Pittsburgh apartment fire escapes

11 Replies

I'm working on a portfolio deal that has 2 apartments needing a 2 and 3 story static fire escape completely demo'd and rebuilt. Does anyone know if using wood will to work? I got an estimate from Safe Escapes and their ballparking about 20k per. That's a lot more than I was hoping to spend right after closing. 

The fire marshal told me they needed to be inspected. He doesn't know anything about fire escape structures only what the code book tells him needs to be present. I really need to find a resource that not 40k for exterior stairs though!

@Jay Cooper what part of Pittsburgh is the property? If the municipalities own code enforcement office cant tell you then how the hell are you supposed to know what they want? I would talk with some other code enforcement companies that a lot of boroughs will sub out their inspection work. A lot of boroughs dont have a code enforcement person they sub that out to an engineering firm. You need to call around and get one of those firms on the phone and maybe they can help.

East Pittsburgh borough. Their fire marshal wants to have an engineer inspect the current fire escapes that we already know will fail so I'd like to just skip that hassle/time/expense and get right on to building new ones. Unfortunately they don't have their own specs for escapes so they're just deferring the engineers. 

@Jay Cooper

See if you can get the engineer's name that the fire marshal wants to refer you to and go talk to the engineer with many pictures of the existing fire escapes on your phone. Odds are the engineer will give you basic requirements right on the spot. The fire marshal IS the building code official in East Pittsburgh. The whole borough is less than 1/2 square mile and has less than 2000 people in it. As soon as you have your design info, go back to the fire marshal with your building plan before you start working on it and make sure you get at least his verbal approval.

You buy investment property in a community like East Pittsburgh, you should be looking to build a meaningful personal relationship with the fire marshal and all the borough officials you can find to shake hands with, and it's going to take time. Old Mon Valley born and bred doesn't trust anyone who isn't Mon Valley born and bred. If you have any steelworker or cokeburner deep local roots in your family, mention them. Mention them frequently.

@Jim K. That's some solid advice. I have met with the fire marshal. He is not pleased at all with the condition of the buildings and the current owners. Things are starting off on a very good note for us because I have had him in to pre-inspect the building before the close to make sure of what will be needed for code work. We are working on prioritizing the list and getting the timelines for repairs. I betting if we show good progress he will continue to have faith in us. I'm in metal fabrication and been blue collar my whole life. Heck I can even build the stairs myself at my shop but I'd definitely prefer to find an easy button somewhere.

That's the way. You treat these people right and show them you're in the community to do right by the community, they'll bend over backwards to help. Sadly, for the last few decades all the real estate investment people they've seen have largely been in it to rip off the boroughs and load no-income people into slumlord-run housing in these already-devastated communities.

Just an update...

I had a local structural engineer meet me at the property. Its a little funky layout but basically has 2 fixed rear escapes and one front escape that has a counter balance. This guy was very pragmatic and since he didn't sell fire escapes, was completely willing to highlight any areas that where actually condemnable. The front escape checked out just fine. One rear escape needs a stantion made to fix a flexing railing. The problem set was the third where moisture had gotten between the angle iron brackets and stair treads. It rotted through on about 14 stairs. We decided that I would weld in 3" angle brackets that would span past the bad sections to restore its strength. So my partner and I rented a bad *** arc machine and went to work. 1 day of labor and we're almost done. I wish I could save myself $40K that easy every day! It also help to be in the metal fabrication industry by day.