Question: Are NYC fire escapes inspected and if so, how often?

— Anxious in Astoria

Dear Anxious:

Yes, but watch out for falling acronyms.

Owners of buildings six stories or taller are required to have facades and “appurtenances”  inspected at least every five years. After each inspection, a building owner must file an FISP (Facade Inspection & Safety Program) report with the DOB (Department of Buildings).

Of course this being New York, not just anyone can file an FISP report. Certainly not your brother-in-law, the contractor. No, a FISP filer must be an RDP (Registered Design Professional) who has further attained QEWI status (Qualified Exterior Wall Inspector).

Now, for a bit more than you asked for: Why do we need fire escapes inspected, and why so often?

On Feb. 16, 2018, a Friday, Richard Marchhart was walking on Broadway in SoHo. As he passed a building at the corner of Howard Street, an inspector seven stories up stepped onto a 150-pound fire escape step. It broke away, plunging to the sidewalk and striking Marchhart’s head. The 58-year-old man died the next day.  A 24-year-old art student from Queens was also injured.

The building had last been inspected five years earlier and, ironic indeed, it was undergoing its required inspection when the accident happened. The DOB issued one violation: Failure to safeguard the building. Later, scaffolds were erected on the sidewalk and a crew of inspectors were seen jumping on every step to see if they were holding.

There are about 200,000 fire escapes in the city, which began requiring them to be retrofitted on buildings in the 19th century. They’ve never been particularly good at their intended purpose. Indeed, the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire at a locked sweatshop was made worse by a fire escape that peeled off the burning building and carried panicked workers as it fell to the ground.

Modern buildings don’t have fire escapes, and it’s now common practice to build fire-proof interior stairwells in renovations of older buildings.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.

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