The fire, in part, prompted NFPA to organize the Committee on Safety to Life, which made recommendations for the improvement of building exit safety. The committee’s 1914 report included numerous criticisms of fire escapes but noted that, despite the inherent dangers, “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.”
One hundred years later, safety officials are still dealing with these conundrums. Because, for all the deaths associated with fire escapes—and there are many—many lives have also been saved.
In a special report in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal, Chicago-based fire protection engineer Carl Baldassarra looks at the mixed history of fire escapes, the benefits, dangers, and what can be done to help prevent future fire escape tragedies.
NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, “has favored protected interior stairwells for new construction since its inception in 1927, provisions that remain in the code to this day,” Baldassarra writes. “However, exterior fire escapes can be added to existing buildings of most uses—educational occupancies being a notable exception.”
As ubiquitous as they are in the urban landscape, it is agreed that fire escapes are not going away anytime soon. Therefore, “it is critically important that they be properly inspected and maintained, and that our codes and standards remain vigilant in providing owners and the enforcement community with the criteria to do so,” Baldassarra writes.
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