Many City Fire Escapes are “Ticking Time Bombs”

In the wake of last month's fatal fire escape collapse that killed a 22-year-old man and injured two women, Philadelphia residents are concerned about the safety of thousands of old fire escapes, and a national fire escape expert tells NBC10, they should be.

Francisco Meneses is an inspector with the National Fire Escape Association. Meneses and NBC10's LuAnn Cahn took a walk through a few Philadelphia alleyways and discovered that most of the fire escapes they saw are what Meneses calls, "ticking time bombs."

"This is going to fall," Meneses says of one fire escape. "This has eaten its bolt and it's doing the best it can to hold on."

The particular fireplace of concern is one of many just blocks away from where 22-year-old Albert Suh fell to his death from a Locust Street apartment fire escape on January 12.

Officials say Suh and two women went onto the landing of the fire escape when it suddenly came loose and collapsed. The victims, police say, fell 35-feet to the ground.

According to a spokesperson with Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I), fire escape inspections are required only at the time of installation or if someone makes a complaint to L&I. The fire escape responsible for Suh's death may not have been inspected for 50 years, which was the time of installation.

"We have hundreds of thousands of structures in this city, many that have fire escapes," personal injury attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said. "It is impossible for the city to go out and inspect all of them. What it needs to do is have a set of regulations that imposes the burden on the owner to make sure the property is adequately inspected and maintained."

Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson says that landlords should be able to prove their fire escapes are safe. The problem with that, is that escapes are expensive to repair and so some landlords don't make repairs unless they're forced to and without required inspections, there's no one on their backs to make sure their building's fire escapes are safe.
Councilman Johnson is hoping to sponsor legislation that could change fire escape safety procedure.

If you believe your escape is unsafe, L&I recommends calling 311.

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