Fix Your Foundation Before It’s Too Late

How History Had A Hand In Current Fire Codes

by Howard Barnett

There's no doubt that a fire is one of the most catastrophic events that any business can experience. Even though you take all of the necessary precautions, a fire can still happen. However, it's not completely up to you as a business owner to take the necessary steps to protect your business, because those that contracted the building you use to run your business from, as well as those that own the building, have a responsibility to protect the building from fire as well.

There are laws and building codes that come into play, but interestingly enough, some of those laws are relatively new, including one that came from the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In order to determine if your building is up to code, here is a brief outline of how certain codes came to be. 

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company

In 1911, a clothing factory in New York City caught fire, and tragically 146 young immigrant works perished as a result. They could not exit the building because there were not enough exit outlets for them, and they were unaware that a freight elevator worked. The fire chief at the time had warned that factories needed new building codes, but those warnings fell on deaf ears until this fire proved him right. As a result of this fire, work began that resulted in today's Life Safety Code.

Our Lady of the Angels School 

You probably remember the many fire drills you had in school growing up, even those drills that happened on a cold, winters day. Those drills were made mandatory as the result of a 1958 fire in the Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. What started out as a small fire in a trash can in the basement quickly spread and left many students trapped. Some were even found seated at their desks, believed to be praying

Because of this tragedy, the following was born:

  • Mandatory fire drills
  • Construction of buildings according to code
  • A bigger emphasis on fire alarms and firefighting equipment 

September 11, 2001 Attacks

Obviously, there were many things that came into play that resulted in this catastrophic event. There are many reasons why the buildings collapsed after the planes hit them, but more important are the reasons why people could not escape the building after tragedy struck. Elevators stopped working, stairwells were too small and subsequently not well lit. The size of the buildings didn't allow for the proper water pressure for sprinkler systems to do their jobs. 

Before September 11, it had long been thought that skyscrapers were essentially death traps. However, this tragedy did result in the following changes to fire code (and additional fire protection engineering):

  • Glow-in-the-dark exit markings
  • Extra stairways
  • More robust fire-proofing
  • Back-up water supply for sprinkler system
  • Impact-resistant walls in stairwell shafts and elevators
  • Radio amplifiers that assist fire-fighters with better communication inside buildings 

There were many more tragedies that helped form better fire codes. If you are a business owner that is looking for better ways to improve your businesses safety, consult a building code consultant for more information.