NFPA 1, Means of escape requirements in NFPA 1 and Fire Prevention Week, #FireCodefridays

Hello – Happy Friday!  Today's topic comes to you from Val Ziavras, a Fire Protection Engineer at NFPA.  Special thanks to Val for her contribution to this blog and discussing one of the many subjects addressed in the Fire Code.

With Fire Prevention Week (FPW) right around the corner, October 7-13, what better time than now to talk about home fire escape plans and means of escape requirements for dwelling units?  For those of you who aren't familiar with FPW, the main goal is to educate the public on how to stay safe during a fire.  While many of us in the fire protection field, immediately check for sprinklers and look for a second way out when we enter a building, that isn't always the case for the rest of world. One goal of FPW is to get people thinking about what they should do in the event of a fire.  It has been an NFPA sponsored event since 1922.  President Calvin Coolidge made FPW a national observance in 1925, making it the longest-running public health observance in the United States. 

This year the campaign is “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.”  The “Learn” portion of the campaign is focused on encouraging everyone to learn two ways out of every room and making sure all doors and windows leading outside open easily and are free of clutter.  A great place to start is in your own home!  The best way to do it? Create a home fire escape plan.

So by now, you may be wondering what this has to do with the Fire Code, well ultimately NFPA 1 (and NFPA 101 as well as the building code) are going to regulate the number of means of egress, or in this case the number of means of escape.  Means of escape usually applies to dwelling units while means of egress applies to all other buildings.  A person's means of escape is going to happen within their own dwelling unit (example: an apartment) but their means of egress is going to happen as soon as they leave the front door and enter the common hallway.  The concept behind both means of egress and means of escape is similar: they should provide a reliable and unobstructed way out.  However, the requirements for means of escape are not as stringent as for the means of egress.  Like many topics, NFPA 1 defers to a source document and extracts requirements. In this case, provisions are extracted directly from NFPA 101. 

Most houses have at least two doors, but what if a person were trapped in the bedroom and a fire was blocking the only door to that room? How would they escape? These are exactly the sort of questions we want to be asking ourselves, our families, and the people we work with and educate, when developing a home's fire escape plan.

NFPA 1, Section 20.11.1 requires all new and existing one- and two-family dwellings comply not only with Section 20.11 but also NFPA 101, which requires every sleeping room and every living area in dwellings or dwelling units of two rooms or more have not less than one primary means of escape and one secondary means of escape.  The primary means of escape can be a door, stairway, or ramp providing a means of unobstructed travel to the outside of the dwelling unit at street or the finished ground level. The image below is taken from the Life Safety Code Handbook and shows a floor plan with the primary means of escape and secondary means of escape identified for every room. 


101 means of escape

Section of NFPA 101 outlines what can serve as a secondary means of escape.  The secondary means of escape could be:

  • Another door, stair, passageway, or hall that provides a way to get out that is independent of the primary means of escape
  • Passage through an adjacent non-lockable space that is independent of the primary means of escape
  • An outside window or door that meets certain size and operational requirements
  • A bulkhead meeting certain size requirements
  • Ladders or steps that meet certain requirements

In addition, NFPA 1 requires that, where approved on secondary means of escape, security bars, grates, grilles, or similar devices be equipped with approved release mechanisms that are releasable from the inside without the use of a tool, a key, special knowledge, or force greater than that which it takes for normal operation of the door or window. This ensures that the common practice of installing supplemental devices for the purpose of security do not impair the operation of a door or window for escape purposes.  This Section is important to the Fire Code and for fire inspectors performing inspections on multi-family units, hotel/dormitories, apartment buildings where this practice may be more common.  

As enforcers of the Code, it is important to enforce the provisions of the Code that will ensure a safe means of escape be provided during a fire or other emergency.  Part of enforcing this important Code topic also means using times like Fire Prevention week to educate people about making AND practicing a home fire escape plan, maintain their means of escape, and the overall importance of fire safety.  Be sure to check out next week's blog which will feature another Fire Prevention Week theme and discuss requirements for testing smoke alarms.

Thanks for reading, Happy Friday!

You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA

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Kristin Bigda
Technical Lead and Principal Fire Protection Engineer with a focus on building and life safety related content.

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