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View Full Version : The Fire Stairway Conundrum


LibraryLady
07-19-2008, 12:52 AM
I'm sure we all know what fire stairways are. They're a way of evacuating a building in case of emergency Here, a typical fire stairway is entered by an inconspicuous, black door. You can enter on any floor but can only exit on a floor that has an immediate access to the outside of the building. Typically, fire stairs are shielded, the doors are thick and especially fire-retardant. Fire stairways aren't attractive. Why are they so attractive to Museum visitors?

The door to a fire stairway is right next to the entrance to the Library. At least once a week we hear the frantic pounding from visitors who have wandered into the fire stairs from an upper floor and don't realize that they can only exit on the ground floor. It's true that most of these people are from other countries but they must have similar things in Germany, Japan or France.

I know they have them in the U.K. In the 70s we were visiting London when our hotel had an alarm. A plaque on the back of our room door directed us to the fire stairway and we got out very quickly.

Fire stairways are well marked. Each door bears a large sigh that says, "Fire stairway. No access to galleries. FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY." Still, visitors to the Museum will find these little stairways and try to use them when open stairways and elevators are more readily available.

Today, we had a special case. On my way back from lunch I heard the familiar frantic pounding on the door. I opened it and found a German man in his mid-twenties and plenty old enough to know better. Behind him were two other young men and they were walking UP the fire stairway.:eek:

Doing that takes special talent or determination.

In the gallery below, the Door giving access to the fire stairway has a large sign at eye-level, "Do not enter. Staff only." Beyond the door is a barren area that the Museum shop uses to store display fixtures. It's obviously a place where Museum visitors shouldn't be. Ahead of them is a daunting, black door. It's covered with warnings in interesting colors:

"ACTIVE WORK AREA. PLEASE SHOW CONTRACTOR ID BEFORE ENTERING"

and

"FIRE DOOR. KEEP CLOSED AT ALL TIMES"

Does this stop our intrepid climbers? Of course not. They make their way past the yellow tapes delimiting the active work area and the stored metal-detector gates to ascend the narrow, winding stairwell to the second floor. That's where I found and freed them.

Players of Doom or Zork would go through those doors but these guys didn't seem old enough to know those games. What is it in the psyche of a tourist that tells him/her that every possible access must be explored?

Broomjockey
07-19-2008, 01:08 AM
Huh. Those doors aren't common here. Usually it's possible to get back through, though you've likely set off an alarm in opening the door in the first place. Granted, some doors lock behind you, but if you had a key you could open them again.

Ironclad Alibi
07-19-2008, 02:01 AM
I'm sure we all know what fire stairways are. They're a way of evacuating a building in case of emergency Here, a typical fire stairway is entered by an inconspicuous, black door. You can enter on any floor but can only exit on a floor that has an immediate access to the outside of the building. Typically, fire stairs are shielded, the doors are thick and especially fire-retardant. Fire stairways aren't attractive. Why are they so attractive to Museum visitors?

Such stairways are usually in newer buildings, those built in the past 25 years or so. While they are there to evacuate the building in case of a fire, they are also a security feature to keep people from entering a building without going by any security guards on duty.

Some people don't want to be hassled by security guards, so they look for a back door to get into the building. Usually they have no legitiment reason to be in the building. They find the fire stairs and think that is an easy way to get in. It only works if someone inside opens the door for them.

Other people just don't read the signs on the doors that explain there is no exit except to the outside. As we all know, people read and understand all of the signs they come across, so this behavior is beyond our undersanding and comprehension. (If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.)

mattm04
07-19-2008, 05:46 AM
I was in the "orange" home improvement store one day when a guy pushing a cart, in his mid 30's walks up to the double doors along one wall, you now th ones with the "EXIT" sign above and a bug huGE sing on the door that said "EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY - ALARM WILl SOUND" he looked at the sign , the door, the sign again and pushes the panic bar. A second later a loud alarm goes off and the guy stops. Employees rush over and then managers. I hung around to hear the excuse. Turns out he though the sign was a joke and that was a entrance to another section of the store. eith that or he was trying to steal the stuff, but it was some spray paint, rope and a extension cord.:confused:

I know a state trooper who works at the airport. He has responded to people who try to use the emergency exits to get...somewhere. Except in that case, heavily armed Police will greet you.

