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Escape ladders important for getting to safety during fire: CFD

Fire Prevention Officer Carl Prochilo suggests escape ladders are important in multi-storey homes
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Collingwood Fire Prevention Officer Carl Prochilo.

If a fire starts in your home, getting out quickly and efficiently will save your life. 

Having more than one way out is key for any home escape plan. 

Collingwood Fire Department's Fire Prevention Officer Carl Prochilo says a fire escape ladder is important for any multi-storey home and offers the following tips on which ladder to choose, where to keep it, and how to use it. 

If you live in a multi-storey home or apartment, your fire escape plan must include two ways to get out quickly and safely if a fire breaks out.
If you live between the first and fourth floor, and your primary means of escape is blocked by smoke or fire, the best way out in some cases is by using a fire escape ladder.

If you’re picking a fire escape ladder for your house, there are a wide variety of types, manufacturers, and styles to choose from.

Fire escape ladders are designed to be deployed quickly in the event of a fire. You latch the top of the ladder to the window sill and then pull a cord to release the ladder. It should reach the ground or near the ground. Keep the ladder in an easily accessible place; ideally, near or under the window. This makes it easy to find and deploy when there’s a fire.

Escape ladders are available at most hardware stores.

When choosing a ladder, consider the following: 

Length

This is the first thing to look for when buying a fire escape ladder. Check, how many storeys it extends. Most fire escape ladders are 25 feet long (7.6 metres) or about the height of three storeys. You can safely use the ladder from the first or second floor of a building.

Smaller escape ladders extend two storeys high and are 13 feet long (3.9 metres). They are ideal for first-floor bedrooms.

You can also get much longer ladders for higher floors. There are 35-foot ladders (four storeys), which are good up to the third floor while 50-foot ladders can descend close to the ground from as high as the fifth floor.

Window size

All fire escape ladders have minimum window size requirements. There are two important sizes to check before you buy: the minimum width of the window and the minimum and maximum thickness of the window sill.

Most importantly, will your window allow the use of a fire escape ladder? Crank windows for example, will not allow the use of an escape ladder due to design. Whereas, a side hung, or slider window will.

Note that most fire escape ladders are not compatible with VELUX roof windows (skylight). So, the roof is not a viable escape option if you are planning to descend using a fire escape ladder.

Weight limit 

Weight is not an issue with most fire escape ladders. They are designed to handle the weight of multiple people descending at the same time.

It’s still a good idea to check the weight limit. Depending on your weight (and that of other family members) and the number of people who’ll potentially use the ladder, you may find that you need a ladder with a high weight capacity. Most fire escape ladders can support around 1000 lbs (450kg) of weight distributed among several rungs.

Child-friendly

If you have children, get a ladder that they can comfortably use independently. They need to be able to descend on their own.

Some of the child-friendly features to look for include:

  • Properly spaced rungs. The rungs shouldn’t be too far apart.
  • Anti-slip rungs (important for adults as well).
  • Stabilisers to keep the ladder from flailing.

Storage

Get a fire escape ladder that folds into a compact shape. Consider storing it in a large enough container so it’s ready for use and accessible. It’s recommended that you place a fire escape ladder near a window in a bedroom on the upper level. With seconds to get to safety, a fire escape ladder can provide a fast and safe way to get to ground level.

Reusable or single-use

It’s a good idea to practice deploying the ladder and going down the rungs to make sure everyone can use it during a fire. But first, check whether the ladder is re-usable or single-use.

There are low-cost fire escape ladders on the market that are only good for single usage and are not recommended. This isn’t the best option because it’s vital to have some practice with your ladder, especially if you have children. Single-use ladders cannot be used again once they’ve been deployed. That’s because they cannot be folded back and can get tangled if deployed again. Re-usable ladders are best to practice with since you can easily fold it up
and use it again.

Test your ladder

A fire escape ladder may be awkward to use, so test it out before an emergency. Once you’re done shopping for escape ladders, test it in its intended window. Drop the ladder out the window and then have someone outside climb up two or three rungs of the ladder. Make sure the ladder is properly secured. Have each family member place the ladder out the window and climb out. Think of it as a mini fire drill.

Finally, if you acquire fire ladders for your home, make sure everyone understands where they are placed and how to use them. If you are practising with children, it is recommended trying it from a first-storey window for safety reasons. Make sure the whole family knows what to do in case of a real fire. This decreases the possibility of someone stumbling when using ladders in a real emergency.

Fire escape ladders should be part of a more comprehensive fire escape plan, not the only plan you have. In fact, most manufacturers expressly state that the ladder is a means of last resort.

Have other exits mapped out just in case you can’t escape through the window or if the ladder fails. Most importantly, follow the manufacturers' recommendations for the ladder.

If you have any questions, please contact the Collingwood Fire Department at 705-445-3920.