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Stairway Signs

Article and photos by Gregory Havel

Building and fire codes require signs at each floor level inside each enclosed stairway serving five or more floors and inside each new stairway serving three or more floors. Signs like these are a good idea at every floor level in every stair enclosure, even if they are not required by code or local ordinance. Each sign must indicate:

  • The floor level
  • The floors served by the stairway, including both top and bottom floor
  • The identification of the stair enclosure
  • The floor level of the exit discharge (where upward travel is required)
  • Whether the stair enclosure has access to the roof
The sign must be placed so that it is visible with the door both open and closed. Many authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) will accept signs mounted on both the inside and outside of the door, rather than a single sign on the wall of the stair enclosure.


Photo 1 shows the sign on the stairway side of the door of a stair enclosure. This stair enclosure serves floors from LL to 13, and has no roof access. An additional sign on 1st floor indicates that this is the level of exit discharge; and the exit discharge door has an illuminated “EXIT” sign over it.


Photo 2 shows an additional sign on the wall next to the door of Stairway 2 at the 5th floor, indicating that this stair enclosure is an emergency exit only, and does not exit through the hotel lobby. 

In this building, the signs on the doors of Stairway 1 indicate that the stair enclosure serves floors from LL to Roof, and has roof access. There is an additional sign on the 1st floor indicating that this is the level of exit discharge, through the hotel lobby.
The requirements for these signs are found in NFPA 1 Fire Code, 2009 edition, article; and in NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, 2009 edition, article
It is important to note during occupancy and routine fire inspections that all signs are in place, and in the right stair enclosure at the correct level. These signs are sometimes removed temporarily for building maintenance or painting, and are not always put back up correctly.  

Incorrect signs in stair enclosures are a life safety hazard, since they can cause confusion during an emergency evacuation of the building. Incorrect signs could also direct firefighters or EMS personnel to the wrong floor or section of a building.

Download this article as a PDF HERE.

Gregory Havel is a member of the Burlington (WI) Fire Department, a retired deputy chief and training officer, and a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II, fire officer II, and fire inspector; an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College; and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. Havel has a bachelor's degree from St. Norbert College, has more than 30 years of experience in facilities management and building construction, and has presented classes at FDIC.


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