Fire Prevention and Code Enforcement - Part I

Fire prevention and code enforcement activities are historically documented throughout the world as far back as early as the first century.


Fire prevention and code enforcement activities are historically documented throughout the world as far back as early as the first century. Community leaders of those times recognized specific problems related to fire and implemented strategies to reduce or lessen the impact of fire incidents...


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Fire prevention and code enforcement activities are historically documented throughout the world as far back as early as the first century. Community leaders of those times recognized specific problems related to fire and implemented strategies to reduce or lessen the impact of fire incidents. Early fire departments or some derivative thereof were often charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law of the land to protect properties and even themselves from the ravages of fire. Significant events occurring as early as 26 A.D. in Rome included administering corporal punishment for violators of established fire codes. This could be the earliest known type of actual enforcement measure with some type of penalty for non-compliance attached.

Clearly, the use of fire was an absolute necessity for cooking and heating in those primitive days, however, by acts of carelessness or accident, fire was a force that had to be reckoned with. During the ninth century (872 A.D.) in England, a system was established for a bell to be rung as a signal for all fires to be extinguished at a designated time of the evening. This fire code requirement had some impact on lessening fire events occurring during the nighttime hours by acts of carelessness or accident. More than 300 years later in London, (1189) some of the earliest known building codes was established. A declaration requiring houses be erected of nothing but stone indicates that some consideration was given to use of non-combustible or fire resistant materials. The following year in Oxford (1190) firewalls were required to be built between every six houses. Thus, the first known requirements for fire separation.

These measures influenced early societies and their ability to protect themselves and their property from the effects of unwanted fires. The focus of fire protection requirements at this point seems to have been primarily protecting adjoining structures from fire. As everything in the world around us evolves, so did fire codes. During the 1400's in Scotland, regulations were implemented that prohibited storage of hay, straw, brooms and similar items near fires. In 1643 laws were enacted that required candles to be placed in water base holders. These decrees were the beginning of fire codes and ordinances in effect today regarding combustible storage and open flame devices.

The Great Fire of London in 1666 burned for four days. Over 80% of the City was destroyed during this event. Subsequent to that fire, additional fire code requirements were implemented that would provide more fire protection for communities throughout the country. There is documented evidence that an established water supply was required on the roof of a theater in London in 1794 and more than one staircase was required in tall buildings around 1884. Thus addressing the concerns of fire protection water supply and means of egress. Once again, the same fire code issues we face in modern times were of great concern then.

Fire protection measures in America became evident not long after settlers arrived to this land. In 1631 in Massachusetts, specific regulations for chimneys were imposed regarding construction and cleaning. Later in 1785, monetary fines were imposed for non-compliance of chimney requirements in Pennsylvania. These fines are reported to have been 15 schillings. This equates to approximately $30.00 in today's values. This would have constituted a substantial fine during that time period. The late 1800's and early 1900's brought about fire code requirements around the country relating to means of egress and exiting. In 1860, New York City required fire escapes for structures housing more than eight families. In 1906, Tulsa, Oklahoma required fire escapes for all buildings more than three stories tall.

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