Emergency Preparedness: High Rise Buildings - Emergency Procedure & Inspections



  • A high rise building can be defined as any new or existing structure over 80ft above grade which is also of occupancy classification: A (Residential), C (Assembly), D (Open Air Assembly), E (Business), F (Mercantile), or G (Industrial).
  • A Category 1 high rise building is over 780 ft above grade.
  • A Category 2 high rise building is over 540 ft above grade
  • A Category 3 high rise building is over 275 ft above grade.
  • A Category 4 high rise building is over 80 ft. above grade (up to and including 275ft.)
  • The owner of any Category 1 and Category 2 building and the owner of each Category 3 and Category 4 building which is of assembly or open-air assembly classification must file a copy of the building’s procedure plan with the City’s Office of Emergency Communications.
  • Once a plan has been filed, a copy of an updated or amended plan must be filed with the City’s Office of Emergency Communications when the existing plan is updated or amended.
  • In Category 1 high rise buildings, each plan shall require safety drills to be carried out twice a year under the direction of the Fire Safety Director (F.S.D.)
  • Safety drills in non-residential high rise buildings will include all employees, tenants and other occupants.
  • Safety drills may occur on a floor-by-floor basis, and a drill may conclude when all participating occupants have fully entered and have begun using the designated stairwells.
  • In Category 3 and Category 4 high rise buildings that are residential or business usage, safety drills are encouraged but not required.
  • In Category 2 high rise buildings that are classified as residential or business, safety drills shall be carried out at least once a year.
  • Any violation of any provision of this chapter shall subject the owner, tenant or other responsible parties to a penalty of between $500.00 and $1,000.00 for each separate and distinct offense.
  • Identification lettering for stairwells and rescue assistance areas shall be permanent and a minimum of six (6) inches in height.
  • Alphabetical and directional letter identification for the stairwell and the floor number to which the door opens is to be provided within every interior stairwell enclosure at every floor adjacent to the stairwell door.
  • Identification lettering for stairwells and rescue assistance areas shall comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines.
  • In a Category 4 high rise building, other than C(Assembly) or D(Open Air Assembly), a certified F.S.D. and one or more certified deputy F.S.D.s are encouraged but not required.
  • Each plan for Category 1 buildings shall include a Certified Fire Safety Director.
  • Each plan for Category 2 buildings shall include the same designated personnel as required for Category 1 buildings, with the exception of Fire Wardens, who are encouraged but not mandatory.
  •  In a residential building, the building evacuation supervisor may be a resident of that building.
  •  In a residential building, the emergency evacuation team may include residents of that building.

The Municipal Code of Chicago High Rise Building Emergency Procedure requires the building Fire Safety Director to conduct monthly building safety inspections. 

                         All hazards and safety concerns shall be reported to the building management for immediate correction.



