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Push or pull? Doors on public buildings

Posted on Friday, February 3rd, 2006 at 3:55 pm CET

In the United States all exit doors of public buildings open outward for fire safety reasons that came into effect after the 1908 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, in which 602 people died. When the panicked crowd reached the doors, the crush of people prevented those in the front from opening the doors. It is still the worst single-building fire in U.S. history. I am surprised that after all this time here in Europe there are no such fire safety rules, at least not here in Holland as far as I know. In fact, most exits in public buildings here open inward. Does it take a tragedy as the one in Chicago to change this?

Iroquois Theater

You never know when to press or pull when you’re opening a door of a shop or other public building here in the Netherlands. I would say that most open inward, but that’s probably because of many shops being on narrow sidewalks, and outward-opening doors would knock bypassers in the face. There isn’t as much space here as there is in the United States. On the other hand, I was just at a large department store here in Leiden, and there was a lot of space in front of the entrance for the doors to swing outward, but still they only opened inward. I think that’s so dangerous!

In the United States it’s common knowledge that doors of public places that hold many people at once must open outward for fire safety reasons. Why is it that almost 100 years after the Iroquois fire there isn’t such a law here in the Netherlands?

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