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Residential Fire Escape Requirements in Philadelphia

Dennis Hartman

Cities impose fire escape requirements that homeowners and landlords must follow to ensure the safety of residents. The city of Philadelphia mandates requirements for fire escapes in its city fire code, which supplements state, federal and international guidelines.

Escape Openings

Residential apartment buildings need multiple egress routes.

A significant portion of Philadelphia's fire code deals with fire escape openings, which are the doors and windows through which people can evacuate a building. Philadelphia residential building owners are responsible for maintaining openings that are operable from inside the building. In addition, residents must be able to remove barriers such as bars and grates from inside and without the use of any special tool or key.

State Fire Escape Regulations

Philadelphia residential building owners, including private homeowners, are also responsible for complying with statewide fire codes that regulate fire escapes. All Philadelphia residential buildings that have living space on the second floor or above require at least two means of escape for residents. This usually means a normal entrance stairway and an escape window. These windows must be less than 3 feet above the interior floor. If they are more than 6 feet above the exterior ground, they require ladders or exterior stairs made from fire-retardant wood or metal.

Maintenance and Egress

The Philadelphia fire code borrows from the International Residential Code and similar standards to provide requirements for residential fire escape maintenance. Building owners are responsible for inspecting and repairing fire escape stairs and escape windows, as well as alarms and sprinkler systems. Homeowners with living space in basements must install egress windows to provide secondary escape routes. Philadelphia and Pennsylvania state authorities can impose fines or require alterations to residential buildings that fail to meet applicable fire escape code requirements.

Philadelphia's fire code and the Pennsylvania state code deal with several fire safety issues that are related to residential fire escapes. For example, Pennsylvania requires all residential townhouses for one or two families to have sprinkler systems. In Philadelphia, an approved sprinkler system in a multifamily building might provide an exception to the emergency escape opening requirement. State and city codes also provide different regulations for fire escapes in commercial buildings where people work and conduct business during the day.