Professor worried about building safety

By Louis Wozniak

The Transportation Building is undergoing renovation, part of which involves fire wall isolation of its south stair chase. The chase enclosure separates the main lower hallway from a number of offices plus Room 103, a 106 occupant capacity lecture room. The room has two entrances/exits, a lower at interior front right and an upper at exterior mid-hall left. In exiting the interior door, one enters a 7 feet hall stub, then through a single 36 inch door to the fire chase where multiple doors lead to the main hall and outside the building.

I believe the single door passageway to the fire chase to be sufficiently restrictive to pose a hazard in a case necessitating rapid room evacuation. The situation is more serious if wheel chairs are present, since the front door is their only option. An even worse scenario presents if the evacuation occurs near when classes change times, when students may be gathering outside the room waiting to enter for the next hour class. This congestion happened even before the construction.

Concerned with students’ safety (and my own, often conducting near-capacity classes in the room), I alerted Engineering Safety Administrator Richard Holm, who in turn contacted Craig Grant, Assoc. Director Code Compliance and Fire. Holm’s e-mailed response to me was that Mr. Grant’s reply to him was that all of the modifications are well within the code requirements. While it is recognized that the issue seems to be more of congestion when the room is filling or emptying for classes, there should not be any safety problems.

It’s reassuring to know that safety officers agree that there ‘should not be any safety problems.’ But in this case, there are safety problems resulting from the admitted congestion. The decision to add another single three feet door to the exit path is a mistake that should be corrected. As far as meeting all codes, this merely means that all codes are met, but not necessarily that safety is assured as was proven at the Tacoma Narrow’s bridge and multiple other historical catastrophic events. Sometime one needs to think outside the codes book.