Why no more fire escapes?

Years and years ago I used to see these on the sides of tall brick or masonry buildings. These days, however, no new buildings seem to have them. Can any of the Teeming Millions tell me why they have gone out of style?

Dougie, it is all explained by the device from the link in Zette’s thread “We all need one?”

One complete set of morals for sale to highest bidder, new in box.

My WAG is that buildings are now designed with combinations of fire doors and stairways intended to contain the fire and provide an escape. Most large buildings I can think of have multiple stairways and emergency exits. We’ve all seen “In case of fire, use the stairs” signs on elevators.

It’s those damned architects. They have ENTIRELY too much power these days. Spoil their precious facade design just to save a few widows and orphans from flaming death? No way, buster.


Cher is right. Older buildings had to be retrofitted with fire escapes when fire codes were modernized to require more exits. New buildings (or at least buildings built after the code changes) already have enough internal exits, and there is no need for the ugly ironwork.

Actually, I think it was because the lemming genes have finally been bred out of humans. But seriously, folks, here’s the real scoop: some buildings still have external fire escapes! They just look different and are contained inside the building in a large metal box directly beneath windows. You put the thing into action by opening the window and shoving the fire escape out. There are several versions, but most of them look kinda like a playground slide-tube thingie with some turns in it so it isn’t a straight drop to the ground. I saw this in a building that was only 20 stories tall, so I don’t know what is used on taller buildings.

Even though they’re not very attractive, wouldn’t it make more sense to have them on the outside of a building? Seems to me that the internal stairs would fill up with smoke pretty fast if one of the doors on the lower floors was left open. I can’t think of much worse than being inside an enclosed concrete stairwell breathing in acrid smoke and having fifteen more floors to descend before getting to fresh air.

Since my experience with fire escapes is limited to the romantic visions of them I’ve seen in ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘West Side Story,’ I could be wrong, BUT. . . . . .

*Isn’t it possible to both ascend and descend on a fire escape?, AND. . . .

Doesn’t that make external fire escapes a sort of security hazard?*

Life is short. Make fun of it.

From the 1997 (most recent edition) Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, the recognized “bible” on how to build a building that people can get out of when there’s a fire, and adopted as law in most states:

There is also commentary in the 1997 Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, Handbook (also an NFPA book)

I think that pretty much sums it up. I hope.


I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine - Kurt Vonnegut

Geesh, the reason is buildings now have elevators, right? :wink:

Gad, I hope not! Elevators are apparently a trap if the building’s on fire!! :frowning:

Q: Why don’t firefighters use elevators?
A: The hose gets stuck when the doors close :slight_smile:

Seriously, though…
Think of how you call an elevator to a floor (“hey, elevator!”). You push a button next to the door. Inside that button, there is a bunch of plastic holding two pieces of metal apart. When you push the button, the metal contact touch and the elevator says “someone on this floor wants me to stop there.” Now, add some heat to these buttons. The plastic melts or burns away, and the metal contacts touch all by themselves. The elevator again says “someone on this floor wants me to stop there.” Unfortunately, the someone just happens to be a rather warm fire. Now, picture yourself getting into this elevator on the 10th floor, planning on leaving a building with a fire on the 5th floor. The elevator thinks someone has called it to the 5th floor, so it opens the door on that floor. Now picture standing in this elevator car as the doors open to a rather warm room. Thats why elevators are bad in fires.

Consequentally, when the fire alarms go off, elevators recall to the “level of exit discharge (the ground floor),” open the doors, and stay there. Next time you’re in a recently built building with an elevator, you should see a round key switch next to one of the elevator buttons on the ground floor, and round key switches in the elevator cars. They’re called “firefighter switches.” The one in the lobby recalls all cars to that floor (in case the fire alarm didn’t go off) and initiates “firefighter service.” When that key is on, a firefighter with the elevator car key can take the elevator to the floor he wants without it opening on a fire floor (he/she hopes).


I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine - Kurt Vonnegut

God, does no one recognize a tongue in a cheek? < eyeroll >

Has anyone been in/seen a picture of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco? According to a pamphlet Transamerica issues, the “wings” house (an) elevator shaft(s) on one side and a “smoke tower,” whatever that is, on the other.

I was just outside the Hancock building and thinking about this. At some point fire escapes are pointless I would guess. I mean if you’re 100 floors up and the first 50 are burning what’s the point??

Also I saw a couple of buildings at least 30 floors up with fire escapes.

The elevator thinks someone has called it to the 5th floor, so it opens the door on that floor. Now picture standing in this elevator car as the doors open to a rather warm room. Thats why elevators are bad in fires.


I’ve heard this before, about how elevators supposedly will take you right to the fire. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to hit me over the head with a dalmation to keep me off the elevator during a fire, but does this strike anybody else as Urban Legend material? Is there any evidence that this has ever really occurred?


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

WAG: the iron work required for your classic fire escape is prohibitively expensive, the result of a dying art ? I was looking around once at wrought iron fencing, almost all now made by a few craftsmen. Beautiful, but really, really pricey.

Offices in my area (Crystal City, VA, south of the Pentagon) have little fire helmet logos stencilled on every fifth to tenth window. These will pop out if something heavy enough is thrown against them. Then hopefully the fire truck’s cherry picker can get you. (Presumably, this is a last resort if you can’t get to the fire exits.)

Showing the window to a co-worker, they noticed there was no fire escape ladder near the window.
Them: “How do you get down?”
Me (jokingly): “Jump.”
Them: “But we’re on the 13th floor.”
Me: “During a building fire is no time to be superstitious.”

I don’t know about other buildings but in the Sheratons I worked at the elevator was programed with the fire alarm. For instance if the fire alarm goes off on the second floor it will not stop on that floor.

If the fire alarm went off on the first floor it would stop on the second. If it went off on both it would always route to the lowest floors w/o an alarm. It did this automatically unless the fire key was turned on in the elevator.

The only fatality in the First Interstate Bank Building in Los Angeles in 1988 was caused by his taking an elevator to the fire floor, and the One Meridian Plaza fire in Philadelphia in 1991 had a “near occurance” which was averted by initiation of firefighter’s service on the elevator (a guy tried to get to the fire floor).

As for why elevators are bad (apart from stopping by themselves at the fire floor), from the Fire Protection Handbook, 18th ed:

  1. Persons may push a corridor button and wait for an elevator that may never respond, losing valuable escape time
  2. Elevators do not prioritize car and corridor calls, and one of the calls may be at the fire floor.
  3. Elevators cannot start until the car and hoistway doors close, and panic could lead to elevator overcrowding and door blockage, which would thus prevent closing.
  4. Power can fail at any time during a fire, leading to entrapment in the elevator car.

The elevator can be delivered to the fire floor when:

  1. An elevator passenger presses the car button for the fire floor.
  2. One or both of the corridor call buttons are pressed on the fire floor.
  3. Heat melts or deforms the corridor push button or its wiring at the fire floor.
  4. The elevator functions normally at the fire floor, as in high or low call reversal


I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine - Kurt Vonnegut