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When I joined the fire service in the early 1970s, we were firemen. Then, with the advent of women joining our ranks, we became firefighters. Later, as we became more involved in emergency medical, technical rescue, hazmat and other services, we joined the ranks of first responders.
Most recently, we have seen an increased focus on firefighter safety, through fire prevention, primarily through messages and programs from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), Vision 20/20, and similar coalitions interested in public and firefighter safety. In support of this mission, many in the fire service have recognized and embraced the benefits of fire and building codes, along with public education, in preventing fires or reducing fire consequences. These fire officials along with building inspectors, and similar professionals make up the group now recognized as "first preventers."
The International Code Council (ICC), www.iccsafe.org, is an organization of first preventers dedicated to ensuring safety in the built environment. Some may recognize the ICC name or be familiar with the family of International Codes (I-Codes), the predominant building and fire regulations in the U.S. Others are unfamiliar with ICC and give little thought to the importance of fire and building codes to firefighter safety. To ensure fire service issues are given appropriate attention, the ICC has engaged fire service organizations in many ways to encourage and support their participation in the code-development process and other initiatives.
The ICC code-development process is designed to provide a public forum for any interested person to submit a code proposal and the opportunity for all interested parties to provide information or share expertise or technical knowledge relative to the proposal. An important distinction of the ICC code-development process is that it gives the final decision on all changes to governmental members â?? public safety officials that administer fire and building codes as their profession. While industry representatives are encouraged to provide input, they are not permitted to vote on the final decisions regarding the content of the I-Codes. This process is intended to prevent any special-interest group with a proprietary interest from controlling the outcome.
To help facilitate the participation of the fire service, the ICC has partnered with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) to create a system of fire service communication, participation and input into governance. This includes the formulation of the International Fire Code Council (IFCC), a group made up primarily of fire service professionals, to oversee all activities related to fire codes and the fire service. As a result of efforts by the IFCC, the ICC agreed to create four regional Code Action Committees (CACs) and the Joint Fire Service Review Committee, all consisting of fire service members interested in promoting public and firefighter safety by improving the I-Codes. In addition to these standing committees, the ICC has created ad-hoc committees to work on code-change proposals in specific areas, such as terrorism-resistant buildings. The ICC also works with other fire service organizations like the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) to encourage their participation through all phases of code development.
The 2009 editions of the I-Codes are based on the changes approved at the Final Action Hearings in Minneapolis, MN, last September. These include several new features such as residential fire sprinklers and enhanced fire department communications systems for new and existing buildings.
The next code-revision cycle begins in October with code-development hearings in Baltimore, MD. I encourage you to participate by observing one of the code hearings or sharing your knowledge and experience by testifying before a committee.
The ICC provides many other services in addition to producing new building and fire codes every three years. To support the correct and consistent application of codes, the ICC has extensive training and certification programs for fire and building officials and the building trades that must follow the codes to construct safe, code-compliant buildings. The ICC provides accreditation and evaluation services through subsidiary organizations in support of ensuring code-compliant materials and processes.
Finally, the ICC employs fire service professionals who work with the fire service at the local, state and national levels. ICC's "Team Fire" is dedicated to serving the ICC fire service members. The next time you're at a conference, learn more about the role you can play by engaging in the fire and building codes process and truly be a "first preventer."
JIM TIDWELL is vice president of government relations for the International Code Council (ICC) and leads the Fire Service Activities team ("Team Fire"), responsible for generating partnerships and enhancing communication with the fire service about regulatory issues of interest to public and firefighter safety. Tidwell served in the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department for 30 years, including the last seven years as the executive deputy chief, and he was interim chief of department when Larry McMillen retired. Tidwell has been active in the regulatory arena for many years, helping draft the International Fire and Building Codes; serving on the board of directors of the ICC and several fire prevention organizations; and working on public and firefighter safety legislation on the federal, state and local levels.