Rope Fire Escape Ladders vs. Folding Fire Escape Ladders

Multi-story building fires or other emergencies may require more than one option for people to safely descend. For instance, the elevators can be out of service, or the stairs might get crowded with panicked people. Having a backup plan as part of your fire safety protocols is a wise choice. 

Having fire escape ladders in place is important for your the safety of the occupants of any multi-story house, apartment building, condominium or commercial building.

In this article we discuss the pros and cons of rope fire escape ladders vs. fixed folding or telescoping ladders. Each type of fire ladder has its benefits and features, which we discuss below.

Rope Fire Escape Ladders

A rope fire escape ladder is an essential safety item for multiple-story homes. It is extremely simple to set up and use. The emergency escape rope ladder by design is attached with hooks or carabiners at the top, then unfurled so it falls to the ground below. The ropes connect rungs made from non-slip materials to give you a solid grip while you evacuate yourself from the fire. In a case of emergency, people can safely escape danger by deploying it out a window or over a balcony then climbing down the fire escape ladder.

Fire Escape Ladder

Rope fire escape ladders can also be used for outdoor activities such as hanging from a treehouse or part of an athletic challenge course. Rope fire escape ladders are even used by mountain climbers to scale cliffs and glaciers. These rope ladders are highly portable and can be used in numerous ways.

Fire Escape Ladder

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Main Features of Rope Fire Escape Ladders

  • Durable
  • Can take loads of 1000-2000 pounds
  • Compact folding for storage convenience
  • Fast deployment
  • Easy climbing
  • Simple to set up
  • No assembly required

Pros of Rope Fire Escape Ladders

  • A great choice, especially if you are living on the second floor and up
  • Can be folded and stored away when not in use
  • Easy to carry 
  • Deployed in a matter of seconds for quick evacuation
  • Cheaper than permanently installed fire escape ladders
  • Can be deployed from most windows and balconies, providing multiple avenues of escape
  • The rungs are non-slip
  • More flexible than non-rope ladders 
  • Good for fire escape drills

Cons of Rope Fire Escape Ladders

  • Not suitable for people with physical disabilities
  • Limited length doesn’t cater to tall buildings past 4 floors
  • Cannot evacuate a large number of people quickly
  • Rope ladders can twist when deployed
  • Lack stability, especially in windy conditions 
  • Requires more practice compared to standard fire escape ladders

Folding or Telescoping Fire Escape Ladders 

Folding and telescoping fire escape ladders are durable and easy to use. You can install these ladders permanently on the outside of a building or home. A release pin is located at the top of the ladder that allows it to unfold or slide down, making it ready for use.

Fire escape ladder with cage

Folding and telescoping fire escape ladders provide an easy and safe way for people to climb down from a window or roof in case of a fire emergency. These ladders are manufactured from high-strength aluminum or steel, enabling them to hold multiple people at the same time. They can be used repeatedly and are generally designed to last as long as the building.

You can use the ladder only after opening the hatch or door from the top, preventing unauthorized access to the ladder from below when it is not in use. 

Main Features of Folding Fire Escape Ladders

  • Offers residents a clear escape route in an emergency
  • Transports many evacuees within minutes
  • No deployment needed — just find the ladder and go down
  • Made of durable aluminum or steel
  • Suitable for people of all ages
  • Permanently attached to the building
  • Can be used repeatedly
  • Last for many years

Pros of Folding Fire Escape Ladders 

  • The ideal choice for tall buildings and multi-story homes
  • Caters to at least one person from each floor simultaneously
  • Durable and sturdy
  • Allows for quick evacuation 
  • Can handle a heavy load
  • One-time installation
  • Increases the value of a property
  • Meets fire regulations 

Cons of Folding Fire Escape Ladders  

  • Expensive
  • Only serves one evacuation route in a building
  • Risk of overcrowding due to too many people descending the ladder at once
  • Potentially blocked by tenants
  • Must be inspected and maintained periodically, depending on local fire regulations

Fire Escape Ladders – Our Top Picks

1. Kidde Two-Story Fire Escape Ladder with Anti-Slip Rungs

Kidde 468193 KL-2S, 2 Story Fire Escape Ladder with Anti-Slip Rungs, 13-Foot

The Kidde two-story fire escape ladder is easy to use and attaches quickly to most windows in buildings and households. The ladder is durable, flame resident, and made with sturdy material. This fire ladder is tested to hold more than 1000 pounds in weight and deploy with ease. Kidde offers a 5-year warranty, reflecting its high quality.

