Codes and Standards
In view of the variety of business, professional and consumer interests represented in code making, “it is hardly surprising that codes are products of compromise amid competing aims and viewpoints,” the commission observed and added, “Often the process of political compromise leads to serious compromise in fire safety.”
The commission deplored the differences among national model codes and local codes, but most of all the commission was disturbed by “the fact that many jurisdictions have no codes whatsoever.”
Thus, the commission recommended that “all local governmental units in the United States have in force an adequate building code and fire prevention code or adopt whichever they lack.”
In pointing out that a code is not effective without enforcement the commission declared, “Many serious building fires have been the result, not of code deficiencies, but of lax enforcement (sometimes because of corruption).”
Training of inspectors ‘inadequate’
The commission called the training of inspectors “woefully inadequate” in many municipalities and said that one of the reasons “codes tend toward rigidity and detailed specifications is that local building officials and inspectors are not equipped, because of their inadequate training, to evaluate alternative solutions and trade-offs.”
Building departments should consult fire prevention bureaus during the design and construction phases of buildings, the commission said. It added that “coordination of efforts between the two departments is needed to provide optimum fire protection.”
The commission recommended that “local governments provide the competent personnel, training programs for inspectors, and coordination among the various departments involved to enforce effectively the local building and fire prevention codes. Representatives from the fire department should participate in reviewing the fire safety aspects of plans for new building construction and alterations to old buildings.”
One result of slow changes in codes, except after a tragedy, “is that new requirements tend to be piled upon old instead of replacing them,” the commission said. “The result can be needless redundancy and added expense. In some model codes, for example, the addition of an automatic sprinkler system has not been accompanied by tradeoff provisions on other fire safety features, such as height and area limitations, maximum travel distances, or the degree of fire-resistive construction.”
Materials, technology outrun codes
The commission categorized codes as “slow to respond to the rapid changes in materials and construction technology.” It also viewed these changes as threatening “to outrun the standards-setting organizations and testing laboratories striving to keep up with the changes.
“Many lives could be saved and many injuries averted,” the commission declared, by the installation of earlywarning fire detectors and alarms in homes. At the same time, the commission called for the installation of “earlywarning detectors coupled with automatic extinguishing systems in buildings where many people congregate.” Model codes should allow savings by relaxing other fire safety features when automatic sprinklers are installed, the commission said.
The commission recommended that, “as the model code of the International Conference of Building Officials has already done, all model codes specify at least a singlestation early-warning detector oriented to protect sleeping areas in every dwelling unit. Further, the model codes should specify automatic fire extinguishing systems and early-warning detectors for high-rise buildings and for lowrise buildings in which many people congregate.”
The commission commented that these “are the most important” actions that can be taken to provide fire safety in the built environment.