If you have glanced around campus or downtown you will notice that there are a lot of old steel fire escapes hanging off of buildings in Corvallis. When one of the sororities took their composite photo with all 40 of the ladies on the fire escape in 2010, the bolts pulled out of a rotten wood wall and caused the escape to lurch downward.  Fortunately, no one was hurt. As a result the Corvallis Fire Department started to make a big push to have homeowners upgrade, test and repair these escapes. We are one of the companies working to help with these repairs.

 

We have recently completed repairs on a few Greek houses and just completed 3 load confidence tests at Sigma Kappa Sorority. At that house, a Licensed Structural Engineer could not tell how well the old fire escape was attached to a building. As a result, it is usually easiest to load test it rather than open up walls to verify no dryrot has compromised the bolts holding the escape onto the house. So, after making some minor repairs, we installed temporary shoring under the escape to prevent a collapse. Then we applied a 100 pound per square foot load to each platform simultaneously with full water barrels. This can add up to a lot of weight, for example a 4’x12′ platform needs to be tested at 4,800 pounds (or 576 gallons of water).  Typically, the platforms will deflect 1-2 inches and then recover the deflection after the weight is removed. If they don’t recover, then structural repairs need to be made. The last step is to hire our industrial painter to re-paint the fire escape.

 

Jim Patton with Corvallis Fire Department has outlined 5 compliance routes for these escapes in Corvallis. We can help you through this process:

1. Hire a licensed engineer to inspect the escape to make sure it can carry the 100lbs/sf load. Usually, his inspection leads to reinforcements which give the Engineer confidence in the escape. This route allows for 5 year intervals between future inspections.

2. Load test the escape. If the escape can hold the required load, then the City allows for 10 years between load tests.

3. Replace all of the old bolts, welds and connections to the building. This major retrofit will provide 15 years between retrofits, but is very costly. The caveat of this is that if the escape wasn’t originally engineered to be strong, just replacing the connections doesn’t necessarily mean it will be strong today.

4. Replace the fire escape with a new exterior “stair tower” up to today’s code requirements (typically much larger to accommodate regular stairs). This route usually provides the best long term solution, but it is costly.

5. Remove the fire escape: some houses already have two fire-rated stairwells, so the fire escape is no longer necessary. This can be determined by a licensed Architect through a code review process.

 

Please give us a call if you have fire escapes on your building, we can help you. 541-754-6326.

– Carl

 

FYI: Portland is currently considering doubling the requirements for the load test to be 200lb/sf and require a 1 hour waiting period with the full load on the structure. At this point, I don’t know if Corvallis will follow suit.

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