A 91-year-old man with dementia has died after wandering onto the roof of the housing authority apartment building where he lived in Batavia, New York. News reports are citing an unlocked door leading to the roof – it may have locked after the man passed through it, or he may have been confused and unable to locate the door to re-enter the stairwell. After spending the night on the roof, he was found by a housing authority staff member near the building’s heating vents, where he apparently died from exposure.
The lock on the door leading to the stairs was described as an electromagnetic lock, although that has not been confirmed. It sounds like it was an electrified lock of some sort that was supposed to be locked to prevent access to the roof except during a fire alarm. It’s likely that it was not functioning properly and that the man was able to freely access the roof after climbing the stairs of the 8-story building. This type of accident is not uncommon – I wrote about the death of a toddler after a fall from a roof last year, and I’ve read about quite a few others.
This is exactly why I am not in favor of allowing access to an unoccupied roof. Even during a fire, the roof is often not the best egress route, especially if there is only one stairwell that leads to the roof. Helicopter rescue from the roof of a burning building is not typical. In most cases, it is much safer for occupants to a) shelter in place, b) exit via the stairwell, or c) re-enter a floor from a stairwell that has become compromised and find another stairwell.