The IAFF has continued its involvement in the current ICC code hearings in Dallas. The last three days included testimony and debate on a number of issues in the International Fire Code and the International Residential Code.
It is important for fire fighters to be involved in the process because these two codes directly impact the safety of our members as they operate on the fire ground.
The Fire Code dictates how structures will approach fire protection systems and how the structures will be maintained. The Residential Code governs how residential properties, one- and two-family homes and townhouses three stories and lower. These are the properties our members operate in the most frequently to ensure our members can operate in a safer environment we are active in how the homes are constructed.
During the third day of testimony on the Fire Code the committee the debate focused on the following information:
• The requirement and location of carbon monoxide alarms in the fire code and the residential codes;
• A long contentious issue regarding the requirement of smoke and heat vents in large buildings. For the past couple editions of the codes there has been an effort to drive all requirements to mechanical ventilation but many members wanted the option of physical vents on the roof to operate manually. Language was crafted between industry and members of the fire service that allows local jurisdictions to select either option. It also allows additional options in cost reductions for the building owner while keeping fire fighter safety in mind.
• There were also multiple proposals for rewriting the requirements for hospitals in maintenance. Some were very positive and brought higher levels of compliance with protection issues. A number of items were brought forward by representatives of the hospital industry requesting additional protection features.
• A proposal was approved to require all hospitals to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems for increased patient safety especially since hospitals rely on patient transfer and protect in place methods in the event of a fire. Just to show it wasn’t a free for all for the hospitals the committee rejected a proposal that would have allowed the hospitals to allow some forms of passive protection to remain unrepaired or unmaintained.
• There was also a large rewriting of the Hydrogen Filling Stations and issues within the code. The additional language will provide additional protection for our members who may have to respond to incidents involving Hydrogen Fuel.
• A proposal that passed against our wishes and based on the campaigning of the IAFC allows local jurisdictions to permit premises to allow properties to delay notifying the fire department when an automatic alarm activates while they verify the need for our response. This is an irresponsible approach. The IAFC’s based their approach to reduce the risk to fire fighters during response which is an admirable goal but this is a maintenance issue not an operational issue. Our concerns deal with the modern fuel load. We have documented cases where security or on site personnel delayed notification of the alarm to find a growing fire event. The delay allowed rapid fire growth. If a jurisdiction is having an issue with multiple false alarms or nuisance alarms they should address this through inspection and citation efforts. Many cities initiate response and permit the alarm company to verify and provide a follow-up communication indicating the alarm is false. This then allows the department to change the response but it does not delay initial response. We will be submitting a Public Comment in an attempt to reverse the committee decision.
• To the above item, the committee also approved language allowing the fire department the authority to replace consistent nuisance alarms.
• There were a number of other items addressing Bio Mass storage, Outdoor Stage structural integrity, the protection of outdoor pallet storage and the placement of Fire Fighter Rescue Air Systems.
In the Residential Code on the first day of hearings:
• There was an effort to remove emergency responders and fire fighter safety out of the Intent of the Residential Code. Although the proposal was rejected it was by a 6-5 vote which may empower the submitter to reattempt in Final Action. This is an important issue as it provides us the opportunity to present code change proposals based on the safety of our members. We relied on this sentence to obtain the protection of lightweight construction.
• We retained the automatic door closer on the door of the attached garage. This was an important issue for a number of members as it provides additional protection in the event of a garage fire as there have been numerous fires in garages that communicated into homes through the door opening. It also adds additional protection against CO issues, and keep in mind we now require CO alarms to be installed in all new one- and two-family homes. An open door can lead to additional CO responses.
• The IAFF submitted a proposal to limit attic sizes. Although we received support at the microphone the home builder heavy committee was not going to approve the proposal but we know the large volume spaces are a hazard to our members. We are working with Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish data on the limitation of attic space. There are ventilation challenges but we are hoping to have something prepared for the Final Action Hearings in Atlantic City this September.
• The proponent who submitted a code change proposal to remove residential sprinklers from the Residential Code withdrew his proposal.
• The IAFF also spoke against a proposal to remove the escape window from basements and habitable attic spaces. The committee disapproved the proposal.