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Unified Fire Codes Can Simplify Your Life, Part 2

Last month, we talked about a unified international fire code – one where everyone knows pretty much what is expected of his or her organization when engineering and installing a fire alarm detection system.

A level playing field not only assures that each alarm contractor stands on equal ground during the bid phase, it also assures the customer receives a quality, code-compliant system. That is exactly what fire codes are about.

Pros Follow More Stringent Code

If you recall in December’s article, Michael Minieri, senior security and fire consultant for Kroll, Schiff & Associates of Reston, Va., said the failure of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)/International Code Council (ICC) negotiations in 1999 had more to do with a proposed shift in code control (power) and the potential of lost revenue than anything else.

The validity of that assertion is not important now. What is important is that today’s fire technicians understand the standards and codes published by ICC, NFPA and other code-making bodies must be observed when working in just about any jurisdiction within the United States. This is because many of these documents dovetail and reference one another.

A good example of this, according to Nick Markowitz, owner of Markowitz Electric Protection of Verona, Pa., is found in Western Pennsylvania’s Allegany County. “The county health department published an addendum to its plumbing code that states Allegany plumbers must follow Allegany’s code, unless there is another set of codes that is more stringent, such as the International Fire Code [IFC],” he says. “In this case, they must follow ICC.”

The ICC takes this just a bit further by stipulating installers must default to IFC when there is a fundamental difference in the provisions set aside in NFPA 72 compared to IFC.

“If there is a difference [of opinion] between the [ICC] code and a standard, such as NFPA 72, ICC wins. Section 102.6 of IFC deals with the
relationship of how you use the code and how it relates to fire code proper," says Bill Rehr, ICC senior technical staff and secretary to the IFC committee.

Section 102.6 of the IFC states: The codes and standards referenced in this code shall be those that are listed in Chapter 45 and such codes and standards shall be considered part of the requirements of this code to the prescribed extent of each such reference. Where differences occur between the provisions of this code and the referenced standards, the provisions of this code shall apply.

A good example of this involves how fire alarm installers secure sprinkler valves. NFPA 72, for example, allows the use of a chain and lock or the assembly can be electronically monitored for movement.

NFPA 13, Section 8.15.1.1.2, entitled "Supervision," states: Valves on connections to water supplies, sectional control and isolation valves, and other valves in supply pipes to sprinklers and other fixed, water-based fire suppression systems shall be supervised by one of the following methods:

  • (1) Central station, proprietary or remote station signaling service

  • (2) Local signaling service that will cause the sounding of an audible signal at a constantly attended point

  • (3) Valves locked in the correct position

  • (4) Valves located within fenced enclosures under the control of the owner, sealed in the open position, and inspected weekly as part of an approved procedure.

All things being equal, ICC requires the electronic monitoring, not the traditional lock and chain.

Section 903.4 of IFC, entitled "Sprinkler System Monitoring and Alarms," states: All valves controlling the water supply for automatic sprinkler systems, pumps, tanks, water levels and temperatures, critical air pressures, and water-flow switches on all sprinkler systems shall be electrically supervised.

In other words, just because IFC requires mandatory observance of NFPA standards and code publications does not mean the contractor can ignore IFC, especially since so many state and local jurisdictions are adopting the ICC code set, which is a unified, universal code.

What Is a Unified, Universal Code?

A "unified," or "universal," code is one that is all encompassing in scope, covering a large area of subject matter. In this case, a unified code set not only stipulates the do's and don'ts associated with fire alarm detection systems, but the entire breadth of life safety. That would include sprinklers, special hazard systems and other aspects involving the life-safety mission.

In the case of the ICC code set, it includes these things plus general building practices, electrical wiring and much more. It provides a single resource that anyone can go to in order to gain direction on their given task.

A good example of a unified code is the Comprehensive Consensus Codes™ (C3). It was developed by NFPA in conjunction with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO); American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).
C3 is comprised of 11 different code/standard documents, of which three directly affect fire alarm technicians. These codes/standards are NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®; NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 70, National Electrical Code®; NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code™; NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code; NFPA 30A, Code for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities; NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code; NFPA 58, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code; Uniform Plumbing Code™; Uniform Mechanical Code™; as well as ASHRAE 90.1 and 90.2.

Also, there is an ongoing collaborative effort between NFPA and WFCA to develop and promote NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code. NFPA 1 combines portions of 130 different NFPA fire codes into a single, all-encompassing document. This makes the job of code compliance a lot easier for both the men and women whose job it is to implement code, and for those who are tasked with code enforcement.

Most of us in the fire alarm business have no idea what NFPA 1 is about. Installers who work in New Hampshire, however, will soon have to follow NFPA 1.

According to a recent NFPA press release, New Hampshire's Board of Fire Control selected the NFPA codes after a thorough review of other available model safety codes. "Our review showed that NFPA's codes are the best choice to protect public safety in our state," Bill Degnan, New Hampshire state fire marshal, said in the release. "Not only does NFPA provide us with the best codes, but also the association offers the highest level of service to code officials throughout our state."

Fire technicians can view NFPA 1 and other unified codes free of charge on the Internet via NFPA's Web site (www.NFPA.org). Registration is required, but it only takes a few minutes. Almost immediately, you will be given full access.

Installers and service technicians must keep in mind that NFPA, ICC and most other codes act as a minimum set of requirements. In most cases, when a code enforcement official requires more than your codebook requires, you can bet he has a very good reason. In most cases, you need to meet this request.

In the case of NFPA 72, Section 1.2, 2003 Edition, it spells this out for all to see and follow: The purpose of this code is to prescribe minimum requirements necessary to establish a reasonable level of fire and life safety and property protection from the hazards created by fire, explosion, and dangerous conditions.

For more information on NFPA code sets, go to www.nfpa.org or call (800) 344-3555. For more information on IFC and the other ICC code documents, go to www.iccsafe.org or call (703) 379-1546.

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