IAFF Representative Sean DeCrane and other IAFF members spent the third day attending hearings at the International Building Code in Dallas where a number of items impacting fire fighters’ work environment are being discussed.

Some of the issues impacting our members operating on the street included proposals impacting the permitted height and area of buildings. These height and areas are based on the type of construction, the occupancy type and what type of fire protection. There have been many within the industry that would like to see these restrictions be lifted or completely removed. One code change proposal advocated for the removal of all area restrictions regardless of hazard, occupancies and construction type. This impacts our members responding in the field encountering these large areas and the fuel load contained within them. There was a great deal of debate but almost all of these proposals were unsuccessful.

Discussion also centered on a proposal to permit an extra story in Type V construction although it kept the height limit. There would actually be some benefits to responding fire fighters including smaller fire areas, lower occupant levels and reduced mezzanine spaces where our members may gain entrance to a building only to find no floor.  NFPA 13R is currently under revision and as we have seen in Canada there are advocates to increase the height of Type V construction and we did not want to open this possibility.

There was an effort by the wood industry to introduce composite wood into the American market as Heavy Timber. They also wanted it permitted to replace fire retardant wood in exterior applications requiring fire performance – no technical, no load carrying reports or no fire reports substantiated the claims.

Reports have been promised to the fire service industry about recent testing.

In the previous code hearing we were successful in requiring fire service elevators, at least two with 3,500 capacity, installed in buildings 120 feet and higher. Yesterday the committee approved a proposal to require both these elevators to be capable of carrying a stretcher. This will serve two benefits, fire fighters will get a 4,000 lb elevator and two larger elevators in case we have multiple patients on upper floors or if one is disabled we would still have a second. These elevators shafts will be strengthened and the wiring protected.

Fire Fighters also supported a second proposal to require medical elevators in buildings two stories and higher, as the current requirement is four stories and higher. We have heard from numerous members on the potential benefit to patient care but we will also realize a reduction in injuries as members will not have to carry patients down stairwells three floors. While this code change was disapproved by the committee due to some valid concerns representatives from BOMA and NAHB and the Multi-Family Housing Association all committed to assisting us through the public comment phase to revise the proposal to one they could support to get more medical elevators into buildings two stories and higher.

Discussions were also held on a proposal to require Fire Fighter Air Replenishment Systems into buildings 120 feet and higher. There are a number of considerations with these systems and how they impact fir growth if there is a failure, operational guidelines protecting our members during Rehab operations and the fact there is only one provider of the systems currently in the US. While we testified to the benefits of the systems the proponent requested disapproval so they could work on the language and guidelines. They will resubmit it for adoption through Public Comment.

While we can’t cover every issue covered in these hearings we wanted to give a sampling on how the building and fire codes impact the safety of our members operating on the street. Remember what happens here is not the end as through the public comment phase any proposal can be modified and brought back for the Final Action Hearings in Portland, Oregon in October.

The ICC hearings will wrap up this weekend and NFPA will begin their Annual Meeting next month in Las Vegas. Stay tuned for more updates.