Yesterday, I had lunch in a sub shop in Ashland. When I was leaving, I pushed on one of the doors to leave, and found it locked. Though the door beside it opened, both doors should have been unlocked, since the building was occupied. I have found this scenario in many of my travels since retiring from the fire service. I never calculated occupancy ratings and numbers, but I do know that distance to exits and size of exit openings play a part in those numbers. Some may say that they have to keep an exit door locked or latched for security reasons, but I say that when a fire occurs, people will die because of that locked or latched door. When a building is occupied, especially one open to an unfamiliar public, each and every exit door must be unlocked and unlatched.
This time of the year has always been famous for fire inspectors to find doors blocked by stuff. Whether it is trash or stock, excess always finds its way right to an exit access. A blocked exit is as dangerous as a locked or latched exit because it cannot be accessed in the event of an emergency. I recently put new hardware on an apartment door in Henrico. The problem was that the tenants had just moved in and their possessions were stacked from the rear door to probably 15- to 20-feet from the door. There was no access to the door whatsoever. By the time that I left, there was new hardware on the door and clear access to the door.
I have been helping a friend install doors since the middle of summer. One thing that I am noticing, whether it be a business or a residence, is that there are some doors that haven’t been able to opened for some time. A door that will not open is useless. It might be that the jamb has swollen due to a lack of paint or too much paint. It could be that the locking or latching mechanism is broken and no one has taken the time to fix it or get it fixed. We were in a church a few months ago where a marked exit door from the worship center had been jammed for some time. We fixed the problem, though that was not what we had been called for in the first place.
Doors are the primary means of escape when a building needs to be evacuated quickly. Locked, latched, blocked or jammed doors not only prevent quick exiting, but may prevent exiting at all. When large numbers of people have been killed in fires, the majority of them have been found near the exits, the place where, if there is a problem, the bottleneck will occur. Though I doubt that you have heard me, I have always told you to know the location of two exits in every building that you enter, especially the ones that you are least familiar with. Fire fatalities are preventable but far too accepted in this country. We must get out of the mindset that a fire will never occur in our home or a place of business that we go into. It is this kind of thinking that places us in jeopardy. Totally off the subject, but relevant to how we think, was the question that a little girl asked her mother in a Montgomery, Alabama restaurant when tornado sirens were blowing and no one was responding, “Mommy, why are those sirens blowing?” Mommy’s answer was profound, “They are telling us that something bad is coming and we need to get to a safe place.” When you are in a burning building, the safe place is outside of the building. If the doors are locked, latched, blocked or jammed, you and/or your family may die with the safe place in sight.