Although it may not be something that the average person thinks about, many of the fire escapes you see today are decades old. The first US fire escape was patented in 1898, and since then fire escapes have become the primary means of emergency egress for many commercial and residential buildings throughout the country.
While most of the fire escapes you see today have been around for many years, the good news is that a properly maintained fire escape can last for over 100 years. However, improperly maintained fire escapes will degenerate much faster. For most of the time fire escapes have been used, they have built from non-combustible material. The most common material used in fire escape construction is steel.
Steel is a high strength, durable material, allowing for steel fire escapes to last for generations. It is important to note that in order for a fire escape to last for generations, a proper maintenance schedule must be followed. Steel is subject to rusting, which will negatively impact the structural integrity of your fire escape.
To combat the natural process of rusting, international fire code (IFC) dictates that fire escapes must be repainted every five years. This process is not required 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 ensures that any exposed steel is protected.
Deciding to not repaint your fire escape system can open you up to unnecessary liabilities. Since steel is subject to rusting, 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 only used in cases of an emergency when structural failure can lead to catastrophic consequences.
Prior to painting, a thorough inspection must be performed by a qualified team in order to identify any areas of rust or rotten areas that will need to be repaired. Any current corrosion must be repaired prior to painting 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, structurally sound fire escape system is inspected and repainted every five years, it will last for decades with a minimal need for repairs.