Before we talk about clever things you can do with your fire escape, we’re obligated to tell you this: safety first! Fire escapes are, first and foremost, critical safety components of your building, and you need to make sure they’re kept clear at all times in case people need to evacuate in the event of a fire. That means that a lot of the clever, fascinating, and gorgeous things you see people doing with their fire escapes are dangerous, not to mention illegal.
If you want to be a law-abiding tenant and citizen, you might want to check your lease for restrictions, because some landlords ban any use of fire escapes except in emergencies. Furthermore, the fire code typically has significant restrictions on fire escapes, which cannot be used for storage and any other activities that might impede residents. Remember that in the confusion and chaos of a fire, people often have trouble navigating, so even if you promise to leave a clear path, you could still cause a catastrophic bottleneck.
Thus, the number one clever thing you can do with a fire escape is keeping it clear for other residents and immediately reporting maintenance problems to your landlord. If you notice rust, erosion, or other signs of damage, make sure they’re addressed so it will be safe to use. The second coolest thing you can do, after working to prevent fires in your own home, is to use a fire escape promptly and appropriately to evacuate in an emergency.
But, if you’re bound and determined to use the valuable real estate of your fire escape because you’re a rebel that way, here are some tips on how you can safely and creatively use a fire escape. The number one rule is that nothing (yes, sorry, that includes plants for a fire escape garden) should ever be stored on a fire escape. Period. And, for your own safety, you shouldn’t use the window ledge that opens out onto the fire escape for storage either, because you might need it clear in an emergency.
While you shouldn’t store anything on your fire escape, though, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it at all (unless your landlord says it’s a no-no or the fire code bars it). There’s a reason the fire escape plays such an iconic role in West Side Story and other pieces of Americana; it’s a fascinating community space that marks a transition from indoors to outdoors. If you want to hang out on your fire escape on hot summer evenings having a picnic, there’s often no one to stop you, and you’re free to spread out a picnic blanket along with an assortment of dishes.
You can also use a fire escape as an extension of an often small home when you’re working or playing at home; if your wireless network reaches that far and the weather is fair, why not enjoy an outdoor office with a folding chair and your computer? If you’re sitting on the fire escape to work or hang out with friends, be aware of any objects you’re temporarily using on the fire escape so you can get them out of the way quickly if you need to, and don’t overload the fire escape, because it could collapse. Pets might like hanging out there too, but don’t block off the escape to keep them from wandering, because that could be dangerous for fellow tenants of both the human and animal variety.
Fire escapes can also make an interesting venue for community art performances; outdoor productions of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, and other theater standards featuring balconies, fire escapes, and their kin have relied on the use of real-live fire escapes for performers, and they can also be interesting for choruses and musical performances. Be aware that this may not be legal, although you may be able to obtain a variance from the fire department if you prefer to be on the law-abiding side of the art world.
s.e. smith writes for Networx.com.