They are also most likely “hidden away” on the C-side which can be in a narrow, little accessed alley or drive, making them quite unmemorable even to their building owners/ care takers.
Failure is likely to occur at the connections between the metal parts of the fire escape and the fire escape and the building, landings and steps may be rusted through or ready to pull apart from a gust of wind or the weight of a firefighter or civilian escaping a fire or simply going to the parking lot. Firefighters use fire escapes to gain access to upper floors more often than occupants of buildings use them to escape a fire. Consequently, firefighters are injured by fire escape mishaps than the occupants, this might be even more pronounced if your “Main Street” or downtown has many vacant buildings.
As most departments are at bare bones levels and those divisions responsible for Fire Prevention/Inspections have an already full plate it can be quite easy to place inspection of fire escapes on the backburner. If you are an officer leading an inspection make sure you walk out onto the escapes or at the very least make a good visual when on site, take photos, and on weekends or holidays a great training is to go out and set up your aerial on your Main Street buildings, this training provides multiple training lessons and points, first, you get excellent practice aerial placement and positioning and you can also check out your fire escapes from a relatively safe lofty perch of the aerial basket or ladder.
A tragic reminder of the dangers of fire escape collapse occurred on July 22, 1975 in Boston, a 19-year-old and her 2-year-old god-daughter 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. See photos below.
A good rule of thumb for your pre-fire plans/inspections, etc. is if you find little or no maintenance e.g. paint, consider the fire escape unsafe. I have attached a great video that reviews fire escape inspections and I also would encourage all Brothers and Sisters to review retired FDNY Chief Vincent Dunn’s book, Safety and Survival on the Fire Ground for more detailed information on fire escape safety for firefighters.
Get out and check out your Main Street Fire Escapes! Be Safe.
When installed a century ago in my district this party balcony fire escape was not intended for its current use. Noting these often forgotten subtleties can make a difference on the fire ground
Can you find the fire escape through the Ivy? This is a hidden away escape in a rear alley, don't neglect the C side on building familiarizations
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