I recently came back from the first meeting of the development team for the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) Sustainable Building Technology Committee (SBTC) (they need a new, shorter name...). The International Code Council is developing the first-ever national model code for green building. For those of you that might not be familiar with the green building environment, let me fill you in and then talk briefly about how it relates to fire safety.
Right now, there are no national green building codes. There is the LEED system which is a rating system, not a building code. What is the difference? A building code is something that is mandatory and can be adopted by a community and enforced. The LEED rating system is a voluntary system that a building owner can use to determine how "green" his or her building is. It is a marketing tool and the owner has the choice of doing it or not.
So, how does a green building code relate to fire safety?
- Sprinklers put out a fire quickly, reducing the emission of toxic gasses and significantly reducing the amount of water needed to put out a fire (think sprinkler head discharge versus two hand lines)
- Fire retardants in furnishings are believed to emit carcinogens. Are we solving one problem (fires) but creating a much larger one (cancer)? More states are banning the use of carcinogenic fire retardants (Maine and Washington) and companies are also eliminating them (Dell, HP, Ikea)
- Testing fire pumps on a regular basis uses electricity or diesel and emits pollutants into the atmosphere. It is obviously necessary to test them but we need to be doing it in an environmentally friendly way. That is why it is important to be a part of this process.
- Fires contribute to the carbon footprint, fire engines contribute to the carbon footprint, fire stations contribute to the carbon footprint. We need to work on reducing the carbon footprint.
I have developed a matrix looking at the correlation between the new to-be-developed green construction code and fire safety issues. This is being done as a wiki and will allow for people to contribute to it collaboratively with their thoughts and ideas...so please do! This matrix and a bunch of other information can be accessed through a new web site called www.green-fire.org.