Fire Escapes In The News

Questions arise about evacuation plan

Questions arise about evacuation plan for new Paterson school location

AUGUST 10, 2015, 7:18 PM    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, AUGUST 10, 2015, 7:29 PM
Exterior of the new HARP Academy on Colt Street in Paterson.

Exterior of the new HARP Academy on Colt Street in Paterson.

PATERSON – Some local officials are questioning whether the downtown office building being converted to classrooms for about 400 Paterson high school students provides safe escape routes in case of emergencies.

The Paterson planning board signed off on the new building last week in a 4-3 vote in which members voting against the proposal said they were concerned about the evacuation plan.

Planning board member Nelly Celi said that if the main lobby exits were blocked in an emergency, the building’s occupants would have to climb down one fire escape down to second floors, cross a walkway to an adjacent building, go down another fire escape to street level and follow an alley to Church Street to get out.

“That’s a maze,” said Celi. “I just don’t think it’s safe.”

The school district is planning to relocate its HARP and YES academies to the office building, which is located at the corner of Colt and Ellison streets across from City Hall. For years. HARP has been housed in the old outdoor Paterson mall, a facility that itself was the target of state-issued safety violation, many involving slippery conditions in rain and ice.

Planning board member Eddie Gonzalez said he shared his colleagues concerns about the evacuation plans at the renovated Colt Street building. But he said he voted in favor of the proposal because he thought the conditions at the previous HARP site were more dangerous than those at the new location.

The new location still needs approvals from the state education department as well as the city fire department.

School district officials have a tentative $495,000 per year lease for the seven-story Colt Street building. They said the owner, 5 Colt Street, LLC, is installing all requisite safety measures.”

“The city code officials review and approve all drawings, and the building must pass all code inspections prior to occupancy,” said the district’s facilities director, Steve Morlino, in a written statement. “Significant life safety improvements have be incorporated as a part of the renovation of this building, and according to the architect’s calculations the occupant load is within the acceptable parameters.  In addition there is a new state of the art addressable fire alarm system installed as part of the renovation.”

District spokeswoman Terry Corallo said the Colt Street building has two exits at the lobby level.

“Students requiring special accommodations will be addressed by the school principal and incorporated into the fire egress plan,” Corallo said. “There are two elevators available at all levels as well as holding areas which provide a safe haven while awaiting fire department personnel.  The building has been retrofitted with fire sprinklers throughout.”

School board president Jonathan Hodges said he toured the Colt Street building and looked over the fire escapes. Hodges said he was told the landlord would be installed “re-fortified” fire escapes to replace the ones that were there previously.

Hodges said the district would not have to convert an office building into a school if the state provided Paterson with better facilities as well as the authority to enter into a lease-purchase agreement for HARP. “We’re forced to take this inadequate and desperate approach to our facilities,” Hodges said.

Another school board member, Corey Teague, said he had been concerned about the safety at the new building but was assured by district officials that there were two separate exits.

John McEntee Jr., president of the city teachers’ union, said the location was being evaluated by its worksite safety committee. “It certainly is not a good idea to have our students and staff using a fire escape,” said McEntee. “That would raise concerns for me.”

The Colt Street site has received approval from the city’s fire sub-code official in its building division, officials said. Paterson Fire Chief Michael Postorino said the fire department’s safety inspectors do not check new facilities until after the building offices issue a certificate of occupancy. For the new school location, the chief said the inspection would be done immediately after the certificate were issued.

Postorino declined to comment on whether he thought the evacuation plan was safe. “I’d have to see it all to be in better position to make that type of determination,” the chief said.
Celi said she thought the district ought to provide parents of HARP and YES academies with detailed information about the evacuation plan. “They should know about the building where their children are going to,” said Celi.

Should Buildings Still be Built with Fire Escapes

Should Buildings Still be Built with Fire Escapes?

Outdoor fire escape systems have been a familiar escape device for those living in high rise buildings for many years, but are they becoming obsolete? Buildings all over the world are beginning to lose their fire escapes and instead, are being built with internal fireproof staircases. This is due to the 1987 change in building code, which moved towards supplying safer fire evacuation methods for taller buildings and more common use of fire detection systems. While the new buildings codes brought about safer alternatives for emergency escape, some argue that taking away fire escapes is like taking away a piece of history.


Fire escapes have been in use since 1784 in England, but didn’t become popular until the mass urbanization of areas like New York City and Chicago. Building external fire escapes was much cheaper than building a somewhat “fireproof” internal staircase. However, as fire escapes grew in popularity, more and more  people started to use them for unintended purposes. In poorer areas of New York people would use their fire escapes to cook, clean clothes, and even sleep there during extreme heat. This would protrude the walkway and cause hazards for when actual emergency evacuations were necessary. Furthermore, fire escapes were rarely maintained, and many fell into serious disrepair.


