What To Look For When Agencies Conduct a Fire Inspection of Your Building?

By John Thomas

As a retired Fire Marshal, I have conducted a number of commercial and residential building inspections.  One of the most important elements of emergency equipment in a building but the least inspected, is the fire escape. Why is that? Well, that is because most inspectors look for rust or broken treads, but they should be looking for the proper companies to look at the fire escapes to provide a thorough professional evaluation of the fire escapes. Not a letter from a welding company. An engineering report from a fire escape company must be provided.

So, let us take look at the code. The State of New Jersey Uniform Fire Code:

N.J.A.C 1031.6 Exterior egress. “All exit discharge, exterior stairways and fire escapes shall be kept free of snow and ice. Any fire escape or exterior stairway found to be in a state of deterioration or determined to be unsafe by the fire official shall be repaired immediately. Depending upon the structural condition, a load test of any fire escape shall be conducted before the escape is returned to service in accordance with the N.J.A.C. 5:23, the Uniform Construction Code”.

State of New Jersey Uniform Building Code.

New Jersey: Section 103.4 To determine the acceptability of technologies, processes, products, facilities, materials and uses attending the design, operation or use of a building or premises subject to inspection by the fire code official, the fire code official is authorized to require the owner or agent to provide, without charge to the jurisdiction, a technical opinion and report. The opinion and report shall be prepared by a qualified engineer, specialist, laboratory or fire safety specialty organization acceptable to the fire code official and shall analyze the fire safety properties of the design, operation or use of the building or premises and the facilities and appurtenances situated thereon, to recommend necessary changes. The fire code official is authorized to require documentation to be prepared by, and bear the stamp of, a registered design professional.

Ever 5 years, the fire escape needs to be inspected and certified by a professional company not a welding company.

Welding companies repair only what is immediately broken on a fire escape. They don’t verify structural capacity or wall attachments.

In addition, welding companies do not specialize in applying a rust preventative paint or any of the necessary repairs for preventative maintenance.

Although welding companies may resolve some immediate repairs, to certify a fire escape, all repairs including scraping and painting the entire fire escape will be necessary.

A Fire Escape company specializes in the repair of fire escapes. They can remedy all necessary and immediate damages on the fire escape while also providing structural maintenance throughout the system.

A fire escape company will conduct a multi-point inspection covering the entire fire escape from handrail connections to support brackets.

Once all repairs have been completed and reviewed by a licensed structural engineer, a 5-year certification letter will be provided to the customer and the inspection report is submitted to the local fire code official.

Exterior Fire Escape Contractors must carry a NJ Home Improvement License and NY General Contractors license as well as AWS Welding Certifications to perform the critical repairs on a fire escape. Not to mention, for retrofit new construction fire escapes, a contractor must also present a valid and up-to-date license to perform work. In addition, the contractor must provide a design professional such as an Engineer or Architect to sign and seal permits and drawings as well as conclude those projects with final inspection reports. Hiring a contractor without these licenses will result in liabilities for property owners.

OSHA and EPA certification is critical for both Environmental and Workforce safety. A Fire Escape Contractor must carry a valid OSHA 10 in New Jersey, and/ or an OSHA 30 in New York City. Performing work without these credentials may result in unnecessary fines and violations presented to the property owner and contractor.

As a building owner or manager, the responsibility falls on you to make sure that all fire safety equipment is in compliance and that includes 5-year inspection of the fire escapes. If something happens and the insurance investigation discovers that the fire escape is not in compliance the building owner will be responsible for any expenses from the incident. The expenses could be personal injury, property damage to your property, property damage to surrounding property, then come the lawsuits.

So, to protect the building owner and building manager;

  • Every 5 years have the fire escape inspected and certified
  • Have the company be a certified Fire Escape Company
  • Get a Structural Engineers report from the Fire Escape Company
  • If the Structural Engineers reports passes the Fire Escape have a copy on site for municipal inspections
  • If the Structural Engineers report has deficiencies have them repaired immediately
  • Make sure that the Fire Escape Company puts a plaque on the fire escape so inspectors can see that it was certified. 

Fire Marshall (retired) John Thomas has been involved in emergency services since 1981 and the last 9 years the Fire Marshall covering two municipalities. John Thomas is a certified Fire Official/ Fire Inspector, Level-2 Fire Service Instructor, Hazardous Material Specialists and Instructor and Technical Rescue Technician and Instructor.  Maximum Fire Escapes has been involved in certifying fire escapes since 2011. The company is owned by Max Zeldich and Managed by Tomme Correia out of the Newark New Jersey office. They have conducted business in the tri-state area and PA, VA,MD,DE,MA and DC.  they have been called in by building owners to abate fire escape violations in these areas. They are fully insured and certified in many areas for fire escape repair and inspections.

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