We should all know that storage of items in an exit enclosure, such as a stairwell, is not permitted by the Life Safety Code. Right? Well… there are exceptions that would allow certain items to be stored in a stairwell, but not all of the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) actually recognize these exceptions.
I was recently asked if a hospital could store their evacuation chairs in the alcoves of a stairwell (see the picture to the left). The alcoves are not in the direct path of egress inside the stairwells and appear to have been designed to allow a overlook to the scenery outside the building.
So let’s take a look at section 188.8.131.52.3 of the 2000 LSC which says the following:
“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.”
This section makes it clear that you cannot have enclosed storage space in the exit enclosure, although the exception to this section does allow an enclosed storage underneath the stairs as long as it is separated by barriers with the same fire resistive rating as the exit enclosure and it is accessible from outside the stairs.
Another section (184.108.40.206.3 of the 2000 LSC) says the following:
“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.”
The Annex section of 220.127.116.11.3 says the following:
“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.”
What this section means is the storage of evacuation chairs would be permitted in the alcove of a stairwell since the alcove is not part of the egress, as long as 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.
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 18.104.22.168.3 does prohibit storage in the stairwell that is “not necessary for safety”, so 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 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 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.