The infamous Triangle Factory Fire of 1911 also proved that fire escapes were finicky in real live emergency use. In a first hand account, Rose Hauser spoke of what she saw during the fire,

“I looked around and I saw the flames coming in all the windows. The fire was in the  shop and was coming toward us. There was a fire escape at the windows near the freight running and hollering and people were choking from the heavy smoke…Before I went down the staircase I looked to the fire escape. I saw one woman climb on there and fall right over the rail.”

Triangle Factory on Fire- March 25, 1911

This shows just how poorly regulated fire escape were at the time, when it came to an actual emergency, the system failed to complete its job.


The code in 1987 prohibited the use of outdoor fire escapes on newly erected buildings and instead, outdoor emergency escapes were to be replaced with internal fire-proof staircases. These internal stairs were meant to be a safer egress alternative, even though in an emergency it’s possible that they could become inundated with toxic smoke. Many buildings also moved towards adding sprinkler and gas systems in order to suppress the blaze of a fire.


Despite the new building codes, the number of fire escape preservationists is growing and numerous preservation projects have taken place. These preservationists argue that fire escapes allow us to appreciate our cultural and architectural heritage, while also providing a unique space to enjoy, just as our ancestors once did.

Fire escapes have been a part of architectural and firefighting history for over a hundred years, but what once offered a solution for those stuck in burning buildings, are now becoming obsolete in light of new inventions and findings.

occupants forced to use a ladder to exit from the second story

Faulty Extension Cord Sparks Early Morning House Fire

 Ryan Burns / Monday, July 13 @ 7:46 a.m. / Fire!

At 0430 AM on 7-13-15, Humboldt Bay Fire Engines 8113, 8112, 8115, Truck 8181, Battalion 8104 and Chief 8101 responded to a structure fire at 3539 J Street. The occupants of the residence had been awoken by the fire and were forced to use a ladder to exit from the second story. All occupants were safely outside when fire units arrived. The first unit to arrive stated light smoke was coming from the second story windows.

The crew made access, found and extinguished a fire on the first floor. Additional units provided assistance with ventilation, salvage and removal of damaged wall and ceiling covering. Fire damage was confined to one room but smoke damage was throughout the entire residence.

No injuries were reported, damage estimate is $40,000. 17 firefighters responded, the fire was extinguished in 20 minutes with crews remaining on scene for 1.5 hours. During this time Arcata Fire Protection District covered and handled an investigation call.

The cause and origin investigation shows the fire was caused by a faulty electrical extension cord.

Humboldt Bay Fire commends the residents for remaining calm, having a fire exit plan and for evacuating the residence using a fire escape ladder.

Humboldt Bay Fire reminds all residents to ensure they have working smoke detectors in the living and sleeping areas of their houses and to have a fire exit plan.


Third Victim Of Louisville Apartment Fire Dies


A third victim of a suspicious apartment fire in Louisville has died.

Officials say John Bullock died from injuries sustained in the fire on July 2. Firefighters rescued Bullock from a back apartment.

Two women also died in the fire that burned through an old home converted into apartments in Old Louisville.

Investigators say there is no way the fire was accidental. They say the blaze started on the stairs outside the building. Investigators also say a ladder for the fire escape was locked in place at the time.

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.



Man trying to escape fire crashes through fire escape stairs
Jim Dolan has the story in Jersey City.

Residents at an apartment house in New Jersey are lucky to be alive.

The fire escape that was supposed to be a lifesaver nearly turned into a death trap as it fell apart while residents climbed down during a pre-dawn blaze on Monday.

“That was my only chance of getting out,” said one of the residents.

Smoke was building his apartment, he said, and the only way out was the fire escape, but that turned out to be just as dangerous as the smoke. “When I stepped there, it gave way and it just fell apart all the way to the bottom,” he said.

The damaged fire escape steps and the area where the man had fallen through were still visible Monday night. He had never looked at them until he needed them, but one floor down Vanessa Hancock had.

“When I first moved in to the apartment, that was the first thing that I checked, the fire escape, and we told the management about the fire escape because this is hazardous and somebody could get hurt, anything could happen. So we kept calling the management about the fire escapes and nobody did anything,” Hancock said.

When she was awakened Monday morning by the smoke and noise, Hancock knew the fire escape was dangerous. “I already knew not to even come this way … My options were either out the window or the front door,” Hancock said.

But the man in her building did head to the fire escape and it nearly cost him his life.

“I opened the door and these gave way, the whole steps gave way. I thought, ‘I am not going to make it’, pretty scary,” he said.

death from fire escape after drinking

Barista falls to death from fire escape after drinking

A Wisconsin transplant who regularly drinks on her Manhattan rooftop with pals drunkenly slipped off the fire escape as she climbed back to her apartment and fell to her death early Tuesday morning, authorities said.

The woman, identified by sources as Kasey Jones, 26, was intoxicated when she lost her footing and fell five floors before slamming into a concrete passageway on the side of her Vermilyea Avenue building around 2:20 a.m., cops said.

The impact of her body hitting the pavement woke several of her sleeping neighbors.

“I heard people running on top of the roof,” said Jones’ next door neighbor, Sangelys Perez, 15.

