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Statue of Liberty to get new staircase to improve safety

From the observation deck at the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, tourists climb to the crown. The monument is to shut down next year to add a second staircase from the deck, speeding an exit. From the observation deck at the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, tourists climb to the crown. The monument is to shut down next year to add a second staircase from the deck, speeding an exit. (Richard Drew/File/Associated Press)
Associated Press / August 10, 2010

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NEW YORK — The Statue of Liberty is scheduled to close in October 2011 for nine months to a year, after its 125th anniversary, to create a secondary stairwell down from the pedestal.

One narrow down staircase is currently the only escape route for tourists in an emergency. One elevator is also available.

When a smoke alarm tripped inside the statue last month, hundreds of tourists were rushed down the equivalent of about 15 flights of stairs — the same ones that firefighters would have to trudge up if the 125-year-old landmark catches fire.

National Park Service officials have closed the statue in recent years for a $20 million security upgrade, and kept the crown shut since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks until last year to improve its fire safety.

“Given its age and the fact that it is a historic structure and there’s not much we can do to change it, it’s just not going to be 100 percent in line’’ with the most up-to-date safety standards, said Darren Boch, a spokesman for the National Parks Service.

Most tourists, 3,000 maximum per day, ascend the first 186 steps from the ground up to the pedestal. No more than 10 people at a time are allowed all the way up to the crown, in part so they can be quickly evacuated if necessary. To reach the top, visitors have to climb 354 stairs.

Though the statue was built in the 1800s before the days of modern fire codes, there isn’t much flammable material inside. Standing 22 stories high, it’s made from steel and copper as thick as two pennies put together. The staircases are metal. The pedestal is stone and concrete.

Elevators and electrical equipment that go up to the pedestal were built much later and are equipped with fire sensors. There are sprinklers throughout the structure. A standpipe carries water to the top.

The Fire Department keeps a tool shed at Liberty Island. But if a fire alarm sounds, firefighters travel about 20 minutes by boat from a downtown Manhattan firehouse, bringing a hose line and other equipment.

The stairwell to the observation area at the pedestal is air-conditioned, and has handrails and landings where people can rest if they need to.

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