Should you get a fire Escape Ladder?

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what is a fire escape ladderA fire escape ladder was never something we thought about buying for our apartment.

That was until we got talking to a firefighter at our local brewery one night.

We told him where we lived. “Oh, one of those 1980s apartment blocks out in the East end?”

“Yep.”

“You know, you better get yourselves an escape ladder.”

Seriously. The first thing he said when we told him where we live wasn’t “Oh, nice views there.” Or: “You’re close to some great cafes.”

No. It was – get yourselves an escape ladder. ASAP.

So we came home and researched them that night. Here’s what we discovered.

What is a Fire Escape Ladder?

A fire escape ladder is a rescue device used for people stuck in a multi-story building due to a fire. The fire or its smoke is usually blocking the ground floor exits. The ladder is used to escape using a balcony railing or window ledge.

The first fire emergency ladder was invented by Joseph Winters and patented on May 7, 1878. His fire ladder was a ladder that was put on a wagon and extended upward to rescue people. Nowadays, we tend to deploy the ladders from inside the building and they hang down.

Fire ladders are distinct from fire stairs which are permanently connected to a building’s exterior and now mandatory in many multi-story apartment buildings. You’ll recognize fire escape stairs as the rickety looking stairwells on the exterior of many buildings in the New York skyline.

By contrast, a quick deploy fire ladder is usually kept in an accessible location in your apartment for quick retrieval and deployment if you end up trapped upstairs.

Who needs a Personal Fire Escape Ladder?

While you might associate fire emergency ladders with apartments, that’s not the only people they’re to be used for.

A quick deploy fire emergency ladder can be used for any building that has multiple stories. A two story house, for example, can have a fire escape kit stored in a box on the balcony for quick deployment at a time of need. 

You can get emergency quick deploy ladders for multiple different heights. Shorter ladders will be sufficient for escaping from a two story building. But we’ve seen emergency escape ladders that can be deployed from as high up as 6 stories.

The reason people get them is that fires spread – fast! Firefighters may not arrive in time to save you from burns or smoke inhalation, meaning people sometimes need to take their safety into their own hands.

If you feel you need a fire escape ladder, check our review of the best fire escape ladders here.

How to Deploy your Quick-Deploy Ladder

The ladder will usually be folded into a small box. The box can be stored under a couch, in a storage container on the balcony, or even under a bed.

When it’s time to deploy the ladder, it differs from ladder to ladder. Ensure you always follow the rules of the specific fire escape ladder and in your jurisdiction. Below are general steps for use only and not necessarily appropriate for your situation or your fire escape ladder.

But normally – you can pick the rolled-up ladder out of the box and latch it to a windowsill or balcony. So here are the general steps to follow.

General Instructions for Use

Don’t forget to follow the exact rules provided in the instruction manual for your product.

1. Find a Secure Place to Deploy the Ladder
This is one of the most important steps: finding a secure place for the ladder to be deployed. An old, rusted balcony railing may not hold your weight sufficiently. It’s usually better to deploy the ladder from a secure structural beam designed to take a lot of weight.

Windowsills are a common place for deploying the ladders.

The other thing to look out for is where you’ll land. You want the ladder to be directly above a clear landing location where you can get to the ground and escape to safety asap.

2. Hook the Ladder on the Sill.
Once you have found the place you’ll deploy the ladder, hook it onto the sill according to the instructions provided. Give it a weight test by leaning into it and ensure the hook does not slip.

3. Pull the Release.
Most ladders will come with a velcro release strap. when you pull the strap, the ladder will fall.

4. Hook onto the Safety Harness.
If your ladder has a built-in safety harness, ensure you have put it on according to the instructions on the ladder.

5. Lower yourself out the Window.
You will need to exit the window looking backward, so you’re facing the ladder as you climb down. As you take your steps on the ladder, ensure three of four limbs are always holding onto the ladder.

6. Only go One at a Time.
Quick deploy ladders are usually only designed for one person to use them at a time. Stay calm and slowly lower yourselves one at a time with a focus on safety first. Check your manual to see how many people can be on the ladder at once.

*This is general information only and may not be suitable for you or your circumstances or jurisdiction. Read the manuals, check your local authority’s advice, and ensure you are trained in appropriate use.

Where to Keep a Fire Escape Ladder

A fire escape kit should usually be kept in an accessible location near the escape route you plan to use. It’s best to plan this out in advance. Try to ensure the escape ladder is not placed on the other end of the house to where you want to escape – and especially not between the escape route and the kitchen. If there’s a kitchen fire, you don’t want to be trapped on the other side of the house to your escape ladder.

Make sure everyone knows where the ladder is kept and ensure you check once a month to make sure nothing has obscured your access.

Conclusion

A fire escape ladder is one of several pieces of equipment you need to keep in your home fire emergency kit. But it may save your life. As our firefighter friend showed us, they’re used much more than you’d think.

In his time, he said he was called out to countless fires where he’s had to rescue people from multi-story buildings. And especially in apartments – where any one person can cause a kitchen fire that’ll put the whole block up in smoke – it’s important to have this one ladder in your arsenal of fire safety equipment.

Make sure you also keep a fire extinguisher and fire safety blanket in your house, and ensure you’ve always got a carbon dioxide & smoke detector active at all times.

Remember, this information is stated as personal opinion for our circumstances and does not constitute advice, professional or otherwise, to you, your jurisdiction, and your circumstances. Consult with your local fire department for information specific to your situation and make sure you’re well trained in use before a fire occurs.