Fire Safety Suggestion

Sunday, 2007-July-08 at 12:50

This morning, the guests at this hotel got a nice early wake-up call. The fire alarm went off somewhere around 7 to 7:30 AM. As I stepped out of the door of this fourth floor room, heading toward the stair well, I thought, "what if someone was in a wheelchair or had some other form of impaired locomotion?"

You see, the elevators were locked at the first floor, with their doors open.

I got to the stairs and had to force the door open. The alarm had started a powerful ventilation system in the stair wells. The airflow made it difficult to open the doors (and made them slam loudly behind you once you did get them open.

New Jersey is crawling with high school and younger lacrosse players this weekend, so the hotel was absolutely filled with red-suited youths, some of which were just starting to straggle down when they announced that it was a false alarm several minutes later. I don’t know if maybe they just did not know about the stairs or maybe they just could not get the doors open. (I try to use the stairs every day, so I already knew where they are and also know that the doors operated differently with the ventilation system running.) It seemed that the youngest players were the last to come down. (Of course, that could be from being up making noise until 11 PM.)

The more I thought about it, the more I thought this could have been a big tragedy if it had been a real fire. A hotel full of youngsters (or oldsters for that matter) with the elevators locked and many of them potentially unable to open the doors to use the stairs. A single entry / exit to the parking lot with a line of vehicles waiting for slow-moving kids to appear with their stuff and get into the vehicles. It is hoped that anyone with mobility or locomotion issues would be on the first floor, where they could get out directly.

I think we need to rethink the way we design our structures. We can do better than this. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but that does not mean that what we have is good enough.

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