San Diego, CA
Chicago - Emergency Fire Escape
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© Christine Till
In Chicago (a city that has a special history with fire), people are so used to seeing the old iron fire escapes on the outside of buildings built anywhere from the late 1880s up thru the 1930s that they just blend into the rest of the noise.
Every facet of the urban landscape has a story to tell; so much so that we tend to take for granted much of our surroundings. Have you ever stopped to consider the history or unique composition of a fire escape? Within a year after the first patent for a fire escape was issued in 1887 (to Ms. Anna Connelly), the U.S. Patent Office had issued patents for 1,100 competitive designs and unique styles, encompassing many different forms and every conceivable material. The real beauty of Ms. Connelly's invention was that these inexpensive metal structures could be attached to both new and existing buildings.
Does the complex in which you live or work have a fire escape? Would you use this historical architectural curiosity if there was a fire in your building? If well maintained, a fire escape is still a life saving structure. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to tell if a fire escape is safe to use or not.
Residential buildings tend to have an additional, unique set of problems when it comes to their old emergency escapes. It seems that they get a lot of use ... just not for their intended purpose. City inspectors and fire escape maintenance companies commonly report the passages being exploited as urban gardens, personal balconies, clothes dryers, and smoking lounges.
Hanging there on buildings all over The Loop these Escheresque, geometrical structures, add yet another distinctive element to the facades of Chicago's historic buildings. Today, with the advent of new fangled construction materials and redundant fire prevention systems, Chicago's updated building codes have done away with the fire escape as a component of new construction, going so far as to prohibit them in all but very, very specific circumstances.
January 4th, 2013
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