The deadline to comply with the new inspection requirements mandated by the recent amendment to the Philadelphia fire code is fast approaching.
In the wake of a fire escape collapse in Center City that caused one death and two very serious injuries, the City of Philadelphia reviewed whether to mandate the inspection of fire escapes. Ultimately, the City of Philadelphia enacted a bill that amended Section F-1011.1 of the Philadelphia Fire Code. This amendment requires building owners to conduct very specific inspections of their building’s fire escapes and fire escape balconies. A report of the inspection must be filed with the Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”).
The initial deadline for filing these inspection reports is July 1, 2017. If the construction of the fire escape or fire escape balcony was completed after July 1, 2007, the first inspection must be conducted within ten years after construction of the fire escape or fire escape balcony was completed. For any fire escapes or fire escape balconies that underwent a restoration within one year prior to July 1, 2017, the building owner may apply for an extension of the initial inspection. Thereafter, building owners must file inspection reports every five years following the submission of the initial report.
A “fire escape” is defined by the ordinance as “a system of metal landings, balconies, stairs, or ladders attached to a building that are not classified as an exterior stairway and are intended or designed to aid in egress from a building in an emergency.” A “fire escape balcony” is defined as “a balcony that projects from the building face and is intended for use in conjunction with a fire escape, an exit stair, or an area of refuge.” Given these very broad definitions, care should be taken not to omit any required component from the inspection.
Only a Pennsylvania licensed professional engineer who is experienced in the practice of structural engineering can perform the inspections. The inspection report must reference all conditions of the fire escape and fire balcony including, but not limited to, significant deterioration, movement, and mechanical operations.
If an unsafe condition is found, then the engineer must immediately notify the owner and, within 12 hours of discovery, notify L&I’s Emergency Services Unit. Within 24 hours of receiving notice of an unsafe condition, the owner must take any and all actions necessary to protect public safety. Within 10 days of receiving a report identifying an unsafe condition, the owner must commence remediation of the unsafe condition and work continuously without interruption until the unsafe condition has been corrected.
If the engineer determines that the condition is safe, so long as certain repairs and maintenance are undertaken, then the owner is responsible for complying with the engineer’s instructions within the time frame specified in the inspection report. If the fire escape or balcony is determined to be safe by the engineer, then the engineer shall post upon the fire escape a tag or placard (made of weather-resistant reflective material) that clearly and legibly states the date of the inspection, the date by which a new inspection is required (five years from the last inspection), and the name and contact information of the engineer who conducted the inspection.