Unmaintained and Old Fire Escapes are a Visible Risk

In the wake of a terrible fire escape tragedy that claimed the life of a New York man, brick-and-brownstone property owners may be asking themselves how they can ensure that their fire escapes are safe.

Police and news outlets have reported that during a fire escape inspection, a step became dislodged when an inspector stepped on it, sending a 150-pound piece of metal hurtling to the sidewalk below, where it struck two people, killing one.

This incident highlights the importance of maintaining a fire escape year-round and not just relying on the pass/fail of the inspection process every five years to confirm safety. It’s said that hindsight is 20/20, but being proactive on all building fronts is an important line of defense in preventing accidents.

Here are five questions to consider when evaluating your fire escape, including making sure it is in good repair and accessible in the case of an actual fire, which is what it is there for!

  1. How old is your fire escape and what condition is it in? When will it need to be replaced or removed? What repairs need to happen to keep it safe? Planning and budgeting ahead will help make its safety a priority.
  2. Are safety measures being maintained? Is the drop ladder in working order? When did you last paint? Applying two coats of paint (of different colors) to prevent rust is a great way to be able to tell when a new coat is needed. How about leaves, snow, and ice? Nothing building up on the wire grates? In three word: maintenance, maintenance, maintenance!
  3. Are occupants storing things on the fire escape? Can these things fall to the sidewalk below or obstruct access to the fire escape? Potted plants, bikes, barbecues—none of it is actually legal to keep up there, but most of it is commonplace. Educating tenants (and saving evidence of your notices) of the risks increases protection against an accident. Overhanging A/Cs that block access are also a big no-no.
  4. Can tenants easily access the fire escape from their windows? Check windows for ease of opening and make sure screens slide out quickly. If there are metal bars, make sure they’re approved by the FDNY.
  5. Does your building have three or more units and children under the age of ten? Make sure the mandatory child safety guards do not block the fire escape window.

While repairs and upkeep may work for a time, old fire escapes will continue to have inherent risks and pose safety hazards, they should eventually be removed and replaced with safer, better fire exits in the buildings.