Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part II

The last article showed how catastrophic fire events have led to the development of fire code requirements throughout history. In-depth studies of those significant events led to specific requirements in building and fire codes. The logical progression now is to discuss the development and adoption process of fire codes. There are as many definitions of a code as the number of people you might ask. Regardless of what type of code one may be dealing with, be it fire, building, mechanical, plumbing, electrical or some other type, the raw bare bones definition is that a code outlines specific and minimum requirements and enforcement procedures or any structure, system, process or condition.

Fire codes different from building codes in that building codes detail construction requirements and a fire code describes specific fire protection requirements for a specific building or occupancy. Both codes have overlapping requirements. In older codes, there was often direct conflict between the two. Obvious attempts to overcome these conflicts are evident when one looks at the recently published International family of codes, which includes Fire, Building, Plumbing, Mechanical, Electrical and Residential codes. These were developed and written to work in conjunction with each other and thereby aided in reducing or eliminating conflicts between the various code requirements and further creating consistency of codes on an international level.

The insurance industry had as much influence on the development of fire codes as any other industry or organization. The impact they sustained from losses of significant fires in the early 1900?s in this country were clearly the driving force. Perhaps the first known model fire code was developed by the National Board of Fire Underwriters. This code was distributed to local jurisdictions upon request. The significant impact of this variation of a fire code was that local jurisdictions could realize significant savings in insurance premiums by adopting the requirements of it.

There are four major organizations that develop and market fire, building and other codes. The Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) International has published building codes since the 1950?s. While this code is primarily a building code, there are specific chapters in it relating specifically to fire protection issues. The International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) publishes the Uniform Building Code and a companion fire code. Their first editions were first published in the late 1920?s. Fire service professionals have contributed to the on-going development of the ICBO codes since their inception and these codes are primarily adopted in the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain States. The Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) first published the Standard Building Code in 1945 and incorporates requirements to address many regional issues in the southeastern and southwestern portions of the United States.

Most recently the International Family of Codes has been published. This family, consisting of Fire, Building, Mechanical, Plumbing, Electrical and Residential Codes was a joint effort of the major model code organizations. The process of developing building and fire codes began in 1997 and representatives of each of these groups developed a draft of comprehensive fire safety regulations. This draft eventually led to the publishing of the International 2000 edition of these codes through a formal code process. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes standards and each of the model code organizations included some or all of these standards as a part of their respective codes. NFPA has also published a Fire Prevention Code that is designed to incorporate a majority of their standards as requirements there of.

All of these major code organizations produce periodic and scheduled updates of their respective codes. They each have a similar code development cycle that gives opportunity for the fire service, building officials, product manufacturers, industry representatives, architects, engineers and other interested parties to submit potential revisions. The process begins with any interested person or group presenting a proposal for change. These proposals include the desired code language change along with justification, substantiation, and technical documentation for the change. Code development committees review proposals and publish the proposal prior to a code hearing.

Hearings are public and open to any interested parties. Discussion in the hearing may lead to modifications of the proposal prior to an action of the Code Development Committee. Approvals for a code change proposal are normally voted on in one of three ways: (1) approved as submitted; (2) approved as modified and (3) disapproved. The results of hearings are published and a time period allowed for public comment. Final action on any proposal occurs after the public comment period and is voted on by eligible voting member of the particular organization. The final action on any proposed code change is published in final form as soon as possible after the action takes place.

This Code process is a lengthy one but gives the opportunity for any interested parties to be involved. There often is lobbying for support on any proposal by persons or organizations submitting proposals. Debates are heard during the open meeting portion of the process for or against any submitted change proposal. Professionals from every imaginable discipline become involved throughout the process. While seemingly, this may hinder the process, it is to the benefit of all for every possible side of an issue to be presented prior to formalizing a proposed change.

Our discussion to this point has identified where and how fire codes are published. Now the question to be answered is how does any particular code become the standard by which any jurisdiction will operate? As pointed out before, the model code organizations are in business to produce and market their respective products. A jurisdiction can adopt and use any code they desire under the specific adoption process of their municipality. Typically, a review process takes place by those responsible for enforcement of a particular code. Responsible parties may include the fire official, building official, municipal legal officials, and elected officials. After the review process, any local amendments are written, and then the entire package is submitted to the governing body of the jurisdiction for introduction and adoption. Effective dates are provided that normally include some type of interim time period for compliance.

The effectiveness of any code is directly related to the ability of the code official to enforce its requirements. The next article in this series will discuss how fire prevention and code officials gain the necessary authority to manage and enforce fire codes, standards, and local ordinances.


Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part V
Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part IV
Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part III
Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part I