Moments later, her horrified roommate frantically opened the boy’s window and screamed for help.

“Her roommate opened my window,” the boy said. “She was crying. She said I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“I asked her ‘are you OK?’” Perez recalled. “She looked down and said ‘she fell she fell.’ I was scared I didn’t know what to do or say.”

The boy’s father Julio Acosta, 57, said he “heard a big boom,” when her body smacked the pavement, and went to check on his son.

“I feel sad. She was so young,” Acosta said, adding that Jones was an avid cyclist who worked as a barista at Plowshare Coffee Roasters on West 105th Street.

“Yesterday I saw her going out with the bike,” he said. “She said hi to me. It pains my heart.”

A family friend who knew Jones said the woman attended the University of Wisconsin, and recently moved to New York within the last year.

Several of Jones’s social media accounts show her drinking on the roof on different occasions, including some showing her sitting and standing dangerously close to the edge.

Last week Jones posted a photo of herself dangling her feet over the fire escape where she would later fall to her death.

“It scares the bejesus outta me whenever you post these ‘casually leaning over the edge’ pics,” a friend wrote on her Instagram page.

Jose replied by saying, “well I have a lot of whiskey to help me out.”

Another recent photo shows a bottle of beer brewed in her home state resting on the ledge of the rooftop.

Hours after the tragic fall, several liquor bottles could still be seen on the rooftop near the fire escape ladder, including a bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. Irish Whiskey and a bottle of Tanqueray London Dry Gin.

“They drink up there, that’s what they do,” said Frances Guerrero, 34, who said the girls access the roof by using the fire escape to not trip the fire alarm linked to the door in the stairwell.

“I used to climb the fire escape too, It’s very slippery when wet, and it was raining last night” she said. “When you are inebriated you don’t use your head.”

Keeping a Fire Escape Clear


CreditMichael Kolomatsky/The New York Times 

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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.

Action News investigates fire escape collapses in Philadelphia.

The pressure is on for Philadelphia Fire Escapes lawmakers to tighten lax inspection laws which critics warn have resulted in catastrophic fire escape collapses across the city.

For the first time on camera, the victims involved in a fatal accident in Center City are speaking out to Action News saying the death of 22-year-old Albert Suh should have been prevented.

Remnants of police tape in an alley at 22nd and Locust mark the spot where one life was lost and two others narrowly survived a devastating collapse on the night of January 12, 2014.

“It was like the loudest rumbling crash I had ever heard,” Laura O’Brien said.

It was O’Brien’s first time standing on the balcony with two roommates, during a party they threw for a friend’s birthday.

But the celebration quickly turned tragic.

“My arms went over my head. I went straight down so quickly,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien survived the fall.

She broke her back and fell into a hole beneath the stairway.

One other roommate was also seriously injured.

“I could hear my roommate Nancy yelling,” O’Brien said.

Albert Suh did not survive.

“The first thing I thought was that’s not possible,” Suh’s older brother Min said. “I’ve lost my brother.”

Three months later on April 11th, City Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a hearing on the collapse.

“It is a statement to me that our fire professionals won’t even use fire escapes because of the condition or the varying condition they may be in,” Councilman Curtis Jones said.

It was revealed there are absolutely no requirements for inspecting emergency fire escapes in Philadelphia, even structures that are 20, 30, 50 years old.

“We don’t need any more tragedies here,” Councilman Bobby Henon said.

“These are accidents waiting to happen. They have happened before this incident occurred in other parts of the city and they will happen again,” attorney Shanin Specter said.

Specter represents O’Brien and Suh and is suing the landlord, who says he’s not responsible.

An attorney for Kline and Specter testified at that hearing, questioning why Philadelphia has not adopted the current 2012 International Fire Code. That code requires an inspection every five years. But instead, the city still follows the outdated 2009 version which lacks inspection standards.

“They are taking their lives into their hands. This is something that needs to be addressed and addressed now,” Specter said.

Depositions revealed the four floor fire escape on 22nd and Locust had not been inspected in at least 12 years and would most likely have malfunctioned in the case of an emergency, possibly carrying multiple tenants and even first responders.

“It was grossly structurally unsound for it to collapse with only three people on it,” Specter said.

We took those concerns to the Public Safety Chairman, Councilman Curtis Jones.

“We mourn their loss as well as they do. And we are going to do something so it doesn’t happen again,” Jones said.

Jones agrees fire escapes need to be inspected at least every five years.

“This could have been prevented,” Min Suh said.

The question is who will do the inspections and who will pay for it.

“We pass laws all the time, but sometimes people ignore that. So we want to be able to pass a law, have it paid for, and then have it enforced,” Jones said.

We pushed Jones on a date for that new law.

He said he thinks he can get funding for inspections in the budget starting July 1st to train inspectors and he hopes to pass a bill within the fiscal year.

At issue is who would pay for the inspections.

Council is considering the landlords who will pass that expense on to renters. But over a five year period with multiple tenants, Specter estimates the cost should be minimal, just pennies a month to ensure residents safety.