Defenses against Fire: Ladders to Escape a House Fire

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A quick exit from a burning house requires an early warning and a workable escape plan. Every room should have at least two exits, such as a door and a window. Each family member should know how to leave quickly and safely by every exit

Family fire drills are necessary to practice climbing through windows, especially windows that are small and relatively inaccessible, such as those in a basement. End each drill at a predetermined meeting spot outside the house so that in a real fire you can tell quickly whether anyone is trapped inside. Post your plan, with exits and the meeting spot clearly marked on a floor plan of the house, and show it to guests and baby-sitters.

For a one-story house such an escape plan, if it's practiced, is generally adequate. In a two- or three- story house a ladder may be needed for an upper-floor window. The ladder can be flexible or rigid, portable or permanently mounted.

Choosing a Ladder: A rigid ladder, permanently fastened to the side of the house, is safest in case of fire, but it can make upper floors accessible to intruders. Such ladders have to be custom-made to match the structure of the house so that they can be attached securely to studs and joists. Usually the professional who makes the ladder also installs it.

Flexible ladders that hang from a window are easily installed, inexpensive, and inconspicuous but some what difficult for any but the agile and cool-headed to use in an emergency. Such a ladder should be made of chain or steel cable and fit ted with standoff spacers to keep the rungs away from the wall for toe- and handholds.

One type of flexible ladder requires no installation. it's stored near the window, then taken out and hung from the window frame when it's needed (below). Other types are anchored permanently to the floor below a window. The widely used model at right is fitted by the purchaser with a handhold rung and a standoff rung to fit over the window sill.

Cable-Tied Rungs to Hang from a Window


Using the ladder.

Store the ladder box in an accessible location. When necessary, put the ladder to use as follows:

• Remove the lid of the box.

• Grasp a sill hook in each hand and pull the hooks out of the box; a spring-and-rod assembly inside a cross brace automatically snaps the hooks together to make a rigid frame.

• Drop the rungs out of the window and hook the frame over the sill.

• Climb sideways out the window, straddling the sill so that you can see the ladder beneath you, and place your foot on a convenient rung .

A Ladder Anchored to the Floor


1. Fastening the ladder to the floor.

• Slip the end link of each chain through the slot in the center of a floor plate.

• Secure the links with curved metal pins provided by the manufacturer (above).

• Center the ladder box under the escape window. Then drill through the holes in the bottom of the box to bore pilot holes in the floor for lag screws provided with the ladder.

• Put a washer on each lag screw and fasten the floor plates and box to the floor with the screws.


2. Attaching the handhold rung.

• Before installing the top two rungs—the rest of the ladder comes preassembled—lower the ladder from the window.

• Place the handhold rung between two chain links that lie opposite each other on the interior part of the window sill, which is called the stool. Pass a rung bolt through a small spacer and one of the links, then through the length of the rung (above). At the other end of the rung, push the bolt through the opposite link and the other small spacer, then attach the nut.

• Before tightening the assembly, rotate each spacer so that the round portion rests on the stool, and fit the chain links into the slots at each end of the rung.

• Fasten the chain to each spacer with the U-bolts sup plied with the ladder (inset).


3. Attaching the standoff rung.

• Hold a standoff spacer alongside one of the chains so that the center of the spacer’s curved portion rests against the edge of the sill . Mark with tape the link that lines up with the bolt hole in the spacer.

• Repeat for the other chain.

• Following the procedures in Step 2, assemble the spacers, standoff rung, and rung bolt, then fasten the chains to the standoff spacers with U-bolts.

• Pull up the ladder and store it in the box ready for use.

Previous: Portable Extinguishers for Small Fires
Next: Coping with Everyday Hazards

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