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.
If you specify, supply, or install hardware on roof doors, what type of lock do you prefer?
Here’s a Decoded article about what the codes require for roof doors.
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I was taught that access to the stairwell is always required and that access to a floor is not always required except at the first floor and to the roof. It would seem reasonable to me that if the stairs below are not passable because of fire and the floors do not allow reentry, then the roof is your only other option? No?
Hi Tony –
The IBC requires reentry from the stairs back into the building at each floor level, regardless of how many floors there are. If building occupants can leave the stairs and find another exit, they should not need to go to the roof, except in very limited circumstances where the egress route passes across the roof. I’ve only seen this on a couple of projects, and the egress path needs to be maintained so in some snowy parts of the country it’s not really feasible.
NFPA 101 is a little less stringent. It allows stairs serving 4 stories or less to be mechanically locked on the stair side. It also allows “selected reentry,” where doors to some floors are mechanically locked, and others are not locked. But the IBC is more commonly used as a building code so I rarely see the selected entry application or mechanical locks used.
If there was money I’d go with the L9082EL. Filter it through the fire alarm loop to drop the circuit after it’s tripped unlocking it. Could also put a card reader on that loop or just have the personnel use the key override (if they have access out they should have access in). Don’t know if the AHJ would allow it but I personally think it’s a good one to choose.
I do not see the necessity of locking a door accessing a roof 8 stories in the air from the roof side unless there is an adjacent structure offering roof access. I do see a necessity for preventing unauthorized access from inside the building to the roof. The code allows the access to the roof to be locked provided there is a warning barrier gate at the last level allowing passage into the floor below the roof in case of an emergency. The barrier requires a sign warning about no access. I personally have never allowed unlocked access to any roof in the Healthcare buildings I was in charge of not only for safety by people not instructed on the hazards but because air intakes were often located there.
In today’s world, access to air intake locations should be controlled to prevent some terror related activity.