Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fire Escape Chutes

While methodically photographing dozens of abandoned houses in Gary, Indiana this weekend I came across something I hadn't seen before.  A metal tube slide coming out of the second floor of a building.  The next day I re-visited the same house with a friend who told me a story of her nearly blind grandmother who attended a school for the blind in Janesville Wisconsin while growing up.  She spoke of fire drills in which the blind children would be shuttled out of the side of the building down slides to the ground below.  Fascinated by the visual of blind children zipping down chutes to escape flames I could not resist taking a look around to see if I could find some information about these chutes.

Views taken each day of the building in Gary. The Fire Escape Chute can be seen on the left, I should have hopped in and grabbed an image of the slide in its entirety... next time.

It seems these were used in some hospitals and schools in the 30's and 40's. The following image is of Maxwell school in Nebraska, which was built in 1912. 

An ad from a newspaper advertising these speedy fire escapes.

"Those on the slide are whisked to safety"

In this photo "boys at Amesbury School, Windhead, practice rescue tactics with an escape chute extending from a third floor window to the ground."

We can end with an image of the Wisconsin School for the Blind, Janesville.  Which is where friend Alissa's Grandmother must have spent her youth.

Tom Harris


  1. I lived in Gary and know the building you photographed. There are hundreds of amazing examples of architecture in that city. Sadly, it's all going away.