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2012 International Fire Code: Highlights of Selected Changes

Return to the October 1, 2012 issue of On Scene

The 2012 International Fire Code (IFC) includes important safety updates aimed at providing both public and firefighter safety.

A major revision is the complete reorganization into seven parts. Each part represents a broad subject matter and includes related chapters. Additional chapters will be added in the future as regulations for new processes or operations are developed. The reorganization was designed to accommodate future chapters to be conveniently and logically added without major renumbering of the current chapters.

All definitions have been moved from specific chapters to chapter 2.

Section 317 – Rooftop Gardens

This section addresses rooftop gardens and landscaped roofs. The requirements limit the area of roof gardens, require the use of roof assemblies designed for severe fire exposures and provide for the installation of a standpipe connection. It sets forth requirements for establishing a maintenance plan for the vegetation installed on rooftop gardens or landscaped roofs.

Section 503.4.1 – Traffic Calming Devices

This section prohibits the installation of traffic-calming devices on fire apparatus access roads unless the devices are approved by the fire-code official. Each jurisdiction has its own traffic pattern emergency response challenges; this requirement ensures the fire department is part of this decision-making process.

In most jurisdictions the design and construction or review and approval of traffic-calming devices is the responsibility of the municipal public works, transportation or engineering department. As a result, the fire-code official and appropriate engineering staff will need to work closely to ensure traffic-calming devices, when approved, meet traffic-engineering needs and include the least impact on response time to emergencies.

Sections 605.11–605.11.4 – Solar Photovoltaic Power Systems

The ever-increasing demand for alternative power sources brings with it new hazards that emergency responders must be aware of. Among the most popular are solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems, which offer property owners the ability to generate their own electricity and sell excess electricity back to the utility provider.

The greatest danger to emergency responders working close to solar energy collection systems is the lack of knowledge needed to operate safely around these systems. Potential hazards include firefighters on the roof tripping or falling, the potential for earlier roof collapse due to the added dead load and electric shock.

The provisions of these sections provide for the proper installation of PV systems and address the potential hazards to firefighters by requiring compliance, with the provisions of the International Building Code and Section 690 of NFPA 70, identification of PV circuits and disconnects, location of conductors to reduce potential trip hazards and creation of pathways where firefighters can perform manual ventilation operations on roofs.

Section 908.7 – Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Section 908.7 contains requirements for carbon-monoxide alarms in all new residential (Group R) and institutional (Group I) occupancies (and in Section 1103.9 for existing residential and institutional occupancies). These provisions were added to the code to be consistent with the requirements to include carbon-monoxide detectors in all new construction of one- and two-family dwellings that had been added to the 2009 edition of the International Residential Code. Carbon-monoxide alarms are only required when the Group R or I occupancy contains a fuel-burning appliance or has an attached garage.

Section 1011.2 – Floor-level Exit Signs in Group R-1

Where general-use exit signs are required in Group R-1 occupancies, low-level exit signs must also be provided in the means of egress serving the guest rooms.

Section 1101.2 – Construction Requirements for Existing Buildings

This section has been clarified by removing the word "alterations." This word is used as a trigger point for the International Existing Building Code and defined specifically. The clarification removes potential confusion. The retroactive requirements in Chapter 11 haven't been and aren't now triggered by "alterations" being done in a building. They have always applied to all existing buildings, regardless of alteration or remodel permits.

Section 1104.16.5.1 – Examination: Fire Escapes

This section establishes an inspection frequency for fire-escape stairs and balconies on existing buildings. By design, fire-escape stairs present a concern to code officials because the stairs, ladders, balconies and mechanical fasteners are commonly constructed of carbon or galvanized steel, which will rust, reducing strength if not properly maintained.

The evaluation confirms that exterior stair egress satisfies a minimum design load requirement prescribed in Section 1104.17.5 and is properly maintained and available for service if an emergency requires occupants to exit the building. The code establishes the frequency of inspections that must be done by a registered design professional.

Section 6109.15 – LP-Gas Cylinder Exchange for Resale

This section addresses all LP-gas cylinder exchange stations and provides important safety requirements for the operation of exchanges, including security of the cylinders, restricted access to cylinders, warning signs and posting of emergency contact information.

Section 6109.15 – Automated Cylinder Exchange Stations

One of the bigger advancements in LP-gas cylinder-exchange programs is the use of automation at the point of sale. These improvements have allowed exchange stations to become self-service; consumers can now use an electronic banking card at automated exchange stations where they receive a properly filled and code-compliant cylinder of LP gas, while the supplier receives an empty cylinder in return.

This section contains provisions regulating these automated LP-gas cylinder-exchange stations. The requirements limit access to one cylinder at a time, restrict how return cylinders can be put into the cage, require classified electrical equipment, allow manual override only by authorized persons and require regular safety inspections of the equipment.

Appendix J – Building Information Sign

Appendix J was added but isn't mandatory unless it's specifically adopted by the jurisdiction. It sets forth requirements for a building information sign that may be useful to firefighters in understanding basic information about the building. The provisions provide a uniform format so the information provided is consistent across the jurisdiction. With the exception of one- and two-family dwellings and Group U occupancies, the provisions are applicable to all new buildings and are retroactive to any building that undergoes a fire inspection or change of occupancy.

Bruce Johnson is the director of fire service activities for the International Code Council. He’s been a member of the IAFC since 2007.

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