Fire escape worries prompt inspection requirement

Fire escape worries prompt inspection requirement

Sharon Coolidge , scoolidge@enquirer.com 6:12 p.m. EDT October 18, 2016

sharon-coolidge

(Photo: Patrick Reddy/The Enquirer)

If you live in an old building with a fire escape, city officials have this warning for you: Be careful.

They’re simply not safe. In fact, city firefighters only use them as a last resort.

As a result, Cincinnati City Council is poised to require all fire escapes be inspected every five years. Under the plan, fire escapes on the oldest buildings would need to be inspected by next summer.

“They’re out of sight and out of mind, so you don’t think about it until you need it,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. “And then it’s too late.”

Council is set to vote on the program Wednesday. The law passed out Council’s Neighborhoods Committee Monday with a 4-0 vote.

“The aging fire escape inventory in Cincinnati is showing signs of significant distress and deterioration,” Art Dahlberg, the city’s director of buildings and inspections wrote in a memo which was provided to The Enquirer. “A program of routine and systemic inspection .. is necessary to protect public safety.”

City officials said there are 5,500 fire escapes in the city.  The only inspections in the past have come when building owners have voluntarily hired someone to check.

It’s tough to argue against safety measures, but not everyone is happy with the change. Building owners must seek out and pay for their own inspections.

It’s not clear how much such inspections might cost – or even if there are any local companies to perform them.The city is requiring a licensed engineer inspect the fire escapes.

During a committee meeting Monday Councilman Chris Seelbach questioned the rush to new regulations, arguing buildings owners needed to time to get and pay for the inspections.

Property owner Ben Novak owns over 100 rental units in Clifton and East Walnut Hills, some with fire escapes.

“This is something that should probably be done, but where the problems are is details have not been discussed or put out there to the public,” Novak said. “I question requiring building owners to pay for inspections because we’re already paying taxes.”

Cincinnati Fire Union President Matt Alter said without proper maintenance and inspection, fire escapes are dangerous.

fire escape snapped

Jersey City apartment complex where fire escape snapped cited for safety violations

Amanda Eisenberg | The Jersey JournalBy Amanda Eisenberg | The Jersey Journal 
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on July 06, 2015 at 6:28 PM, updated July 07, 2015 at 7:00 AM
JERSEY CITY — Jersey City Fire Department officials found 48 violations at a multiplex apartment after the steps of the building’s fire escape snapped while residents were fleeing a fire there last month.

The four-story building, located at 500 Garfield Ave., is tucked away between Garfield Avenue and Bayside Terrace, but leaves “a lot to be desired,” said Charles Green, one longtime resident.

Green has lived in the building for 37 years and has seen rent increases for upgrades that he said the tenants don’t actually have.

“We paid for the intercoms and a security camera,” Green said. “The tenants paid for it but management doesn’t acknowledge any responsibility.”

While the intercom is still attached to the entrance of the building, it no longer works. According to Jersey City’s Division of Housing Code Enforcement, an inspector reported that there was no response to the bells back in December 2013.

Green said he and other residents have gotten into the habit of throwing their keys from a window down to visitors.

Other residents have reported problems with security. Management reportedly told Green and others that the lack of a working security camera is a police problem, not their problem.

The Jersey Journal reached out to River Edge Management, which owns and operates the complex, for comment via email and did not receive any statement regarding the violations. A message left on the company’s voicemail answering service was also not returned.

Green said the building has not had a superintendent in the last seven or eight years, so any repairs or problems are reported to an answering machine or email address that the management team set up. Green said that management will send over repairmen without warning the tenants.

Severo K. Gerena, a resident who was scraped up during the collapse of the fire escape stairs, said that management is slow to fix things until it is required.

Management replaced the fire escape shortly after the June 15 fire, but Gerena said the new hardware was put on the old rusted main beams.

“That’s all going to collapse if there’s another fire,” he said. “If that occurs, someone is going to die.”

After filing an Open Public Records Act request with Jersey City, The Jersey Journal found that the fire department cited management after the fire for 17 counts of safety hazards that needed to be abated by June 16. The other 31 violations need to be addressed by July 16.

The building and its revolving management has a history of failing inspections, the last which took place in 2012 prior to the fire, according to Jersey City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill.

In 2008, there were 22 violations under Garfield Realty, L.L.C., 12 violations in 2011 under Hudson Property Management, and 48 violations under River Edge Management this year.

Keeping a Fire Escape Clear

Photo

CreditMichael Kolomatsky/The New York Times 

Ask Real Estate is a weekly column that answers questions from across the New York region. Submit yours to realestateqa@nytimes.com.

Air-Conditioner in the Way?

I live in a co-op building and have an air-conditioner in my living room window, which is one of two windows that look out onto the fire escape. The air-conditioner does not block access to the fire escape. However, my building manager says city rules prohibit an air-conditioner in a fire escape window. But the Bureau of Fire Prevention told me that I could have one in that window as long as it does not extend out onto the fire escape. Who is correct?

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and many New Yorkers will likely spend part of it hoisting unwieldy air-conditioners into their apartment windows. I imagine some of them are eyeing their fire escape windows as a prime location for such an installation. But they should pause, as a fire escape is not an unofficial balcony to be adorned with potted plants or blocked by an air-conditioner. A fire escape is what its name suggests: an escape route for people fleeing or fighting a fire. And it should be free of obstructions. “There should be a focus on safety, fire safety to be specific,” said Joel E. Abramson, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

The arrangement you described might be permitted by city rules. In general, residents are prohibited from installing air-conditioners in fire escape windows. But they can install one in a fire escape window if the apartment has a second window onto the fire escape that is large enough to be used as an emergency exit. Keep in mind that the alternate window must be large and easily accessible. (A small bathroom window, for example, would not suffice.) The air-conditioner should not extend more than five inches onto the fire escape balcony or obstruct the flow of foot traffic, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. So if the unit you installed blocks the fire escape in any way, it should go. And even if it doesn’t, you still might want to consider a safer alternative.

City Council To Consider Mandatory Fire Escape Inspections

City Council To Consider Mandatory Fire Escape Inspections Following Deadly Collapse Last Year
(Credit: Justin Udo)

(Credit: Justin Udo)

Mike DunnMike Dunn

Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers…

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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A deadly fire escape collapse in Center City 18 months ago has prompted a proposal in City Council to require building owners to have their fire escapes inspected every five years.

Councilman Curtis Jones says many fire escapes in Philadelphia are aging, few have ever been inspected, and some are used by tenants for smoking and carousing:

“What we find them to be morphed into are smoking lounges and party locations. And we need to make sure that they are fit for first responders and residents, to be able to navigate in the case of emergencies.”

Jones has now introduced a sweeping overhaul of the city’s slim fire escape regulations. Under his plan, building owners would have to pay for safety inspections of the structures every five years. Then the city would install medallions on the escapes that pass inspections to mark them as safe.

“They certify it. They stamp it. We put the medallion on it. And then when a fire truck comes up, and a first responder has to look up, they can look for the reflector in the day or night, and be assured that ‘I can put myself on that.’”

Under the measure, a building owner who learns that his fire escape failed an inspection would have one day to take corrective action.

The proposal was prompted by the January 2014 collapse of a fire escape at 21st and Locust Streets in Center City. One person died and two others were injured.

Jones’ measure will be debated in committee after Council’s summer recess.