Uncategorized

Fire Escape Load Tests Explained

What is a Fire Escape Load Test?

Often our clients come to us because a town or state official has requested that a load test be performed on their fire escape system. But what does a load test for a fire escape entail? If you have been asked to get a load test done on your fire escape, you probably have questions as to what that involves.

A load test is a performance test that will help determine the integrity of your fire escape. During a load test, your fire escape will be tested with the legally required load, or amount of weight. In New Jersey it’s the weight of the fire escape itself plus 100lbs per square foot. In New York it is the weight of the fire escape itself, but only 80lbs per square foot.

To properly perform the load test, the fire escape is first fully encapsulated in scaffolding. Additionally, portions of it are secured to the scaffolding to make sure that if the fire escape fails the load test it won’t pull the entire side of your structure down. However, if you fail the load test some serious repairs will need to be done to your facade/siding and the fire escape itself.

Performing a load test is a lengthy and expensive process, and if you succeed the load test you will still need to do any repairs that the fire escape system incurred during the load test. Not only will you need to perform unforeseen repairs, but you will also need a full scrape and paint on your fire escape to satisfy any engineer that would be willing to certify your fire escape.

What are Your Other Options?

In lieu of undergoing to lengthy and often expensive load test process, you can alternatively have your fire escape inspected, spot tested, and corrected of any defects. Once completed satisfactorily an engineer can certify your fire escape. This documentation will certify that after the inspection and correction of defects, your fire escape will pass any load test required.

Regardless of which option you choose, we can help. At Maximum Fire Escapes, our highly qualified and specialized team can perform a load test or an inspection and correction on your fire escape system to ensure the safety and legality of your fire escape system, always while keeping the costs to you in mind.

How to keep your fire escape safe in the winter

We have covered several topics on fire escape safety and maintenance so far. Typically, we have focused on what a professional contractor can do to keep your fire escape system safe. However, there are several things that you can do as the homeowner to help maintain your fire escape.

Do not use your fire escape for storage or decoration

One of the most common issues we encounter is that residents will often use their fire escape as storage or even as an outside living space. All too often do we see residents that have put their grills and furniture on their fire escape. As we have discussed several times in this blog, the purpose of a fire escape is to provide a means of egress in the event of an emergency.

Of course, most people believe that they will not experience an emergency where the fire escape will be needed, and as a result will use this space as extra and use it for a variety of activities, all which will make the fire escape useless in the event of an emergency. In addition to it being unsafe, the most common fine we see levied against homeowners is for the fire escape being cluttered.

Not only do you need to ensure your fire escape is free from clutter, but you must also make sure to leave your fire escape system undecorated. The holiday season is in full swing and all too often do we encounter residents putting decorations on their fire escape. Like we discussed earlier, your fire escape is not to be used for anything other than its intended purpose, as a means for evacuation in the event of an emergency. One of the most common and problematic decorations we see are Christmas lights wrapped around the fire escape, including the moving parts such as the ladder. This ensures that you will not have a working fire escape if you need one.

Keep your fire escape free of ice and snow

Winter is on the way which means snow and ice are not far behind. One of the most important parts of maintaining your fire escape and ensuring it is in proper working order will be to keep it free of ice and snow. As we’ve discussed in several previous posts, water is the number one enemy to fire escapes.

When it snows and that snow is left to sit on your fire escape, once the sun hits it, the snow will slowly melt. Then, once the temperature drops at night, that water will refreeze, starting a terrible cycle of melt and refreeze. The melted water will have seeped into any tiny holes or cracks. Once the refreeze occurs, it will expand.

As this process happens repeatedly, those tiny cracks or holes expand, and more and more water will enter. This will cause even more expansion, until it eventually breaks. Clear any snow off your fire escape as soon as you can safely clear it. Be sure to also scrape off any ice. DO NOT USE SALT. Due to the corrosive properties of salt, if you use salt to melt any snow or ice, your fire escape system will be structurally compromised.

Which contractors can work on your fire escape?

Which types on contractors can work on your fire escape?

So far, we’ve covered a lot about fire escape safety and fire escape maintenance. There has been a lot of information to take in and a lot of things to worry about when you need to have your fire escape serviced or inspected. So now, we’ll look at several types of firms that you can hire to service your fire escape.

