Codes & Standards, Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighting



Informal building codes can be traced back to the Code of Hammurabi: When a building collapsed and killed the occupants, the designer and his firstborn son were put to death. The U.S. building code started unceremoniously in 1625, but it was not until 1873 when the National Association of Fire Engineers (NAFE, later the International Association of Fire Chiefs) developed a list of eight fire safety concerns in building construction. In 1884, John S. Damrell, a former Boston (MA) Fire Department chief, petitioned the NAFE to formulate a building code. It was not until 1906 that the National Board of Fire Underwriters introduced the first published National Building Code; it took another 100 years to incorporate a nationwide International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC).

In 1994, the International Code Council (ICC) was created, resulting from the merger of three regional code-writing organizations: the International Conference of Building Officials, the Southern Building Code Congress International, and the Building Officials and Code Administrators International. These three organizations had produced their own codes (the Uniform, Standard, and National, respectively), today referred to as the “legacy codes.” Many cities still use these codes. The ICC produced its first IBC and IFC in 2000, as well as other model codes dealing with mechanical systems, energy conservation, and residential construction, among others. From the Hammurabi codes to the ICC format, the industry has controlled what the fire service inherits-all the buildings that receive a Certificate of Occupancy. Although the fire service had a great deal of input in the creation of the first building code, it has drifted out of the picture and is now trying to come back full cycle. New construction methods and techniques continue to present new challenges to our battlefield when adversity hits the fireground.

多多在线观看免费视频Over the years, the fire service has witnessed new economically driven trends in the use of construction materials and techniques, which have diminished for firefighters the once solid footing available on building roofs and floors. Once, construction design featured solid mass components such as solid wooden roof rafters/floor joists, poured concrete/rebar, and steel I-beams. Now components with much less mass are used, such as unprotected lightweight trusses of metal, wood, or cold-formed steel (photos 1 and 2) and preengineered wooden I-beams that are a composite of sawdust and glue. Also, preengineered wooden I-beams may be suspended on an aluminum hanger from a steel I-beam, further compromising its strength in a fire (photo 3). Lightweight construction is just one of many safety hazards the fire service encounters in buildings.

(1) Lightweight cold-formed steel truss roof framing for a single-family home. (Photos 1 ans 2 by Chris Radoian.)
Click here to enlarge image


(2) Lightweight cold-formed steel floor joists and exterior bearing walls for a one-family home.
Click here to enlarge image


(3) Lightweight laminated wooden I-beams with aluminum hangers do not provide firefighters with a solid footing on the roof. (Photos 3-6 by author.)
Click here to enlarge image



Lightweight construction techniques have forced a significant change in attitude and approach to our fireground strategies and tactics. “More than 60% of the roof systems in the United States are built using a truss system. By design, wooden truss systems contain a significant fuel load and are often hidden from sight. Fires in truss systems can burn for long periods before detection and can spread quickly across or through the trusses. Steel trusses are also prone to failure under fire conditions and may fail in less time than a wooden truss under the same conditions.”1 Over a five-year period (1998-2003), incidents that involve structures containing truss construction have killed 20 firefighters and injured 12 firefighters. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program investigated incidents involving such structures (Table 1). (1)

Table 1. NIOSH Truss Construction Firefighter Deaths and Injuries, 1998-2003
NIOSH Report Truss Type Fatalities Injuries Event leading to
death/injury or injury
98F005 Heavy timber 2 3 Backdraft
98F007 Heavy timber 1 0 Roof collapse
90F020 Heavy timber 1 0 Roof/wall collapse
98F021 Lightweight wood 2 0 Roof collapse
99F002 Lightweight wood 1 0 Roof collapse
F2000-13 Lightweight wood 2 0 Roof collapse
F2000-26 Lightweight wood 1 0 Floor collapse
F2000-43 Lightweight wood 0 3 Fire spread through wood truss voids
F2001-3 Lightweight wood 0 4 Roof collapse
F2001-09 Heavy timber 1 1 Roof/floor collapse
F2001-16 Lightweight wood 1 0 Floor collapse
F2001-27 Lightweight wood 1 0 Roof collapse
F2002-06 Lightweight wood 2 1 Floor collapse
F2002-50 Heavy timber 3 0 Roof collapse
F2003-18 Lightweight wood 2 0 Roof collapse
Source: Appendix A, “Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters Due to Truss System Failures,” Publication No. 2005-132, May 2005, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, .


