Whatcom and Skagit County Home Inspection (King of the House): When fire safety makes you less safe!

Home Inspector with King of the House Home Inspection, Inc

 We tend to assume that commercial buildings have fewer ill-planned designs, that are safety hazards, than our homes that have assorted home owner modifications. After all, the city, county or state code inspectors and planners get heavily involved in new buildings or converting old buildings: specifying elevators, handrails, steps, egress and many other things. The other day I went to a gallery walk in Bellingham. It was a warm night and at the highest floor in a commercial building for artists and their customers, the artists had the back door propped open to provide ventilation. I took a look outside the door and was pretty shocked to see that the attached fire escape was missing a gate of any type. It had wide spaces between the spindles of the rail and, on top of that, it was wide open at one side and someone going over this would fall to the alley below. If a parent, involved in viewing the art, was to lose sight of a child for even a moment, he or she could have been gone out the door and fallen over the side. The drop was at least 25 feet to the concrete. There was a sign, on the inside of the open door if you looked for it, that said something about the fire escape being unsafe as it was wide open and had no safety gate. Since this is a retail building, that had to pass a number of safety guidelines to be made suitable for tenants, I found this defect disconcerting. It goes to show that sometimes obvious problems slip through the cracks. The regulators make someone with a 30" high landing at their home put spindles every 4", so a kid cannot fall through, but totally overlook this one on a commercial building! Also, even though I understand that the tenants want ventilation, and probably have this door open much of the day this time of the year, I find it amazing that they have no realization that this rinky-dink fire escape (which undoubtedly is a mandatory safety feature in the building) is a serious safety hazard in and of itself.


Thanks for looking.

Steven L. Smith



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Steven L. Smith

Bellingham WA Home Inspector
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