Q: I read an article were an interruption gate is required in a stairwell to prevent people from traveling past the floor where they should exit. Is this a requirement of the Life Safety Code, and if so, do we have to install a gate, or can we install a chain across the path instead?
A: The requirement for a means to interrupt the flow of traffic in a stairwell is found in section 7.7.3 of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code. The code itself says stairs that continue more than ½ story beyond the level of exit discharge must have a means to interrupt the traffic flow such as a partition, door, or “other effective means”. The reason for this interruption is to prevent people from exiting further down the stairs in an emergency and missing the door to the exit discharge. Signs alone are proven not to be an effective means, but since the code is not prescriptive in saying what you must have, then the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is the judge of what is allowed. Metal tube gates that swing in the direction of egress for people traveling up the stairs is the most common type of interruption device. A chain doesn’t sound like an “effective means” to me, as it may not be easily noticed by people exiting down the stairs in an emergency and may become a tripping hazard. Also, if the chain is latched then it would not open in the direction of egress for those individuals traveling up the stairs.
Whatever device you choose, have your local AHJ approve it.