Seeing Eye-to-Eye With ICC Codes

Although NFPA codes may be foremost in most fire technicians’ minds and practices when it comes to how they install and service safety systems, there are other important documents that come into play. At the top of that list are the codes emanating from the International Code Council (ICC).

We have spent time in the past here discussing the procedures followed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) when a new code is promulgated or when changes to an existing document is made. Now we turn our attention to the process to which the International Code Council (ICC) adheres for its documents.

ICC produces a number of codes that are used throughout the United States (see sidebar for a list). Depending on the state in which you live or operate within, you may be using one or more ICC codes. ICC differs from NFPA in one major area: who may have a vote.

While NFPA allows any individual who is a member to vote on actions that may come before the membership at an annual meeting regarding codes and standards, only governmental members may have a final vote on ICC codes. Thus, if you should work for an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), such as a building or fire department, you may vote on the changes brought before the membership. If you are a professional member, such as a contractor or independent engineer, you do not have a vote on the final actions that come before the membership. We’ll examine the reasons for this momentarily, along with other aspects of how ICC operates.

Code Consolidation Began in 1994

ICC started in 1994 and was created through the merger of three model code organizations:

  • Building Officials and Code Administrators Int’l Inc. (BOCA)
  • International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO)
  • Southern Building Code Congress Int’l Inc. (SBCCI)

At the time of the merger there was concern within the design and construction trades that what was required by one set of model codes was not required in another. By having three different sets of codes the cost of design and construction was increased. For those involved with the promulgation of codes, it required following and participating in three different organizations. Hence, it was time for a single set of codes.

The development of the ICC suite of codes was not for the faint of heart. It involved numerous meetings and hearings across the nation as the three codes were blended into single documents. It is my opinion that the first editions out were not quite ready for primetime.

Although private industry does not have a final vote, the codes ICC publishes would not be possible without its support and assistance. While there is technical knowledge within the voting governmental member organizations, they do not have all of the expertise required to understand the new technologies and trends that are occurring. There are some AHJs that would disagree with that statement. ICC’s position is those with a financial interest in a product or industry segment should not vote on codes that may favor one over the other. It is a keystone of the organization that by allowing only governmental members final vote on a new code or changes to an existing code, items added that could favor one product or industry over another will not occur. I do not foresee a change to this in the near or far future within ICC.

This is not, however, to say industry does not have a say as to what is in ICC codes. While industry may not have a vote, the majority of proposals for each new edition originate outside governmental channels, or in partnership at the task group level. Anyone may make a proposal when a code comes into cycle. Anyone may speak to an issue when it comes before the membership. I have been involved with several task groups and have spoken on many occasions through the years on one item or another at various hearings. And I have been successful through my comments when the final vote did come.

That said, greater numbers of members of the fire alarm community need to be more involved in the process than just the select few from the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA), Electronic Security Association (ESA) and National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).

Reviews, Changes Take 3 Years

At the present time, ICC codes are on a three-year cycle. So as to cut the time involved for hearings, the various codes ICC produces were split into three groups, A, B and C. Within Group A is the International Building Code (IBC); Group B, International Fire Code (IFC); Group C, International Residential Code (IRC). The documents within each group come before the membership on two occasions during a cycle.

To begin the process, ICC publishes a Code Development Schedule. This schedule provides deadlines for receipt of all code change proposals. It also provides the deadline for receipt of applications for Code Development Consensus Committees. While a nongovernmental member may not vote on final actions, they may be a member of a Code Development Committee. Each code ICC oversees has a code committee. Committee members are appointed by the ICC Board of Directors and have a term of one cycle, but may serve longer than that.

About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is vice president of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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