Considering the challenge to current and future fireground strategy and tactics lightweight construction presents and the above report, fire service stakeholders need to unite under the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation (NFFF)’s call for increased fire service involvement in the code development process.2

多多在线观看免费视频Included in the 16 NFFF Initiatives for reducing line-of-duty firefighter deaths and injuries is a call for more fire service activism in code development, code enforcement, and fire prevention: “One of the most productive strategies for reducing the risk of fire fighter fatalities is to reduce the frequency of fires and emergency incidents. A comprehensive effort to increase fire service activism in fire prevention, code development, and code enforcement should have a direct impact on reducing the exposure of fire fighters to dangerous situations.” (2)

National fire service organizations such as the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) are the major stakeholders in making the fireground safer. Managing the risk on our battlefield begins with the code-development process for building, mechanical, plumbing, structural, and fire codes.

Over the years, the NASFM and IAFC have been involved in the code development process, yet neither has developed a strategy to coordinate efforts and become proactive as a collective fire service group. At this time, the NASFM and IAFC have begun to coordinate efforts, and the IAFF participated for the first time.

Nationwide, more than 44,000 communities have adopted or enforced some set of building codes and standards. Most states and cities make local amendments (customize) to the model codes. One large city recently has begun such a process by reviewing an existing 1968 building code and correlating it with the ICC’s 2003 International Building Code (IBC). The outcome will streamline the construction process and make for a robust local code. Out of this process will come a better building and fire code that includes a review process every three years for examining the new construction methods, techniques, and fire protection features.

With a united fire service base, it would now be a good time to pursue more vigorously the goal of providing a safer fireground within the framework of the ICC building, fire, mechanical, residential, plumbing, and property maintenance codes as well as the comprehensive consensus codes of the National Fire Protection Association, such as the National Electrical Code, Uniform Fire Code, Life Safety Code, Building Construction and Safety Code, National Fuel Gas Code, and Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code.

Eight key chapters within the IBC have a direct impact on firefighters on the fireground:

  1. Use Group/Occupancy Type.
  2. Means of Egress.
  3. Fire-Resistive Construction.
  4. Fire Protection Systems.
  5. Construction Assemblies and Fasteners (roofs, floors, and exterior walls).
  6. Special Use (garage, atrium, high-rise buildings).
  7. Other Building Systems (elevators, chimneys, electrical wiring, mechanical).
  8. Accessibility for People with Disability.

New construction methods and techniques within these eight building code chapters are changing the face of the five basic types of construction. Within these categories are new preengineering techniques such as modular, lightweight construction; hybrid buildings; tilt-up buildings; exterior curtain wall construction that are bolted or tack welded onto structural members; and “green” buildings constructed with 12 or more inches of dirt on a roof. Based on these new techniques, a fire officer can no longer provide a sound size-up to read the building during an emergency (photos 4, 5, and 6). Although new construction techniques may be technically sound under normal conditions, they may not be under fire conditions, and will create more adverse conditions that will continue to rapidly make our battlefield a bigger challenge. As Frank Brannigan has said for years, “The building is your enemy-know your enemy!”

