Protect the Stairs at All Costs | Forum

#BadHousing Admin
#BadHousing Admin Sep 1 '19
Within the last twelve years in North America... a selection of fatalities in high-rise building fires: 

- six people died in a Chicago office building;

- five people died in two New York apartment fires;

- six people died in a Toronto hotel fire.

All of those deaths had one thing in common: they all died on the stairs, from smoke inhalation, while attempting to escape.

The urge to escape from a building when the smell of fire and smoke starts to proliferate is a perfectly understandable, and strong, instinct. Under those circumstances in high rise buildings people will make their way down the fire escape, the stairs.

Current firefighting techniques and building design across decades make it problematic, in some cases almost impossible, to keep the escape stairs free of smoke as firefighters trail hoses in their wake and thus prevent doors that are designed to inhibit the passage of fire and smoke when they are closed from fulfilling their intended purpose.

The actions and processes of operational firefighting in high rise can threaten the lives of those people it is intended to protect. From lessons such as this firefighters learn lessons and devise new strategies. The new strategy being adopted internationally in relation to high rise firefighting is 'Protect the Stairs'. It respects the criticality of stairs being maintained and controlled as a place of relative safety for residents that feel the need to leave the building.

UK high rise firefighting standard operational procedures need to consider how they can best minimise the likelihood of causing unintended harms to those they seek to help. Fitting a smoke curtain into a doorway takes about 15 seconds and yet can offer a lifeline in the way it gives some smoke containment capability, used correctly they are used to significantly reduce the likelihood of smoke making stairs an untenable environment for firefighters and for escapees.

Further reading:
Dr. Michael Reick at

Curtis Massey at

Paul Grimwood, RICE System, a presentation (pdf) given at The 6th International Tall Building Fire Safety Conference (London, 2019).

By Phil Murphy

The Forum post is edited by #BadHousing Admin Sep 2 '19