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How do our fire and building codes address changing technologies?

The fire service has continually worked to stay on top of changing technologies, systems and structures to ensure we limit our operational responses by utilizing solid codes, and standards when maintaining, regulating and building new structures.
The fire chief is continually challenged by our federal and state desires to address climate change. This in lieu is challenging our adopted codes which in many cases are very limited in how they address changes in technology. Many of us are utilizing fire codes which were developed over 10 years ago, and lack any technical information in helping to provide safe building practices for our communities and firefighters.
The Fire and Life Safety Section (FLSS) is continually working with the fire service to advocate for changes within the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) technical committees as well as the International Code Council (ICC) code development processes.
Chapter 1 of the IFC and NFPA 1 provide a mechanism for use of other standards and best practices when your adopted code does not address an issue. We know that some communities are utilizing codes adopted before 2015 and some major changes have been made as it relates to lithium-ion batteries as well as changes to refrigeration systems.
In the creation of the 2024 I-Codes and many NFPA codes, changes were proposed as it relates to changing refrigeration systems. As you know, the US and many countries are phasing out current refrigeration (think commercial and residential heating and cooling systems) for newer refrigerants that have a lower global warming potential but also different burning characteristics then we are used to. This change creates a new class of refrigerants called A2L which are not fully addressed until 2024 series of code documents.
It’s vital that the facilities that are working hard to change our refrigeration equipment can begin the process of phasing their plants over to the new refrigerants. A common approach that many communities see is taking their existing code for areas that are covered, then utilizing the newer changed sections to meet the changing needs of technology and hazards.
Another example is the large increase of lithium-ion battery manufacture, storage, and use facilities that are occurring as a result of changes to electrify our motorized vehicles and personal devices. Fire codes prior to 2021 truly do not start to address the use group classification, general storage or recycling concerns that can arise from this major change. When the 2024 codes are released simple changes such as addressing automatic sprinkler requirements, use group classification and storage configurations are all added and are currently needed by the code official.
In both cases new buildings and occupants can benefit from the application of Chapter 1 of your adopted fire and building codes to utilize the newest standards when the adopted code is silent or does not adequately cover an issue. A very common approach is to follow the new provisions by the applicant to meet the current standard of care. This can cause added difficulty for a code official, but the code official can check online to verify that the proposed changes have completed the process, (are vetted), and are due to be published by their respective code writing entity. This provides validation of the compliance approach, assisting the code official in approving the application of an alternative materials and methods approach.
If your community is utilizing ICC documents, the changes that have been completed are readily available in cdpAccess (Sign In or Register (cdpaccess.com)) in which you can see the various voting actions taken by the committees and membership. NFPA codes are developed within their program called terra-view, from the NFPA main page,  you can go to “List of NFPA Codes and Standards” to select the standard you wish to research. For those NFPA standards still completing a cycle you would pick the “Next Edition” tab to see where the change process is.
As the world around us evolves to address many global issues, it’s vital that the Fire Chief and the code official utilizes the best tools available to them. Protecting our built environment and working with large projects can be time consuming and difficult when the code does not address our specific issues. Rest assured that your FLSS keeps working to address those major issues that your community is facing in the built environment and sometimes we just have to take a look and see how the codes and standards are changing to meet those challenges you are facing.

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