(4) This building of ordinary construction extends above the roof line, and two new upper-floor levels are constructed with lightweight cold-formed steel framing.
Click here to enlarge image


(5) A five-story building of ordinary construction.
Click here to enlarge image


(6) Once the exterior of the building is camoufaged with stucco, you cannot tell where the ordinary construction begins or ends or indentify which levels have cold-formed steel framing. Developing a fire department building intelligence tactical program is crucial for today’s structures.
Click here to enlarge image


As the use of preengineered lightweight construction techniques increases, the fire service must reconsider its aggressive attack strategy. If there is no life safety threat, the surround and drown defensive (SADD) mode is appropriate. The insurance industry also needs to better understand that the fire department SADD tactical approach to preengineered lightweight construction may become more common when it comes to what the fire service refers to as “throw-away” buildings (a quickly assembled building comprised of modular components, many of which are lightweight; the building will never qualify as a structure with landmark status).


The makeup of the ICC committees varies-for instance, there are no fire service member seats on the plumbing, mechanical, and structural committees. The current 15-member IBC General Committee includes eight building officials, one member from the American Iron and Steel Institute, one from the Home Builders of America, one interior designer, one representative of the American Forest and Paper Association, and three consultants. The committee deals primarily with the administrative aspects, definitions, and building height and area issues of the IBC code.

Since several IBC chapters cross over to the International Fire Code Council (IFCC) and there is a diverse mix of committee members on the IBC Fire Safety Committee (15 seats-six from the fire service, one building official, and the others from industry), the IFCC should seek from the ICC the authority to appoint three fire service members to the General Committee.

多多在线观看免费视频The Structural Committee has 15 members, none of whom are from the fire service. The Means of Egress committee has 15 seats-four fire service members, three building officials, two members from the federal government, and the others from industry. The IFCC has 15 seats-eight from the fire service and the remainder from various industries.

Of the NFPA membership, 24 percent is comprised of the fire service, yet only a small number representing Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) serve on the technical committees. Both the NFPA and the ICC多多在线观看免费视频 will support a fire service member who actively serves on a committee with travel and hotel arrangements.

The ICC and the NFPA produce building codes but use different code-development procedures. In terms of the ICC, anyone can propose a change, although the final vote on a code change rests with public safety (building/fire) officials. The model code is updated each year; new editions are published every three years.

多多在线观看免费视频In the NFPA process, after the various stages of technical committee reviews, the final vote is presented to the general membership, which includes industry, consultants, special interest groups, and NFPA members.

多多在线观看免费视频The ICC model code process begins with a code change proposal, which anyone, such as consultants, industry members, and the public, can submit. The recommended changes then go to the Model Code Organization and its Code Change Committee, which reviews the recommendations for approval or disapproval. The Recommended and Unchallenged Actions are then published for review. The approved or disapproved items are discussed at the final business meeting at which only public safety officials can vote. The results are then published as a model code, and the adoption process moves on to state and local levels (Figure 1).

Figure 1. International Code Council (ICC) Model Code Development Process. 3
Click here to enlarge image

多多在线观看免费视频The NFPA has a Call for Proposals to amend existing documents or to receive recommendations on a new document. This process takes 104 weeks to complete (Figure 2). In Step 1, the committee meets to act on the proposals, to develop its own proposals, and to prepare its report. The committees vote by ballot. If two-thirds of the committee approves the proposal, the report goes forward. In Step 2, the committee meets to act on public comments, to develop its own comments, and to prepare a report. The committee votes by letter ballot; if two-thirds approve, a supplementary report goes forward and is published for public review. In Step 3, the NFPA membership meets and acts on the committee report during the May or November meeting. Also at this meeting, the committee votes on any approved amendments to the report. In Step 4, a notification of intent to file an appeal with the Standards Council must be filed within 20 days of the May/November meeting. The Standards Council decides, based on the evidence, whether or not to issue the code or standard or to take other actions.

Figure 2. NFPA Codes and Standards Making Process. 4
Click here to enlarge image

The number of fire service members who attend the hearings is very low-at times you will hear from the floor of a code hearing meeting: “There is no one from the fire service here objecting to this code change.” The percentage of fire service attendees at building code and fire code hearings is 10 percent or less; it sometimes may reach 20 or 25 percent. The fire service must strengthen its participation and must stay the full length of the code hearing. Just as we rotate fire service personnel at our fire stations across the country, we must be able to do the same for what will eventually affect us on the fireground.


