Fire & Life Safety (Focus on Preparation and Prevention)

Reviewing Fire Code Changes

For many states, July 1st will signify a change from the 2010 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC) to the 2013 edition. As I read through the 2013 edition, I noted about 60 significant changes to the IFC. These changes all occurred through code hearings during the regular code development schedule of the International Code Council (ICC). In addition to changes at the ICC hearings, there are numerous other changes enacted by the Fire Prevention Board in my state. With each new edition of a code (typically a three-year cycle) comes a need to review these changes to understand how they will impact operations on your campus and provide a briefing to senior management when the changes will result in budget impacts or changes in operations.

The review of each code change takes place on several levels: reading the code, attending state and national meetings as changes are discussed, talking to the fire service and consultants who are proposing changes as well as departments within your organization to understand how code changes will impact operations, and discussions with design and service companies to understand how the changes will impact pricing for materials.

As you start your review, make a list of questions to ask. To understand the impacts of most code changes there are just three questions:

1) What is the requirement?

  • Summarize the code change, explain what the change is intended to accomplish.
  • Is it a new requirement or a modification to an existing section of the code?

2) Where and how are we impacted by the change?

  • What type of building(s)?
  • What part of operations will the change affect?
  • Will there be an impact on the cost of future construction?
  • Will there be an impact to existing or future budgets?

3) What is our strategy for compliance?

  • What will we need to do to comply with the code?
  • What will other operations on our campus need to do to comply?
  • Is there a need to work with our local fire department to ensure there is consistency in their interpretation of the new code requirement?

Here is an example that quickly conveys most information needed to determine how a code change would impact a facility.

What was the code that changed? International Fire Code, Chapter 5 Section 508.1.5.13 Building Information Cards. Summary of code change: A section was added that prescribes requirements for building information cards that provide a concise uniform format located in the Fire Command Center. The following information is required:

1) General building information: property names, address, number of floors, use and occupancy classification

2) Estimated population by day, night and weekend

3) Building emergency contact information: building manager, phone and email contact information

4) Building construction information: type of construction for floors, walls, columns and roof assembly

5) Exit stair information: number of stairs in the building, floors served by each stair, location of the stair discharge, stair pressurization features when present, emergency lighting, reentry capability for each stair, roof access, elevator car numbers and floors served, location of elevator machine rooms

6) Building services information: location of mechanical rooms, location of emergency generators and natural gas service

7) Fire protection system information: location of standpipes, fire pumps, fire department connections, floors protected by sprinklers, types of sprinkler systems

8) Hazardous materials: locations and quantities

Where and how is a facility impacted by the change? All high-rise buildings and facilities with smoke-protected seating are impacted.

Operations and budgets will not be significantly impacted. Staff will need to update the information when there are changes to any of the required items.

Strategy for compliance: Assign a staff member to assemble required information for each location and review format with local fire department. Once formatting is agreed to with local fire department, place information in the fire command center. Review on an annual basis and update as needed.

There won’t be a need to complete this type of code impact for all changes. I’d suggest reviewing the most significant changes that will require staff time, have an impact on specific operations or will require adjustments to your budget.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management July 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.