If you look it up in a dictionary, a “means of egress” means an exit – but the reason basement escape windows are considered a life-saver by firefighters is actually the opposite: Egress windows allow them to get into a basement during a fire, and rescue those who might be trapped inside.
As we wrote about back in May, basements can be a killer when it comes to house fires. One of the reasons a means of egress is now a building code regulation is because of the number of people trapped in basements during a fire.
With National Fire Prevention Week upon us, the focus the focus has been on “Have two ways out“. But egress window wells and basement windows don’t just offer a means of escape for people trapped in a basement – they’re also a valuable tool for firemen who need to enter a building.
The flames themselves aren’t necessarily the most dangerous part of a house fire. It’s actually the smoke which commonly causes the most fatalities – trapping people inside and suffocating them. Often, firefighters will need to enter a building to carry unconscious residents out.
Egress windows offer that entrance – allowing them to access the basement level of a home without making their way through the front door – and offering a way to carry people to safety without taking them through the flames.
So if you’re planning on finishing your basement, or turning it into an apartment, you need to start thinking about adding a means of egress, if one doesn’t exist already. It’s not just a building code essential – that can cost you thousands in fines if you don’t comply – but it could also be the difference between life and death in the event of a fire.
One other thing to be aware of: Once you’ve installed an egress window well and a basement window, make sure they’re clear and accessible at all times. One common complaint from fire crews is that when they tried to access a basement through a window well, they found the window blocked by furniture, clutter or other obstructions.
While keeping your basement windows accessible isn’t always easy in a small basement – it can mean the difference between life and death when you actually need to use them.