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Fire Safety Directors


Protecting buildings and their occupants from fire has been a major concern ever since the first large structures were built. The challenge greatly increased with the construction of the first skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building, in Chicago in 1885. In the ensuing decades, the skylines of major cities became filled with towering skyscrapers, luxury hotels, and other large buildings.

A number of devastating, and sometimes deadly, fires—including those in the Asch Building (New York, 1911), Empire State Building (New York, 1945), Winecoff Hotel (Atlanta, 1946), 1 New York Plaza (New York, 1970), and the Rault Tower (New Orleans, 1972)—prompted lawmakers to establish more stringent fire safety regulations for high-rise buildings, hotels, museums, and other large structures.

In 1973, New York City emerged as a leader in fire safety for skyscrapers by introducing Local Law 5, which required that existing high-rise office buildings that were more than 100 feet in height be equipped with stair pressurization and compartmentalization or a sprinkler system. The law also required that these buildings have a certified fire safety director on duty, among other provisions. Local Law 5 and other related laws have greatly reduced the number of fire fatalities in New York City. In fact, the number of fire fatalities decreased from 295 in 1973 to 66 in 2019, according to the New York City Fire Department. 

Work as a fire safety director can be extremely dangerous. During the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011, in New York City, FSDs worked closely with firefighters at the incident command posts in both towers of the World Trade Center, as well as helped to evacuate thousands of people. Six of the nine fire safety directors and at least seven fire wardens at the World Trade Center died on September 11.