How to Install and Use a Fire Escape Ladder

A house with firemen putting a fire out.

Do you have a plan in place if your house is on fire? It can mean the difference between getting your family safely out of your home or suffering the consequences. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) there were 1,345,500 fires reported in the United States in 2015, resulting in 15,700 civilian injuries.

NFPA states that every home should have a fire escape route that includes two ways out of each room. When it comes to the second floor, you’ll likely need a ladder to exit out of windows. Most fire escape ladders are considered safe and easy to use. Following is some basic information on how to install and use a fire escape ladder.

Purchasing Your Ladder

Before you purchase your ladder, you’ll need to decide whether you want a built-in or a portable ladder. A built-in ladder is permanently attached to your wall under a window. It’s easy to use and always in place when you need it. A portable ladder has rungs that hook over an open window. It’s also easy to use, however, you’ll need to find a place to store it that is close to the window. There are other pros and cons to each type of ladder and your choice may depend upon the size of your home and the style of your windows.

In addition to the type of ladder you choose, you’ll also want to make sure that your window is suitable for a fire ladder. The window should be a minimum of 32 inches tall and 20 inches wide to provide room for an adult to exit.

Some things you’ll want to look at:

  • Length of ladder
  • Ladder weight limit
  • Ladder construction and materials
  • One-time vs. multiple-use

Fire Ladder Installation and Use

Portable Ladder

A portable ladder can be stored in a closet or under a bed. Just make sure it's easily accessible and near the window you plan to use it with. Remember that there may be smoke and confusion during a fire, so easy access is crucial.

  • When needed, open the window and place the attachment hooks over the windowsill
  • Pull the release strap to unfurl the ladder
  • Slowly exit the window and carefully climb down

Keep in mind that many portable ladders are one time-use ladders that will need to be discarded after use. Reusing could result in injury.

Built-In Fire Ladder

A built-in fire ladder installs permanently under a window. The ladder is stored in a pan that is built into the wall. This involves some minor carpentry work. Follow the installation instructions on the package or hire a professional.

To use a built-in fire ladder, open the fire ladder pan door. Pull the fire ladder out of its compartment, pull the release tab, and slowly unfurl the ladder out of the window.

Fire Safety Tips

  • Create a fire plan and practice it regularly with your family
  • Make sure your fire plan includes a meeting spot away from the home
  • Each second floor room should be equipped with a fire ladder
  • In the event of a fire, close the door to the room you're in before opening any windows; this will prevent drawing the fire into the room
  • Fire ladders are meant to be hooked onto windowsills only—don't try to hook a fire ladder onto siding or gutters
  • Carefully climb out of the window and keep your body as close to the ladder as possible when climbing down
  • Unless your ladder is meant to withstand the weight of two people, climb down one person at a time
  • Do not try to carry children down a fire ladder
  • A second story fire ladder should be a last resort and only used if other fire plan exits are blocked
  • Fire ladders are not toys; make sure that children know that fire ladders should be used only during an emergency