The Ironworker

One of the first type of contractor you may think of to use is an ironworker. Ironworking is one of the oldest professions in America. In the late 1800s iron and steel emerged as the preferred building material. Seemingly overnight, countless young men entered the ironworking profession. In addition to a required apprenticeship, an ironworker must also take over 200 hours of classroom training. The apprenticeship that they must undergo typically lasts 3 to 4 years.

What does all this mean for you and your fire escape? Primarily, you can be confident that any structural work done on your fire escape system will be done up to the standards of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America.  Any repairs or fabrications that your fire escape needs will be performed by an extremely capable tradesman. Unfortunately, there are several downsides to hiring an ironworker.

One of the biggest downsides to hiring an ironworker is that an ironworker lacks the ability to provide any of the required engineer drawings for structural repairs or fabrications your fire escape may need. It is important to realize that if you decide to hire an iron worker you will likely incur an additional fee when getting the required engineer’s drawings.

Since we’re on the subject already, let’s discuss another option you have for servicing your fire escape system, the engineer.

The Engineer

Obviously, an engineer will be able to provide the required technical drawings. If you decide to hire an engineer for your fire escape, you can expect a very detailed and through examination of your fire escape system. An engineer will be able to identify to every issue and will likely provide you with a detailed report of their findings. However, an engineer gets a lot less helpful once any actual work on your fire escape needs to be performed.

While a licensed engineer will provide you all the information on what your fire escape needs fixed, they lack the ability to, well, fix it. The engineer’s report will list every issue that must be fixed in order to get the legal certification. It is then up to you to contract another firm to perform the repairs or pay an additional fee to have to engineer orchestrate the repairs. Finally, once all the repairs are completed, you must schedule the engineer to perform a final inspection before they provide your fire escape certification. Too often the engineer will charge you again for this final inspection.

The Painter

By now, you may just be thinking you need to get this all done as cheaply as possible. You may even be tempted to contact a regular painting company to come and give your fire escape system a simple scrape and paint. While this may save you money today, it may end up costing you tremendously.

Although a painter may tell you differently, there is a lot more involved in fire escape maintenance than a simple scrape and paint. At the very least your fire escape needs to be inspected regularly by an individual who is qualified to identify any issues. In addition, any repairs that are needed must be performed. A painter is unable to perform these repairs.

Too often when owners decide to go this route, either they’ll have a painter who covers up issues that need to be repaired, or best-case scenario is that you have a painter that handles the repair. Problem is, since they are only skilled in painting, they will have to hire a contractor to perform the repairs, which will end up costing you more money.

Finally, let’s look at a more specialized firm which will allow you to meet all your fire escape needs.

The Fire Escape Contractor

To put it simply, a fire escape contractor will be able to perform the essential functions of an ironworker, engineer, and a painter. A full-service contractor, much like us here at Maximum Fire Escapes, will be able to perform the necessary inspection, as well as provide the required engineering drawings and certificate. Additionally, we can expertly perform any repairs or fabrication that is necessary to fix your fire escape.

One of the best aspects of hiring a fire escape contractor is that we will handle the entire process for you, from beginning to end. Not only will we handle all the work needed, we’ll also handle any official communications regarding your fire escape. So rather than call an ironworker, an engineer, a painter, and then on top of all that having to deal with your town’s officials, why not just call us here at Maximum Fire Escapes, and we’ll take care of it for you.

(844) 629-3473

©2019 Maximum Fire Escapes

(844) 629-3473

©2019 Maximum Fire Escapes

Fire Escape Safety

Fire Escape Safety

Why do I need an engineer to say my fire escape is safe?

Around 2011, the International Fire Code was changed. This new and updated code now requires that all fire escapes need to be painted and inspected every five years. The driving force behind the update of the code is that fire escapes are aging, and in order to keep them safe a routine fire escape inspection and painting program is necessary.

Fire escapes are an essential aspect of ensuring you and your occupants are safe. Unfortunately the fact remains that many of the fire escapes you see today are unsafe. The intent of the updated fire code was to address the safety of these emergency exits. 

What does the International Fire Code do?

The International Fire Code is not a national law.  It is a series of guidelines for building codes. The provisions of the International Fire Code “provide protection for public health, safety and welfare from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions in buildings, structures and premises.” The International Fire Code is often used when a state, county, or town updates their local building and fire codes. 

The inclusion of fire escapes in the international fire code aims to ensure that fire escapes can be used for their intended purpose, to provide an emergency means of egress during a fire or other catastrophic event. However, because they are not law it sometimes takes state and city governments a long time to incorporate these updated guidelines into their building codes.

