Fire escape ladders can be a real lifesaver during a building or home fire emergency. However, once they are used, can they be used again? We discuss the answer in this post.
Fire Escape Ladders Can Fail
After weather and time take their toll on steel or iron components of fire escape ladders, they can lose their ability to hold the weight of a person climbing down during a fire emergency. These components are more numerous than spotted at first glance and also include attached balconies and platforms. They include:
- Side beams and handrails
- Anti-slip grip tape or cut grooves
- Safety belts (home escape ladders)
- Structural standouts
- Platform flooring
Reusable fire escape ladder brands:
Some reusable fire escape ladder brands that you can purchase ladders from include:
Reuseable fire escape ladders are best when used again on boats and docks but not on window sills in apartments and homes after a fire. They can be reused for practicing escaping from a home fire, and in fact, this is a great way to be prepared for an emergency.
However, even though the package may state that they are reusable, they are almost certainly designed for ONE TIME use. This means that if you have ever used it for a fire emergency escape, it is not advised to use it again. As the fire will cause the metal escape ladder to bend and any polyester or nylon material will melt.
Using an already damaged fire escape ladder may cause injury or even death. Just imagine the ladder breaking away on your way down from your roof, window, or balcony.
Compressed Style Fire Escape Ladders
Many compressed-style fire escape ladders are not designed to be reused. You cannot even practice using one of these without having to get a new one. Even if you can reuse them when there is no fire just for practice, it is not advised to do so after a fire emergency because the components could be damaged from the heat and flames.
These types of fire escape ladders are ideal for homes with second floors that have window access. They are great as additional fire escape routes when the inside stairs become blocked by thick black smoke. Replacing these types of fire escape ladders is not very expensive, so should not be delayed.
Fire Escape Ladder Replacement Requirements
Home fire escape ladders often have recommended dates of replacement included on the packaging by the manufacturer. This period of time for replacement is usually every 3 years, even without having used it. This is to ensure the ladder and its components are not damaged in any way by moisture, heat, dust buildup, or any other damages.
You should not have to use a fire escape ladder more than one time for a fire escape emergency. There would be serious structural fire resistance issues with the building you are occupying to require more than one escape to safety using a fire exit, stairs, or ladder within any period of time.
Only in situations where separate events such as an earthquake, followed by a terrorist attack, that leads to building fires could lead to this.
In reality, fire escape ladders can be used more than once only for fire escape safety training. This is actually very important for all occupants to know.
Permanent Fire Escape Ladders
Fire escape ladders attached to buildings are usually made of carbon or galvanized steel components that will rust over time under weather. This can make them lose their strength and if put under a heavy load of one or more people trying to escape, could fail during a fire emergency.
The standouts to the balconies, ladders, or stairs on the sides of buildings could also become weak and the entire structure could pull away over time or under pressure.
Fire escape ladders and their hinges, connectors, rails, rungs, and connected balconies must be constructed of materials that meet certain standards.
However, because it is tedious to monitor all the fire escape balconies, stairs, and ladders constructed over the past century on older buildings, new outdoor fire escape stairs and ladders are no longer required for new buildings in many states.
For more information, see our post Where Are Fire Escape Ladders Required?
If a fire breaks out in the building you are in and you happen to use the fire escape stairs or ladder to get down to the ground, make sure a building inspector or fire code official reviews the building and fire escapes for structural integrity when the emergency is over.
So, the verdict is that fire escape ladders are only supposed to be used once during a fire escape emergency, and more than once only during training on how to use them.
House and building fires are rare enough that the expense of replacing one will not be a recurring cost to either the tenants or the building owners. In fact, most people can afford to replace the one they have at home.
Regardless of expense, having a fire escape ladder accessible to you is extremely important for your safety in the event of a fire emergency.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.