Fire escapes are such an iconic part of city buildings that a downtown Raleigh building has one as a mural on its southern face. Pippa Biddle has a fascinating account of the history of fire escapes in The Atlantic, covering the regulations and laws on their size and use, their role in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, their place in culture, and the current challenges around them. Their story encapsulates the successes and shortcomings of city planning over the past 150 years.
The most common issues with these existing structures, according to Stu Cohen, the founder of the City Building Owners Insurance Program, are the same ones that have plagued them from their earliest implementation: lack of maintenance and human obstruction. “Over time,” Dos Santos says, “no one has been taking care of these systems because they don’t want to put money into it.”