Just Wondering: At What Point did Fire Escapes Stop Being Built?

I’ve long been on record as enjoying seeing old fire escapes though I recognize not everyone admires them and some are nicer than others. But I’m just wondering – at what point did they stop being mandatory? I’m guessing it’s because the fire suppression tools (sprinklers etc.) have become so advanced that fire escapes are no longer necessary?

Also just wondering if anyone knows what were the regulations for which they had to be built? In the photo above – it’s only a three story row house. At one time did fire escapes have to be built on all structures three stories (and taller)?

9 Comment

  • I’m not sure about the history or time line of changes, but I know the current requirements are vastly differently in multi-unit buildings than they were several decades ago.

    New multi unit building require internal stairwells within certain distances from the unit entry door. Those internal stairwells also have fire separation characteristics. Once a fire consumes a building, it would take a prescribed amount of time for the fire to spread to the stairwell or make the stairwell unusable.

    The exterior fire escapes may also obstruct a fire ladders access to the window for rescuing inhabitants.

    You are correct in pointing out that fire suppression systems are much better as well, but that would be indirectly related to the fire escapes.

    Older buildings have some grandfathered fire safety requirements, which is why some fire escapes are still around.

    It is also worth noting that the fire safety requirements for multi unit building also exist to protect the fire fighters during fire fighting and rescue operations. I imagine that having fire fighters attack fires from exterior fire escapes escapes would be dangerous as well.

    Few people realize that a large part of construction codes exist to protect fire and emergency personnel and that is why the requirements do not make obvious sense to a layperson.

    • Fire escapes have not been required for tall buildings since the invention of the steel frame structure; they may never have been required. But some sort of fire escape has been required in most cities since a series of tragic industrial fires around the turn of the 20th century, and they are cheaper than the alternative: the internal fire safe stairwell.

      • we have steel frame structures in dc?

        • Uh… that’s kind of like asking, “we have sidewalks in DC?”

          • Actually there are little to no steel structure in downtown DC. You’d have to go to NoVa to see a steel structure. Almost all DC buildings have concrete structures as the max. height limit makes the use of concrete more cost effective than steel.
            And yes, we have sidewalks in DC too. Most of them are concrete or brick.

          • And many of the newer buildings, especially residential ones, are wood framed… which is terrifying, if you ask me.

          • Most modern buildings in this city are concrete with post tension cable inside. Garden style apartmernts are wood bases as the one person mentioned, however those are virtually non-existent in DC. The strict enforcement and regulation of sprinklers/fire pump systems for new buildings have minimized the need for fire escapes. New high-rises are pressurized and if up to code greatly minimize the chance of a fire spreading throughout your space or to others.

            The post tension cable is typically galvanized steel, so you trolls are right and wrong.

      • I lived in SoHo in the past my firescape was my favorite hangout. SoHo used to be an industrial district but I don’t know much beyond this but your post has made me curious.

  • The Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue is the oldest Federal building on the mall and has a steel structure.

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