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.

Brad Keyes
Brad Keyes, CHSP

Brad is a former advisor to Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP) and former Joint Commission LS surveyor. He guides clients through  organizational assessment; management training; ongoing coaching of task groups; and extensive one-on-one coaching of facility leaders. He analyzes and develops leadership effectiveness and efficiency in work processes, focusing on assessing an organization’s preparedness for a survey, evaluating processes in achieving preparedness, and guiding organizations toward compliance. 

As a presenter at national seminars, regional conferences, and audio conferences, Brad teaches the Keyes Life Safety Boot Camp series to various groups and organizations. He is the author or co-author of many HCPro books, including the best-selling  Analyzing the Hospital Life Safety Survey, now in its 3rd edition. Brad has also authored a variety of articles in numerous publications addressing features of life safety and fire protection, as well as white papers and articles on the Building Maintenance Program. Currently serving as the contributing editor of the monthly HCPro newsletter Healthcare Life Safety Compliance  gives Brad further insight into the industry’s trends and best practices.