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.

If the outcome of the fire prevention program is to have zero fire deaths in a community or to significantly reduce the number of fire deaths, a combination of fire code amendments and an aggressive fire and life safety education program will begin to move the fire department closer to achieving that fire prevention program outcome. A local amendment to require sprinkler protection in new senior housing will have an additional positive impact for years to come.

If asked, can your organization provide data or concrete examples of why each fire code amendment is necessary? Are you prepared to justify each amendment?
These are some of the most important questions to address when amending your local fire code. We must be able to justify each amendment either with quantitative fire loss data or identified perceived risks to the community. Far too often fire departments amend nationally recognized codes without good justification. This can cause amendments to be made because that is what the authority having jurisdiction needs or "wants."

On the other side of the coin, this country has continuously justified the need for residential sprinklers to save lives in occupancies with the greatest fire death rate. Reasonably then this local amendment is justifiable and can be shown as needed with plenty of quantifiable data but only a few departments embrace this because of political ramifications and resistance. Many local amendments are made for sprinkler protection in commercial properties but it isn't always supported by the local data for mitigating loss of life and property. As a result, this only emphasizes the need for being aware of your political landscape and community desires before launching into pen and paper exercises.

As we move toward another edition of the nationally recognized model codes, consider answering each of the questions identified above. Local amendments, even if only on rare occasion, can be necessary to address a community's fire problem. When crafting amendments you can avoid unnecessary scrutiny of your local fire code by carefully justifying each amendment. Too many unjustified amendments causes unneeded delays to your fire prevention program goals and can lead to amending you right out of the fire prevention business!

BRETT LACEY, a Contributing Editor, is the Fire Marshal for the Colorado Springs, CO, Fire Department and a professional engineer. He has over 27 years in the fire service and has served on various technical committees including NFPA 1031, IFSTA committee for Inspection practices, and Fire Detection and Suppression Systems and the Colorado Fire Marshal's Association Code Committee. PAUL VALENTINE, a Contributing Editor, is the Fire Marshal for the Mount Prospect, IL, Fire Department and formerly served as their fire protection engineer. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Protection and Safety Engineering Technology from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Science Degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Benedictine University and is a graduate from the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Brett and Paul co-authored Fire Prevention Applications, published by Fire Protection Publications. They also presented a webcast titled Fire Prevention Applications on Firehouse TrainingLIVE. To read their complete biographies and view their archived articles, click here. You can reach Paul by e-mail at: