Evacuation Chairs in Stairwells

Q: I just got cited by the Joint Commission for having evacuation chairs at tops of our stairwells. The chairs were not causing any egress issues in my opinion, but the surveyor did not care that state fire marshal gave his blessing 8 years ago to have chairs at tops of stairwell and during the previous two Joint Commission surveys the chairs were not an issue. Your thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

A: First of all, it doesn’t matter what a state or local inspector or fire marshal says. Joint Commission and/or CMS does not have to comply with what a state or local authority says on an issue, and often does not care. All authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) are equal, but separate. To have the permission or interpretation of one authority does not provide you with any leverage or influence with any other authority. Often times the authorities simply do not care what the other authorities say.

The Life Safety Code is not entirely clear on the subject of evacuation chairs mounted in stairwells. At one point (section 7.2.2.5.3 of the 2012 Life Safety Code) the code says no space in the exit enclosure may be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with egress. One may conclude that if the evacuation chairs are mounted off to the side of the top landing where there is no possibility of egress interference, then you can mount an evacuation chair there. But the code does not specifically say that and it would have to be an interpretation by the authority to allow it.

But section 7.1.3.2.3 also says an exit enclosure cannot be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with its use as an exit. According to the Annex section, the intent of this standard is the exit enclosure should be sterile with respect for fire safety hazards. The authorities can interpret this any way they want since the code is not clear.

Apparently, the Joint Commission (through the surveyor) is saying they will not allow it, and it is well within their right to say so. I have been in conferences where representatives from the Joint Commission engineering department say they do not allow stairwell evacuation chairs to be stored inside the stairwell.