Fire Escape Requirements

Updated March 23, 2017

Fire escapes are an emergency exit out of a building. Typically, these routes are attached to the side of a building and act as an alternative route out of the building when the staircases inside the building are not accessible. Each city and state has various laws and regulations on the existence and maintenance of fire escapes.

Multiple Routes Out of a Building

One of the most common regulations across the country in regards to fire escapes is that each room must have a secondary escape route in the case of an emergency. A window itself does not qualify--it typically depends on how far the window is from the ground. In apartment buildings, it is often city or state code that each room within the apartment or office not only have a window, but also access to the fire escape.

In the case of residential homes, a second-floor window often suffices as a secondary escape route because it is only one story. However, it is recommended by fire officials to have a safety ladder available.


While each state and city has its own regulations, OSHA has very specific guidelines for fire escape stairways that applies to all fire escapes in the U.S. First, the stairways must be between 30 and 50 degrees of inclination. Risers (or steps) must be between 6½ and 9½ inches high, and the treads must be between 8 and 11 inches in depth. Railings are required on all fire escapes, and there must be at least 30 inches between the top of the railing and the stairs. There must also be at least 7 feet of clearance between the surface of the stairs and the ceiling above. Fire escape stairs must be able to handle a minimum of 454 Kilogram of weight load--which allows multiple people to utilise the fire escape in case of an emergency.

Inspection & Permanent Structures

All fire escapes must be permanent structures on a building. The fire escapes cannot be moved or altered in any way once they are installed on/in the building. In addition, depending on the city or state the building is located in, the fire escape must pass inspection by local fire codes. Typically, these inspections occur on a yearly basis but may be required every 2 years depending on the location. Any wear, tear or damage found must be fixed in a timely manner, or the owner of the building can face major fines or even jail time if any emergencies were to happen and inhabitants of the building are harmed in any way.

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About the Author

Lauren Farrelly has been writing and producing for television since 2003. She has experience covering sports, business news and general news events for CNBC, ESPN and Bleacher Report. Farrelly has a BA in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University.