For Tom, the fire escape is a vital symbol of his life. As the play begins, he says:
The apartment faces an alley and is entered by a fire-escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with the slow and implacable fires of human desperation.
Toms speaks these lines from the fire escape as he remembers the years of his life spent in the apartment with his mother and sister. And it was from the fire escape that Tom finally made his getaway to a life at sea as a Merchant Marine. For Tom, the fire escape is a means of escape from a humdrum existence to a world, hopefully, filled with romance and adventure.
All entrances and exits in the play are done via the fire escape.
For mother and daughter, Amanda and Laura, the fire escape offers not much hope for escape or personal expansion. For Amanda, it is the place from which her husband left her years ago never to return. The fire escape for her, then, is but a poignant reminder of what she and her family has lost. And sadly, too, for Laura, it is from the fire escape that Jim, the long-awaited gentleman caller made his brief entrance and hasty retreat, back into the loving arms of his girlfriend Betty.