***This inspection procedure should be applied to all tenants of the building***


    A thorough building safety inspection shall start at the roof and progress down through the building, floor by floor. Careful attention must be given to stairwells and fire escapes. Some older buildings have open stairwells, and in a fire situation, the fire escape may provide the safest means of egress.
    Starting on the roof, check for rubbish which may have been left by roofers, tuck-pointers or other workers.  All rubbish must be removed from the area.  Inspect the stairs or ladders leading to the roof from the fire escape. They should be tightly secured onto the building with no signs of decay or rust build-up visible on the steel structure.  While inspecting the elevator penthouse, check for rubbish and oily rags.  Many fires can start from the arcing of elevator switches and over-heated motors igniting rubbish fueled by oily rags.  The fire code requires that rags be placed in metal, self-closing cans. Storage is not allowed in this area.  Check to make sure that the portable fire extinguishers are fully charged, tagged and properly serviced annually by a licensed fire extinguisher service person.
    As you descend down the building stairwell, make sure that it is properly illuminated, that there are no obstructions such as storage or rubbish blocking the exit-way and that there is no storage under the stairs. All stairwell doors should be in good repair; they should be self-closing and latch properly. In a fire situation, if the doors do not close properly, smoke can fill the stairwell, making it unusable during an evacuation.  Stairwell identification is to be in place as required by Sections (13-76-075) and (13-196-085) of the Municipal Code of Chicago. Areas of rescue assistance also should be identified as required by code.
    The standpipe system runs the total height of the stairwell.  Standpipe outlets can also be found in different locations throughout the building, where required, and must remain accessible at all times.  These systems have 2½ inch threaded port outlets on each floor which firefighters use to connect the fire hoses to extinguish fires on the upper floors of high rise buildings.  Make sure that these ports are equipped with 2½ inch caps and chains, which are required to protect the threads from damage.  For standpipe systems that have a hose line attached, inspect the fabric of the hose for decay or dry rot and make sure that the hose nozzle is securely in place. Hoses must be secured inside a cabinet or cover.
    As you inspect the corridors, make sure that all exit signs are illuminated.  Check to make sure that signs showing the building’s core floor plan, corridors, stairways, evacuation routes, areas of rescue assistance and elevator lobbies are posted clearly.  To prevent the travel of smoke from floor to floor make sure that the openings around piping, heating ducts, communications cables, etc., are sealed with an approved non-combustible material.  No storage is allowed in utility, communication, and electrical closets.  Check to make sure that fire escape doors and windows are accessible and that there is no obstruction in front of them.  All windows and doors should open easily.  Where required, steps should be placed below fire escape windows for easy access.  Nothing is to be placed on the landings or steps of the exterior fire escape.  In storage rooms, the stock should not be stacked higher than 18 inches below the ceiling or sprinkler heads.  Storage cannot obstruct sprinkler control valves.  Please note that nothing is allowed to be hung from the piping system.  Also, make sure there is sufficient aisle space.
    In the lobby, all exterior exit doors must open easily and without a key.  The panic bars should be easy to press when opening exit doors.  Make sure that nothing is blocking the exits.  Check all elevators for proper markings and identification.
    No inspection is complete without checking the exterior of the building.  Inspect the Siamese (fire department) connections.  These are the twin ports outside the building to which the fire department connects the hoses to supply water to the building’s sprinkler and standpipe system.  Caps are to be in place on these ports.  The swivel should be oiled and free of rust.  There should be no parking or placement of dumpsters under fire escapes or in front of exit doors.  Make sure that the fire escape counterbalance can be lowered and properly grounded.  Inspect the dock area for any obvious safety hazards such as poor housekeeping, missing fire extinguishers, damaged sprinkler heads or piping, improper propane tank storage, or the propping open of fire doors.
    In the basement or any below-grade areas make sure that nothing is stored under the stairs.  Check for the accumulation of rubbish in these areas and also in the elevator pits.  Remove any rubbish that is found.  Fire code prohibits the below-grade storage of any flammable liquid.  Compressed gas cylinders are to be stored in an isolated location and stored on racks or chained to the walls.  Make sure that there are no holes or openings in the walls in the boiler room.  The boiler room door must be self-closing and in good operating condition.  No combustible storage is allowed in boiler rooms.  Basement storage areas over 2,500 sq. ft., that is used for combustible storage, are required to be protected with an automatic sprinkler system and enclosed in a two(2) hour fire-resistive room with a self-closing, 1½ hour rated fire door.  Storage in these rooms shall not be placed higher than 18 inches below the sprinkler heads.  Make sure that there is sufficient aisle space in storage rooms.  In the fire pump room, make sure that the area is well illuminated, clean and that nothing is stored there.  All sprinkler control valves shall be chained in the open position.


  • High rise fire alarm systems do not sound a general alarm that would alert the entire building to the need to evacuate. In the event that a total evacuation is required, an “all call” can be made from the fire command panel instructing the occupants to evacuate.
  • It should also be noted that buildings built before 1975 do not have to meet the high rise code requirements unless they have undergone a rehabilitation exceeding 50% of the reproduction cost of the building.    In many cases, such buildings, are only required to have a fire pump and a standpipe system.

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