Pros

  • No assembly or tools are required.
  • Long warranty
  • Anti-slip
  • Flame resistant 

Cons

  • One-time use 
  • The hook and hinge designs aren’t the best 
  • Metal steps are sharp 

2. First Alert Two-Story Fire Escape Ladder, Steel, Anti-Slip

First Alert 2 story fire escape ladder

First Alert’s easy-to-use 2-story fire escape ladder has strong steel construction tested to hold more than 1125 pounds. The nylon strapping is DuPont Cordura for maximum durability and strength. 

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • High-quality
  • Perfect for children
  • Reusable

Cons

  • Can move and tangle during use
  • Fits a limited range of window designs

3. Qwork 32 Foot Rope Escape Ladder 

QWORK 32 foot rope fire escape ladder

The Qwork 32 foot home fire escape ladder is designed specifically to work on balcony railings and over window sills where a standard ladder mount doesn’t work. With a full 32 feet of length, you can escape any fire from the 2nd, 3rd or 4th stories — ideal for apartments, condominiums and tall houses. It requires no assembly, and is super lightweight, compact and easy to carry and store. The ladder is fireproof and comes with a safety belt and carabiners.

Pros 

  • It comes with a safety belt
  • Holds up to 2000 pounds
  • Reusable
  • Perfect for adults
  • Works well with 3 and 4 story buildings 
  • Sturdy yet light 

Cons 

  • It might tangle due to its length
  • Can move around a lot in the wind 
  • Round rungs don’t feel as stable as square-topped rungs

4. Saf-Escape Two-Story Portable Fire Escape Ladder

The Saf-Escape Two-Story Portable Fire Escape Ladder is made of high-strength steel chain and 18-gauge steel rungs. The ladder has extensions that touch the wall every other rung, so it doesn’t swing or stretch while being used. This is a highly durable ladder that can be used many times and has been tested to hold up to 1,000 pounds.

Pros 

  • High-quality chain and steel rungs
  • Fits thick walls — good for old buildings
  • Stable when climbing down
  • Can hold multiple people at once
  • Reusable
  • Easy to store

Cons

  • Requires some assembly (stand off legs)
  • End of the rungs can be sharp, potentially leading to scratches or cuts when handling the ladder
  • Chains can tangle up temporarily when deploying the ladder

Buying a Fire Escape Ladder – How to decide?

With all the points being made, it is essential to understand that both fire safety protocols have their own features and applications. We cannot apply a cookie-cutter technique to home and building safety because their nature and possible emergencies always vary. 

Before picking one from the two, take a look at the following points to make a better decision:

  • How tall is your property?
  • How many people reside in your building?
  • What possible emergencies could occur?
  • How much are you willing to invest in fire safety protocols?
  • Are you looking for a primary ladder or a backup ladder?

The Winner Is… 

The decision to use a rope fire escape ladder or a fixed folding or telescoping ladder depends on your particular situation.

The folding or telescoping fire escape ladder is a clear winner in terms of durability and reliability, and for multi-tenant buildings greater than 3-4 stories. If you live in a building full of people, rope ladders are not a good choice because they cannot evacuate a large number of people at once. Rope ladders swing and don’t maintain a stationary position compared to a fixed folding ladder, making them potentially dangerous.

A rope fire escape ladder is typically a better choice for houses, condos and apartments with 3 or fewer stories. They can be stored under beds and in closets until you need them, then quickly deployed. Because they are much cheaper, you can purchase multiple rope fire ladders for your upstairs windows and balconies, providing multiple evacuation points. This is critical if one part of the building becomes inaccessible in a fire.

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Nick Klamecki, Author
About Nick Klamecki, Author

Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree 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. Learn more about Nick here or connect with him on LinkedIn | Medium

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