End of fire poles

Fire poles, invented in the 1870s, are becoming a thing of the past. Why? Liability, of course! Already, Seattle has banned fire poles after a firefighter fell and suffered brain injuries last year, resulting in a lawsuit that was settled for $13 million. New fire stations are mostly single-story, contain multiple staircases, or, in some cases, slides. From Time:
 21 25081302 20Fe782C57 Z While some new stations in the U.S. still include poles, the National Fire Protection Association aims to change that. "Fire departments are questioning the need for a fire pole and going with regular stairs," says Ken Willette, a retired fire chief in Massachusetts who now manages the association's public fire-protection division. "If there was a fire pole, we would want it enclosed so nobody stumbles into it in the middle of the night..."

"The pole is something we associated with as kids," says Scott Wolf, a partner at the architectural firm Miller Hull, which designed Seattle's Lake City station that opened in June and another station set to open in the Greenwood neighborhood in 2011. "But the pole has been one of the biggest sources of firefighter injury."

No matter the conduit, getting firefighters to the equipment as quickly and directly as possible remains critical. Susi Rosenthal, an assistant fire chief in Seattle who oversees the city's facilities, says poles have always been a personal decision anyway. "I always prefer stairs," the 30-year veteran says. "As long as you get there at the same time, it doesn't matter. In my experience, the younger you are, the more likely you are to slide a pole."

"Sorry, Kids. Fire Stations Are Ditching Fire Poles"

(photo: "firepole at Eugene, Oregon firestation #1 open house" by drcorneilus)


  1. OK I’ll let this one slide (no pun intended) but if strip clubs start following this trend I’m filing a complaint !

  2. As a kid, I wanted one of these in MY HOUSE! My inner 8 year old is very disappointed.

    I remember spending an overnight field trip with a bunch of other students at a house with a fire pole. The owner forbade us from using it after hours or gleeful sliding. I think he got scared of liability also.

    I guess slides are a somewhat acceptable substitute, but there are going to be a lot of heartbroken kids out there.

  3. It’s gone beyond fathers and daughters. It’s now the business of the National Fire Protection Association to keep fire fighters off the pole.

  4. A friend of mine had a successful startup company, so they put a firepole in the upstairs meeting room so that after the meeting, everyone could slide down and then run to their desks and work on the next exciting thing.

    Word got out that these people had a pole, and slowly pole-less firefighters from around the area would show up at the front door, asking to slide down it!

    1. A fire pole in a business cheerleading context sounds like it could be seriously annoying. Well, maybe it’s better than an “Extra Degree” poster. I hope they don’t have both a fire pole AND and “Extra Degree” poster.

      My cousin went to a party at a fancy house that had a fire pole installed and she thought it would be fun to slide down it. She ended up breaking both ankles.

  5. “But the pole has been one of the biggest sources of firefighter injury.”

    Getting rid of a source of workplace injury is bad how, exactly?

    1. It’s not bad in a practical sense, but it is a bit of a shame in a nostalgic sense. Sometimes safe does not equal fun, unfortunately.

  6. Even in the 90’s they were not building fire poles into new stations, and even then we knew OSHA would eventually require their removal. We had one where I first worked and I always thought it was safer than tripping down the stairs at 3am. We had a roll of hose without connectors at the bottom of the one story pole to cushion a bad slide and the access door had a two bolt unlock.

  7. Real modern fire poles don’t look like the one in the picture. You can’t stumble into a fire pole hole accidentally. Not only are they partially surrounded by railings, the pole itself is surrounded by trapdoors that only open when the pole is pulled down.

  8. I once fell off a kids play fire tower when I was 5…

    Alright it was probably like 8-10 feet on the ground, but that seems high when it’s twice the height you are…

    We were playing tag with the squeeze style ketchup bottles filled with water (it was summer, and this is the south so it seemed like a good idea.)

    Well I climbed the tower because it was the tallest thing around. I thought I’d have a good vantage point. Well in reality I had no were to run as well. As I was fighting off a friend I stepped back from the rail to avoid getting hit and fell right through the hole.

    I don’t remember much; I know the kid screamed as I fell. I passed out on the way down…don’t remember hitting or anything. I woke up sometime later (maybe 20-30 mins?) and the other kid was getting his ass chewed out hard by the baby sitter/day care people. (It was just a husband and wife that kept kids during the week. Which is probably illegal now without a butt load of permits and the like.)

    But hey I was alright except for some minor bruising. No harm, no foul.

    1. Actually you probably blacked out when you hit the ground. I seem to recall hearing that bad head impacts actually disrupt the storage of recent memories. Like the fall was in your short-term memory but the impact stopped it from being written to mid-term.

      I think it was pivotal in a missing child case at one point; the mother claimed she’d been knocked out after someone grabbed her, but the investigator knew it was very unlikely due to the memory/head-impact thing.

      1. I seem to recall hearing that bad head impacts actually disrupt the storage of recent memories

        Yep. A generalised tonic-clonic seizure blocks off the recording of long term memory for about three hours for me. It wouldn’t surprise me if pretty much any insult to the brain had the same affect.

