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.