Things to know about fire escapes before renting an apartment

How many times have you used your fire escape to avoid being caught in an ACTUAL fire?

Many, luckily, have never had to use their exterior fire escapes for such reason. With the probability of your apartment or other multi-floor dwelling catching on fire being relatively low, many people have opted to use their exterior fire escapes and other emergency exit structures in a variety of other ways. Some use it to store bicycles, some use it to dry laundry, and some even sleep on it—and what do all of these actions have in common? None of them are the proper way to use an exterior fire escape.

In many situations, apartments and multi-family dwellings are just shy of “enough” space, or may not be best suited for our four-legged family members. Though these things may come as a hindrance to easy living, it is important to remember that the way you alter your living space affects the effectiveness of these spaces in the case of a fire. With external ladders and other fire escape routes being commonly connected to windows or patios, blockage of these access points to that ladder is not only unsafe for the inhabitants, but also against the law in most states. By caging in your patio so that your pets can spend time outside without fear of an accident, you are also caging yourself in on the off chance your unit catches fire. With many apartments cutting off access to egress staircases and elevators during an emergency, exiting through the window and down the fire escape ladder is oftentimes your best bet to getting away safely.

Having an apartment, or any style of dwelling, comes with maintenance needs that are learned over time. No first-time renter ever knows the uncommon maintenance needs of their space until it’s too late in most instances. When renting and evaluating a space, one of the first things to consider is how you will escape in an emergency. Evaluating evacuation safety can be done in several ways: testing the windows and how far they open, asking the tour guide if they have an escape plan for their renters, and even looking at the fire escape ladder itself. Though these things all may look good on first glance, it is important to check them as often as you check your smoke detectors, because both go hand-in-hand in helping you escape in a fire emergency. A trick many renters and property owners use to ensure that their exterior escape fixtures are maintained is to paint them in colors that contrast to the burnt orange color of rust. Rust is one of the tell-all signs of a faulty fixture in need of up keeping, and if its rusting is shown in stark contrast to the coat of paint, it’s time to put some maintenance and work into ensuring the fixture is safe. Along with these tips, the best way to ensure that your escape fixtures and smoke alarms are working to their best potential is always to schedule a visit from your city’s fire marshal or fire department.

Overall, as nice as it is to have extra storage space outside for your bike or potted plants, safety is of the utmost importance. Ensuring that you and your loved ones can safely exit the dwelling in the case of an emergency should be both you and the property owner’s top priority. Remember to keep the area clear, and make occasional visits to your escape fixture and ensure that it is safe and in compliance with city fire codes.

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