#101Wednesdays: Do you know the way to (the) public way?

Blog Post created by gharrington Employee on Feb 15, 2017

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)


I'm still getting back into "work mode" after a wonderful long weekend getaway to Vermont, filled with cross-country skiing, great food, amazing Austrian-styled beers (from the microbrewery owned by the youngest son of Maria Von Trapp of ‘Sound of Music’ fame), and snow. Lots and lots of snow. (Did I mention snow?) Anyone in the life safety business knows you can never fully go on vacation. You’re always looking for the sprinklers and exit signs. So of course, in the midst of a winter wonderland, my thoughts turned to, “Is the exit discharge being properly maintained?” (That’s right, vacationing with me must be a real treat.) In her recent #FireCodefridays blog, NFPA 1 staff liaison Kristin Bigda wrote about the importance of keeping fire hydrants shoveled out for fire department access. The same holds true for the exit discharge; it needs to be kept clear of impediments, including snow, to allow occupants to safely egress to the public way.


Means of egress doesn’t necessarily end when you’re out of the building. By definition, means of egress consists of three parts: exit access (the path of travel to reach an exit), the exit (which is pretty self-explanatory), and the exit discharge (the path of travel between the termination of the exit and the public way). Because means of egress doesn’t end until you reach the public way, all the Code’s requirements for means of egress apply all the way out to the public way. These can include requirements for illumination, emergency lighting, stairs, ramps, handrails… You name it. To determine the location of the public way, we have to go to the definition in Chapter 3 of NFPA 101:


3.3.220 Public Way. A street, alley, or other similar parcel of land essentially open to the outside air deeded, dedicated, or otherwise permanently appropriated to the public for public use and having a clear width and height of not less than 10 ft (3050 mm).


The key words in the definition are “deeded, dedicated, or otherwise permanently appropriated to the public for public use.” This is a location where a building can’t be constructed at some point in the future. The parking lot outside your office building probably doesn’t meet the definition of public way because there’s nothing to stop the owner from putting a building there. In the case of NFPA’s headquarters building, which is located in the privately-owned Batterymarch Park office park, the public way is a good 1/3 of a mile from our front doors. In a case like this, it’s not uncommon to invoke the provisions for equivalency in Section 1.4. When we have our fire drills, we don’t evacuate all the way down to busy Route 37 (our “true” public way); rather, we evacuate to designated areas in the parking lot, depending on which division we work in. This gets us safely away from the building and responding fire department apparatus, which satisfies the intent of the public way. If you’re not sure where your public way is, have a conversation with your local authority having jurisdiction so you’re both on the same page. It could save a lot of hassle down the road should the question arise during an inspection.


The upcoming 2018 edition of the Code includes a proposed annex note for the definition of public way to clarify its intent:


The intent of the definition of public way is to establish an end point at which the means of egress terminates, is not under the jurisdiction of the Code, and to which the Code’s requirements do not apply. As such, the Code intends a situation where occupants egressing from a building ultimately reach a point where they can move away from the building unimpeded and no longer need the protections of the Code.


This language isn’t yet final because it hasn’t gone through the complete standards development process, but it represents the current position of the Technical Committee on Means of Egress. (You can review the NFPA 101 Second Draft Report to see all pending revisions here. The deadline to submit a Notice of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM) is February 20, 2017.)


What this all boils down to is, the exit discharge needs to be maintained all the way out to the public way, whether it’s the true public way, or an approved equivalent public way. Here we see young Friedrich clearing snow away from the rear exit at the Von Trapp Brewing Bierhall. (I made up the 'Friedrich', but notice the short sleeves. Vermonters are a hearty lot!) Be sure to know where your public way is, and make sure your building’s occupants can safely get there. Life safety doesn’t get to take a snow-day!


(Admit it, when you read the title of today’s #101Wednesdays, you sang it like Dionne Warwick. If you didn’t, you’re doing it now, at least if you’re over 40 like me. And it’s stuck in your head. Sorry. Until next time, stay safe!)


(Photo courtesy of Kristen Beckwith)


Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I’d love to hear your suggestions!


Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”


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