Evacuation Chairs Stored in Stairwells

Q: I understand it would be best to not place something affixed to the walls of the exit stairwell that protrudes in to the path of egress, which in turn, may interfere with egress. But we have two sets of stairwells, that in the middle of each floor, is a landing which has about a 7’ alcove going away from the path of egress on the landing, and the path of egress does not use this alcove.

So my question is, can we store evacuation chairs in these alcoves? I can understand affixing these items in the path of egress within the stairwell, can interfere with egress, but these alcoves are clearly out of the way and not in the path of egress.

A: To answer your question, let’s first take a look at section 7.2.2.5.3 of the 2012 Life Safety Code (LSC), which says there shall be no enclosed, usable space within an exit enclosure, including under the stairs, nor shall any open space within the enclosure be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with egress.

What this section appears to say is you may store your evacuation chairs in the alcove of your stairwell since the alcove is not part of the egress, and the stored evacuation chairs would not interfere with egress. But there are surveyors and AHJs that take a much more severe look at this issue, based on section 7.1.3.2.3 of the 2012 LSC, which says an exit enclosure shall not be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with its use as an exit and, if so designated, as an area of refuge.

Some AHJs take a very strong stand against anything being stored in the stairwells, but the Annex section of 7.1.3.2.3 explains this requirement a bit further, and says the provision prohibits the use of exit enclosures for storage or for installation of equipment not necessary for safety. Occupancy is prohibited other than for egress, refuge, and access. The intent is that the exit enclosure essentially be ‘sterile’ with respect to fire safety hazards.

The above reference is in the Annex section of the LSC which means it is not part of the enforceable section of the code, but it is an explanatory section to help authorities understand the intent of the technical committee who wrote the code. Most AHJs follow what the Annex section says, although they do not have to. The Annex section for 7.1.3.2.3 does prohibit storage in the stairwell that is “not necessary for safety”, but one could make the point that evacuation chairs are necessary for safety and therefore are permitted to be stored in the stairwell, as long as they do not interfere with egress.

The bottom line is it is apparent to me that the Life Safety Code does permit the storage of evacuation chairs in an exit stairwell, as long as the chairs are stored in such a way as to not interfere with egress. However, not all AHJs actually agree with this and some do cite hospitals if they have anything stored in the stairwells. If you want to pursue this and store the evacuation chairs in the alcove of your stairwells, I suggest you document these sections of the Life Safety Code and show them to any surveyor who questions the practice. It may prevent you from having a citation, or it may not.