Becks
07-19-2008, 03:09 PM
Turns out he though the sign was a joke

I wonder what he does when smoke detectors go off. :salmon:

crazylegs
07-19-2008, 06:00 PM
I wonder what he does when smoke detectors go off. :salmon:

Perhaps he wonders where people got the cigarettes from...?

Pezzle
07-21-2008, 05:10 PM
Speaking of emergency exits, what the hell is with the MTA NYC Subway??

Every five seconds someone who is too self important to go through the exit turnstyle (which only takes like 3 seconds, queues in NYC move quick enough) will burst through the emergency exit and set off the alarm. To which the staff responds by turning it off. And then a few seconds later, WIRR WIRR WIRR WI--, turn it off again.

It's one of those "everyone is going to do it in this big city, it's not worth it to try and catch them" scenarios I guess. By the time the MTA staff has gotten out of the booth the guy's probably already 2 blocks down 6th ave anyway ;|

It still annoys the piss out of me. Go through the turn style, unless an MTA employee lets you through the exit because you have a stroller kthx

Samaliel
07-22-2008, 03:17 PM
I opened it and found a German man in his mid-twenties and plenty old enough to know better.
[...]
Players of Doom or Zork would go through those doors but these guys didn't seem old enough to know those games.

Hey, I'm in my mid-twenties and I played Zork, and Doom was what computer games were all about when I was a kid ! Those were the days when "Doom-like" actually told you something about a game.

But precisely because I played Zork, I wouldn't dare to get past some unknown closed doors. What if it's dark back there, and I'm eaten by a grue ?

Pezzle
07-22-2008, 04:59 PM
I wouldn't dare to get past some unknown closed doors. What if it's dark back there, and I'm eaten by a grue ?


Personally never played Zork. It was always fear of the hidden Cacodemon that kept me in open, known areas :D

Broomjockey
07-22-2008, 09:03 PM
But precisely because I played Zork, I wouldn't dare to get past some unknown closed doors. What if it's dark back there, and I'm eaten by a grue ?

The other day the lights were burnt out in the elevator. I did not know this. The elevator arrives, door opens. I hesitate, but don't feel like waiting for the next one. I get in, the door closes, I push the button, and think "It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue."

LibraryLady
07-23-2008, 11:38 PM
Hey, I'm in my mid-twenties and I played Zork, and Doom was what computer games were all about when I was a kid ! Those were the days when "Doom-like" actually told you something about a game.

But precisely because I played Zork, I wouldn't dare to get past some unknown closed doors. What if it's dark back there, and I'm eaten by a grue ?

Well, Samaliel, you're one of the great ones. I'll be willing to bet that you read Tracy Kidder's "Soul of a New Machine". That was great stuff.

I don't understand why museum visitors are drawn to Emergency Exits. It seems to me very much like a frisbee being sucked under a car. :lol:

Samaliel
07-24-2008, 12:36 PM
Well, Samaliel, you're one of the great ones. I'll be willing to bet that you read Tracy Kidder's "Soul of a New Machine".

As much as I would like to say I did, after looking it up, I have to confess that I didn't. I will look into it, and see if I can find it in French.

SpyOne
07-25-2008, 07:39 AM
Possible source for some of that confusion:
In most of the public buildings I've been in, the fire stairs double as regular stairs. There are big signs that say "Keep This Door Closed" and "Fire Door: Keep Closed" to prevent people blocking the doors open, but the doors open freely from both sides and are the means to pass from floor to floor when not using an elevator.
In fact, the stairs are the preferred means of passing from floor to floor when only changing level by one or two, since there really aren't an adequate number of elevators for the traffic, and therefore the wait for an elevator is uncomfortably long.
School buildings, dormatories, court house, city offices, commercial office buildings, medical buildings, hospitals, and many others, all with that same basic design. And frequently, with multiple staircases.
So I can understand someone, especially someone not entirely familiar with the language, seeing that they are next to a staircase and not wanting to walk all the way across the gallery to the main stairs just to go up one level, and not realizing that the doors will lock behind them.

In fact, the doors that lock from one direction have become even rarer in recent years, as designers have learned that people are more likely to prop such doors open so they can come back through (for instance, using the back stairs to go outside to get something from their car, or to go out for a smoke break, and not wanting to walk all the way around the building to come back in), which defeats their nifty fire-proof-ness and turns the stairwell into a chimney in the event of fire.
So, in order to get people to leave those doors closed, they make it possible to open them from either side, because they know making the doors open from just one side will cause people to block the doors open.