The potentially catastrophic results of a fire in any situation where people live, work or play would seem to require an effective means of escape. However, the requirement for official standards to be met did not take place until the early 20th century. In the United States, it took a tragic loss of life at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory on March 25, 1911 in New York City to provoke a public outcry for strict fire escape regulations.
Institution of Fire Escape Regulations
The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire served as a starting point for a new approach to developing an overall set of regulations concerning fire safety, especially in large, multi-story buildings. The state of New York was the first to institute fire escape regulations that would become the model for other states, as well as the U.S. government, whose Department of Labor mandated a set of fire safety standards and an entity to oversee them, which would later become the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA).
Current Fire Escape Regulations
Although the federal government has mandated standards for fire safety, including fire escape regulations, each individual state has its own codes that apply to new construction as well as to standing structures. Buildings that were constructed before current fire codes were passed are usually required to be retrofitted in order to meet all fire safety requirements. This includes the provision of the means to exit a building safely in the event of a fire.
General Fire Escape Regulations
The National Fire Protection Agency provides specific guidelines for meeting fire escape regulations. The regulations for residential structures reflect the general guidelines that are universally mandated. One story buildings are required to have at the very least one primary means of egress (exiting) a bedroom or living area and a secondary means of escape. The definition of a primary means of escape is a stairway, ramp or door that provides a person with an unobstructed path leading directly to the ground level. A secondary exit would be an unlocked space nearby, such as a window that is independent of the primary exit.
Stairways and Railings in Fire Escapes
The OSHA guidelines mandate that stairways must be between 30 and 50 degrees of incline. Risers will be between 6½ and 9½ inches high and treads will be between 8 and 11 inches in depth, depending on the incline. Railings are required and there must be at least 30 inches between the top of the railing and the surface of the stairs. There must be at least 7 feet of clearance between the surface of the stairs and the ceiling or overhead obstruction. Stairs must be able to handle a minimum of 1,000 pounds of weight load.
There are fines and other penalties that will be assessed if fire regulations are not adhered to. These penalties can be assessed according to federal mandates as well as to individual state and municipal codes. Insurance companies who provide fire policies may also reassess insurance premiums if a policy holder is found to be in violation of any fire regulation.