What to Expect at the ICC Final Action Hearings in September

The fire service has played a critical role in code development for the last 100 years and will continue into the future.

Hopefully, you have heard about the buzz of residential sprinklers and the need for the fire service to be a part of the Final Action Hearings at the International Code Council (ICC) annual conference in Minneapolis the week of Sept. 14-23. Do you know what it takes to be a part of history and ensuring the firefighting voice is a part of the code community?

If you have not been a part of the code process, you may have many questions on why you should participate and what exactly is going on.

What is the International Code Council?
The International Code Council (ICC) was established in 1994 as a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated national model construction codes. The founders of the ICC are Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA); International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), and Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI).

The ICC, through the code development process, develops codes and standards that are used by many communities. These include the International Building Code, International Fire Code, International Residential Code, or the International Plumbing Code, just to name a few. The ICC is similar to the National Fire Protection Association.

Why should I attend?
The fire service is the leader in code development since the creation of the first NFPA code. Fire service personnel provide a unique insight to the code development process as they have experience with fire, building collapse, and other building issues.

In addition fire service personnel are passionate about solving the United Sates fire problem. These final action hearings are the last step to approve the 2009 series of codes. The fire service has an opportunity to comment on a wide range of issues that affect us and may include the International Fire Code issues or the residential sprinkler debate. Though anyone attending the hearings can participate by speaking during the hearing, decisions are made by majority vote of governmental members. For the fire service to have an impact there needs to be sufficient attendance by fire service representatives.

I want to attend, what do I need to do?
The critical step is to become a governmental member of the ICC. The ICC governmental membership is available to any agency or unit of government that is engaged in administration, formulation or enforcement of laws, regulations or ordinances relating to public health, safety and welfare. The membership fee is based on the population of your community, $100 for populations up to 50,000, $180 for populations of 50,001 to 150,000, and $280 for populations over 150,000. If you are having a tough budget season and are not sure if you can justify the cost to become a member, keep in mind that as a member you will receive several ICC code books, the value of which will exceed the cost of the membership.

The membership is awarded to your agency or unit of government. If you have a population of 40,000, your agency or unit of government can have four delegates. Another government entity in your jurisdiction with code related duties could also become a member and have an additional four delegates.

The delegates representing your agency are designated by the agency head such as the fire chief or the fire marshal. To vote at this years final action hearings the designation of delegates, (or modification of the existing designations), must be completed by Sept. 10.

I am a governmental member and want to go, what should I do next?
Make sure you register for the conference. The annual business meeting activities and the educational sessions require payment of a registration fee. However, you can register just for the hearings, which is free. Register for the hearings, make your hotel reservation and travel arrangements early as hotel space will fill up.

What can I expect during the event?
From Sept. 14 --16, the ICC will host its annual conference which will include the annual business meeting, election of officers and presentations of various awards at luncheons and banquets. During Sept. 15 and 16, there are various education seminars by national speakers and code enforcers.

As for the final action hearings, which start on Sept. 17 and conclude on Sept. 23, the expectations can be slightly different. The hearings take place in a large conference center and include large projection screens so you can see the event from the back row.

The purpose of the hearings is for the governmental membership to vote on the actions that the various code development committees took code change proposals on at the initial public hearings that were held in Palm Springs, CA, this past May. Any proposal that had a successful assembly action last May and any proposal a public comment was submitted on since the initial hearings will be published for review prior to the final action hearings.

A code change proposal will be announced by the moderator, and opportunities will be given for participants to speak in favor or against the suggested change. Once the debate is complete, the moderator will call for a vote of the governmental members present. Supporting a committee action requires a simple majority wherein overturning a committee action requires a two-thirds majority.

An example would be the proposal to require the installation of residential sprinklers in all new home construction. Since the committee denied that proposal, it will require two-thirds of the governmental members in the room at the time of the vote to over turn the committee and approve the code change proposal.

This is why we need a large fire service presence at the hearings. After each code proposal is decided by a vote, the moderator will move to the next issue. You do not need to speak at the hearings. Your actions as you vote can be the means by which you speak to the code change.

The hearing can seem overwhelming for first time attendees. During the event, you will see various code groups participate by having representatives voice their opinions on a code change proposal. Members of these groups are more than willing to explain the process and assist first time attendees. In addition, there are many opportunities to network with professionals from around the world.

Although we encourage you to be at a good portion of the hearings, the schedule can be grueling. All of the topics may not be of interest to you. It is okay to leave the hearings for a couple hours and return as they get closer to an issue of interest.

Staying on top of the schedule and progress of the hearings are important to make sure you don't miss votes on proposals of interest. It is recommended that you obtain a copy of the Report on Public Comments from ICC for review prior to the hearings.

I'm not in the inspection bureau, can I attend?
Yes. The key is that your agency head must designate you as a one of the voting members for your agency by Sept. 10. Whether you are a union officer or a firefighter connected to the governmental agency who wants to make a difference and ensure safety is achieved in the code development process, you can be designated as a representative.

Many smaller agencies currently have open slots that can be filled or they may be willing to change the designations to someone who intends to participate. There are agencies that are eligible to become members that that have not done so. If you are interested in attending as a voting governmental member, it is recommended that you check to see if your agency currently belongs and if there are any open representative's slots. Do it today, your vote can count!

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MICHAEL O'BRIAN, is a fire marshal for the Brighton Area Fire Authority in Michigan. Brian is the president of Code Savvy Consultants and is the creator of the dynamic webpage www.inspector911.com that is designed to assist all types of inspectors by providing resources, information, checklists and up-to-date news. To read Michael's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Larry by e-mail at mobrian@inspector911.com..