    1. How do the firemen get upstairs?

      I can’t say but the pole in Fahrenheit 451 went both up and down.

  9. “At short intervals along the moving catwalk, wide transparent tubes led down to floor level. Zaphod stepped off the catwalk into one and floated gently downwards. The others followed. Thinking back to this later, Arthur Dent thought it was the single most enjoyable experience of his travels in the Galaxy.”

    1. I remember reading about a fire escape stairs replacement that was essentially a giant nylon stocking held open by a 4 foot or so diameter ring at the top. The fabric was made to stretch in diameter but not in length, and of course non-flammable. You’d just jump into the center of it and the friction and constriction made you slide gently down until you were pooped out a sphincter at the bottom. I always thought it would make a cool carnival ride.

  10. Fall off the fire pole or trip and fall down the stairs. It all kinda seems the same to me.

    I vote for slides. They’re just as fun as poles.

    BTW, 12 stitches in my forehead just above the hairline from purposefully jumping off the stairs as a kid. When I get a buzz cut, you can see the “Nike Swoosh” in my scalp.

  11. One of the biggest sources of firefighter injury?
    In that case I don’t think Scott Wolf actually knows what a firefighter is.

  12. The Japanese TV show Trivia no Izumi covered this topic a few years ago. The firepole requires that a single firefighter grab the pole, slide down, plant his or her landing, and walk away from the pole while the next firefighter waits for the previous guy to clear the area. A simple staircase is more efficient, even compared to a slide (which requires the same one-person-at-a-time use).

    The firepole only presents the impression of speed. Stairs are simply more efficient.

  13. Of course, now I want a fire pole like everyone else. It just needs to have a trapdoor that irises open once the alarm sounds.

    That would be too freakin’ cool.

  14. “… the pole has been one of the biggest sources of firefighter injury.”

    Gimme a freakin’ break!! Seriously? The heroic firefighters who dash selflessly into blazing building can’t slide down a pole without getting hurt? And we let these guys run with an axe in their hands? Jeez!

    Steve McQueen, John Wayne, and I have two words for this: Mamby pamby

  15. Of course the reason for poles in the first place was to reduce injuries from running down stairs. By all means, go single story when you can, but do they have any numbers to support the supposition that sliding down a pole is less safe than running down stairs?

  16. So.. with all of the Real dangers that Firefighters face, they can’t handle sliding down a pole? That just doesn’t sound right to me!

  17. Seems pretty simple to me. The fewer firefighters there are with stupid injuries caused by, in effect, tradition, the more there are to, y’know, fight fires.

    Anon #27- John Wayne was a damned coward and a racist, and if heading into burning buildings is something these ‘mamby-pamby’ people do you shouldn’t have any trouble with it.

  18. Many years ago the Los Angeles Fire Department started rebuilding fire stations with single story models or split level dorm rooms (one up and one down stairs) so there was one short stairway to reach the apparatus floor. That solved the problem with small lot sizes and prevented many injuries.

    Retired LAFD FF

  19. As a firefighter in the Seattle area, I’d like to clear up some of the misconceptions above. Fire poles were invented to be faster than stairs, and they are. A straight line between two floors rather than a diagonal one. They have had locking doors, clam shells, etc. for years so most injuries come from intentional slides that land harder than intended. Try waking up in the middle of the night, jumping into some clothes and doing something that takes coordination to keep you from landing WAAAAY too hard. Late night slides ruin backs. 70% of most fire department calls are medical calls. If you are sliding down for most of those, then you are more likely to injure yourself on the pole than on a call. Very few cities are so dense that they can’t build a station with living quarters and apparatus bay on the same floor. That’s why almost none have them any more. Seattle keeps them more because of tradition. “200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress” is a saying often thrown around the fire service. Tradition is important, but against reducing needless injuries??? I know other firefighters who vehemently defend the need for poles. “It saves critical seconds!!”. Not if you get injured on the landing, now another unit has to respond in your place. I’ve never used a slide, but that seems safer and still and still fast+fun. And many people think these poles go down one story, wrong! An apparatus bay has to be at least 15-20 feet high due to the height of the apparatus. Seattle has stations that have multiple floors, and thus poles that are 30 feet or more. The pad at the bottom hardly offers any protection. Would you jump 20 to 30 feet onto concrete? Fire pole are going the way of riding on the tailboard.

    And to #27, you have never slid a fire pole, let alone run into a fire. Douche bag.

  20. The new $6M fire station that we just moved into a few months ago has two fire poles installed. I am really the only one on my shift that uses it. Then again, I am also the only one that has a history of falling from heights (skydiving).

    Oddly enough, the company that was used for the poles installed chrome ones. They were too “sticky” at first and actually hurt your hands because of the friction. Even a child had the grip strength to stop their progression down the pole with ease. So, for a while, we were coating the pole with a fine layer of WD40 of all things. Yup, jokes flew about me being the “pole polisher”. Anyhow, after four months, the poles seem to have become scratched up enough or something, but no lubricant is needed and sliding down them is better. Brass poles are still much, much better and I wish that the designer of our fire station would have chosen that.

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