多多在线观看免费视频Passive fire protection such as fire-rated corridors, doors, and glazing; fire-stopping for the vertical and horizontal spread of smoke; and spray-on fireproofing is as valuable for protection from fire in a building as are an active fire alarm and a sprinkler system. We should listen to those who propose new construction techniques and fire protection enhancements, but we also collectively must be careful to see what we are receiving and what we may be asked to give up. Just as firefighters rely on a balanced fire attack, they need to depend on a redundant approach (active and passive) for fire detection, containment, and suppression for building safety. Think of it as our fire “BAs”: Breathing Air and Balance Attack. Evidence that redundant fire protection systems improve safety comes from our collective fire service experiences and the NFIRS database; this evidence needs to be presented at all code development hearings. The fire service is the only business responding to control fires and other emergencies in buildings; therefore, its voice should be heard.

There has been some IBC movement toward requiring the installation of an NFPA-13R residential sprinkler system in all new apartment buildings and an NFPA-13D residential sprinkler for single-family and manufactured homes. But, will it be at the price of less redundancy in fire protection pertaining to the fire-rated separation requirement between the garage and the housing unit; the need for a standard-size bedroom window to act as a secondary means of escape; fewer hydrants in a new housing development; or narrower street widths, closer housing units, and fewer on-duty firefighters? Also, these residential systems are affordable “life safety” systems, systems which do not have complete protection throughout the dwelling (certain areas such as bathrooms, closets, and unused attics do not have protection because they represent areas where fires do not start from the historical, statistical standpoint). This is one of many issues that will confront the fire service.

多多在线观看免费视频The challenge to the fire service is to partner with the industry and strongly support the need for code development, prevention, and enforcement and for firefighters to attend annual building and fire code hearings. The partnership with the industry will enable the fire service to influence new construction techniques such as the “green” building-layers of dirt on the roof provide insulation for a more energy-efficient building. The challenge comes during a fire when we have to perform vertical ventilation. How do you quickly accomplish that task? It begins with fire service input within the code-development framework-i.e., installing a smoke-management system that may feature Bilco-style doors on the “green” roof that can release pressurized smoke gases at the ceiling level and thus aid firefighters with the roof-ventilation task.

The ICC codes have become the codes of choice across the country for many local building officials, but some in the fire service still don’t realize it. The code cycle is reinventing itself every three years. Therefore, all fire service groups must be steadfast in their pursuit to have an impact on the code-development process and participate more in the standard of care for life safety in buildings, particularly the building, mechanical, and plumbing codes. Now, architects, building owners, contractors, and engineers most often decide which best practices should be implemented in the design and construction of new buildings and for maintaining and repairing existing buildings. National, state, and local fire service groups need to unite behind the NFFF fire service code activism initiative and create a long-term strategy to interface with each other and perhaps develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the groups to ensure more protection for firefighters and the public on our battlefield, the fireground.


1. Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters Due to Truss System Failures多多在线观看免费视频, NIOSH Publication No. 2005-132, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, May 2005, .

2. Firefighters Life Safety Summit Initial Report, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, April 14, 2004, 5, 13, .

3. Introduction to Building Codes and Guide to Effective and Efficient Codes Administration, National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards, 2004.

4. Codes and Standards for a Safer World, NFPA. 2005.

JACK J. MURPHY is the managing director of JJM & Associates, LLC. He is a fire marshal (ret.) and former deputy chief of the Leonia (NJ) Fire Department. Murphy is an advisory board member of Fire Engineering and FDIC and had served as the FDIC education coordinator. He is vice-chairman of the New York City High-Rise Fire Safety Directors Association and a member of the NFPA High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee. Murphy has a master’s degree in education and several undergraduate degrees and is the author of RICS/Rapid Incident Command System (Fire Engineering, 1998).