Code? What Code?

Have you ever rolled up to a working fire and thought, “I hope the building inspector did their job so that the damage is contained to the room of origin”? Probably not.

How about “I hope the fire inspector was aware of the change of occupancy so that the space is up to code and everyone gets out safely”? Probably not.

How about “Another false alarm?! Enough already!”

Yes, that one sounds familiar.

My point is that code officials keep people safe long before there is a fire, including firefighters.

Every time you jump in a rig and go lights and sirens to a false alarm, you are putting yourself in danger. Code officials have solutions that can help with that. When tenants put foam egg crates on the walls for sound deadening, code officials have solutions. When there are too many personal items (combustible loading) in a residence, code officials have solutions.

These are just a few examples of when people have made poor decisions about the care and maintenance of their space.

What about from the ground up? There is a reason roofs in wildland-urban interfaces can’t be cedar shake. There is a reason that doors in large assemblies can’t swing in. There is a reason that residential units in an apartment building are separated from each other and the corridor with rated construction. These are nearly invisible code requirements that were put in place after devastating fires.

The strength of the connection between emergency responders and fire, building and housing code officials, to a large extent, determines how successful they are. If code officials know the issues emergency responders are facing in the field, they can address the immediate concerns. But they can also work on future code language to improve conditions down the road. If code officials communicate growing trends to emergency personnel, responders are better able to make informed decisions in the field.

The IAFC Fire & Life Safety Section Board has eight positions designated for code development with the International Code Council. They are also asked to provide representatives for NFPA codes and standards. These members take input – your input – and use local experiences that expand to global trends. Mobile fueling, foam in exterior wall assemblies, valet trash, security in schools and mass timber are just a few examples of where this local experience has translated into global code requirements and improvements in just the last handful of years.

I encourage you to reach out to your local code official and ask what they know about emerging trends in life safety and how buildings are used. Likewise, I encourage code officials to reach out to first responders and find out what they are seeing day in and day out.

If you don’t currently have an official, routine, required way to communicate field issues to your code personnel, I implore you to develop one. Last year, 22% of all the issues that fire inspectors investigated in my city came from fire department members. Imagine how blindly we would all be operating if we didn’t communicate.


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