Don't Amend Yourself out of the Fire Prevention Business

As we begin to consider adoption of the next edition of our nationally recognized codes and standards, we must look closely at what we are trying to achieve when we adopt them and propose our local amendments.

Most fire departments adopt nationally recognized codes and standards then make local amendments to them. Usually the amendments are stricter than the nationally recognized codes and standards. As fire protection professionals we must be cautious not to amend ourselves out of the fire prevention business. Local fire code requirements can be necessary to address the community's fire problem. However, we must ensure we are not being over zealous in our fire code development. This can lead to significant cost and community development implications if we do not carefully and methodically develop our fire code amendments.

As we begin to consider adoption of the next edition of our nationally recognized codes and standards, we must look closely at what we are trying to achieve when we adopt them and propose our local amendments. There are fundamental questions that must be answered before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Many fire and building departments overlook these questions and make local amendments because "that is what we want in our jurisdiction"

What is the mission of your organization and what role does fire prevention play in that mission? Do the nationally recognized codes allow your organization to meet the mission?
The duties of the fire prevention bureau must not be structured to function independently within the fire department but to function with the other divisions of the organization. Just like the private sector, each division of the organization must share in the overall mission. It is essential that the fire prevention services are part of the organization's overall focus.

If the mission of the fire department is to prevent loss of life and reduce property damage from the effects of fire, then the adopted codes must assist the fire department in achieving this mission. Based on fire loss history, local amendments may be warranted. It is critical to correlate fire and life loss to fire code changes. A multi-family sprinkler ordinance may be justified if your community contains a large multifamily housing stock and has or is experiencing a significant loss of life and property loss from fire. However, make sure you don't make knee-jerk decisions without public input and support.

What is the level of fire protection and fire prevention services your organization has been directed to provide? Is the direction provided and supported by the elected body overseeing your organization?
The level of fire department service is typically determined by the policy makers. Fire departments may not have the staffing levels to provide a politically desired level of fire suppression or fire prevention services. Local amendments for a zero square footage sprinkler ordinance may achieve the desired results of fire protection desired by the elected body. In some areas of the country, volunteer fire departments have embraced large commercial and residential developments on the premise of installing automatic sprinklers when elected officials have no desire to increase fire suppression staffing to address the increase in development. The local sprinkler amendment assists in providing the desired level of fire protection to the community. The built-in fire protection features provide a level of protection until a limited staffed suppression crew can arrive.

Are the proposed amendments linked directly to a particular desired outcome of your fire prevention program?
Before a fire department proposes code amendments, it is imperative they consider the desired outcome of the department's fire prevention program. For example, does the loss history indicate a significant number of fires in homes occupied by the senior population? Are senior victims perishing in residential occupancy fires that have no smoke detectors installed or working?

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