Does my city follow the updated International Fire Code?

When the International Fire Code is revised some local governments enact the updated codes immediately. However, when dealing with the government speed is not the norm. Many local governments are on a delay of several years and some have not updated their building and fire codes in over a decade.

While maintaining an outdated building and fire code is not illegal it doesn’t take into account advances in safety which leaves commercial and residential buildings susceptible. Many fire escapes have been on building for generations and in order for them to remain structurally sound a rigorous inspection and certification program should be followed.

 

What is the recommended fire escape inspection and fire escape certification program?

In order to maintain the integrity of your fire escape system, the International Fire Code states that all fire escapes must be inspected by a qualified engineer. The reason it needs to be an engineer is because they have the required knowledge to know what is and isn’t structurally sound. Once the inspection has occurred any repairs must be completed, and the fire escape system must be painted to seal all joints and ensure continued durability.

Fire Escape Failure

Fire Escape Failure

When fire escapes fail, the results can be catastrophic. Stanley Forman’s infamous fire escape collapse photo showcases just how deadly fire escape failure can be. So what causes fire escapes to fail?

What Causes Fires Escapes to Fail?

The main cause of fire escape failure is water and temperature. As we’ve discussed previously, all fire escapes are made from noncombustible materials and most are made with steel. Steel is subject to rusting. The rust will cause the steel to deteriorate and in many cases delaminate

Delamination occurs when the layers of steel separate from each other. This separation greatly weakens the steel. Over time if the delamination is left untreated, the fire escape will corrode. The corrosion will affect the stability of your fire escape system, leading to potentially disastrous situations

Fire escapes can also fail at connection points. When a fire escape is improperly sealed small amounts of water will enter where parts of the fire escape system meet. When temperatures reach freezing these tiny amounts of water expand. This expansion will slightly loosen connections which allows more water in. The next time the temperature drops the larger amount of water will freeze, loosening the connections further. This cycle will continue until your fire escape system breaks.

Can You Prevent Fire Escape Failure?

Water can cause many issues in your fire escape system. In addition to what we’ve already covered, water can also leak through siding or cracks in brick structures. This is especially damaging in wood frame buildings as it can lead the wood rotting and destruction on insulation and sheathing.

The best way to prevent fire escape failure is to regularly have your fire escape inspected and serviced. International Fire Code states that fire escapes must be inspected, repaired, and repainted every five years. This requirement helps to prevent the catastrophic damage that water and temperature can cause.

 

Fire Escape Maintenance

Fire escape maintenance is important. It’s not something that you often think about but most of the fire escapes you see today are decades old. The first United states fire escape system was patented in 1898. Since then, fire escapes have become the primary means of emergency egress for many commercial and residential buildings throughout the country.

As stated above, most of the fire escapes you see today have been around for many years. The good news is that a properly maintained fire escape will last over 100 years. However, improperly maintained fire escapes will degenerate much faster. This leads to an unsafe environment. 

The most common material used in fire escape construction is steel. Steel is a high strength and durable material. As a result, steel fire escapes can last for generations. It is important to note that in order for a fire escape to last for generations you must follow a proper maintenance schedule.  Steel is subject to rusting, which will negatively impact the structural integrity of your fire escape.

International Fire Code (IFC), requires a fire escape system inspection by a qualified individual every five years. The inspector will review your entire system for any rust, damage, or wear and tear. In addition to the inspection IFC also requires that all fire escape systems receive a fresh coat of paint every five years. This requirement combats rusting. It is not for aesthetic purposes, but rather to seal the steel used. The paint creates a barrier, preventing water and oxygen from creating rust. A fresh coat of paint repairs any exposed steel, ensuring that your fire escape system will last for years to come.

Deciding not to repaint your fire escape system can open you up to unnecessary liabilities.  If your fire escape system is not properly maintained the inevitable rust will impact the usability of your fire escape. Fire escape systems are typically used only in cases of an emergency. Structural failure in these situations can lead to catastrophic consequences.

As discussed earlier, before any painting can occur a qualified individual will need to perform a thorough inspection. Your inspector will identify any areas of rust or rotten areas. You will need to remove any current corrosion prior to painting in order to maintain the structure. If you were to paint over rust without repairing it first, you would be creating an invisible hazard.

So what does this mean for your fire escape system? If a sturdy and structurally sound system is inspected and repainted every five years, it will last for decades with minimal need for repairs.