Know the risks when using fire escapes

Regardless of your department's SOPs, it's always important to assess building construction

Editor’s Note:

Editor's note: The death of a Chicago firefighter shows the need for departments to avoid using fire escapes as a primary means of access for roofs, according to a fatality report released earlier this week. Check out Chief Adam K. Thiel's take on what we can learn below.

One of the best pieces of advice I got early in my fire and emergency services career was to spend as much time as possible doing area familiarization; paying special attention to building construction features such as fire escapes.

I still take alternate routes to work and walk around alleys and through back streets whenever I get the chance.

I shudder whenever I look at the fire escapes in my city.

Very few have been properly maintained and many of them are visibly pulling away from the (old) buildings to which they are (barely) attached.

I know in some departments it's a standard practice to use fire escapes, but, as this report suggests, it can be a very risky endeavor, especially if other access/egress options are available.

Regardless of your department's SOPs, it's always important to assess building construction and the risk-benefit profile of various tactical options during ongoing size-up.

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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