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Actor's death reminds us of fire escape dangers

Fire escapes have long represented not only a safety feature of tenement buildings for the purpose of exiting buildings in an emergency, but also an escape from the indoors, a place to cool off in the breeze, a bicycle storage area or even a place to keep perishable items in the wintertime. However, this romantic way of viewing fire escapes was recently put into perspective following the tragic death of 21-year-old actor Kyle Jean-Baptiste.

The young man -- who was the first African-American to secure a role as Jean Valjean in "Les Misérables" -- went out onto the fire escape in order to sit with a friend. He climbed out onto the fire escape of a Brooklyn apartment building four floors above the ground last Friday just before his tragic fall.

The accident came just a short time before his scheduled exit from "Les Misérables" on Sept. 6 in order to join the cast of "The Color Purple." According to police, the actor stood up, lost his footing and fell off the fire escape and hit the street below. Authorities said that his death appeared to be an accident, and no further details were provided.

The use of fire escapes as a quick way to get outside has been romanticized in films like "Breakfast at Tiffanies," "Rear Window" and "West Side Story." However, little has been done to educate New York residents about the dangers of fire escapes and that they really should only be used in case of an emergency.

When an adult or child is hurt in a fire escape tragedy, questions may arise regarding who is liable for the accident. If the fire escape is poorly maintained and that led to the fall, the property owner or property manager might be liable for the incident. In other cases, the tenant could be liable. Alternatively, courts might deem that the incident was truly an accident and no one is to blame. The bottom line, however, is this: Fire escapes are dangerous, and they should not be used for recreational purposes.

Source: The New York Times, "Actor’s Fatal Fall Underscores Dangers of Fire Escapes, a Refuge for Many in the City," Vivian Ye, accessed Aug. 31, 2016

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