NFPA Journal®, November/December 2003
California is known for being a state of firsts, from the nation's first ban on assault weapons to the country's toughest auto emissions laws. So it's not surprising that California recently adopted the industry's most innovative model building code, NFPA 5000™, Building Construction and Safety Code™.
Winning approval from the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) was a tough fight, as NFPA advocates from around the state weighed in with letters, faxes, and public statements in support of adoption. In the end, after several months of review and public input, the CBSC adopted NFPA 5000 and NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code™, in July by an 8-2 vote.
Safety advocates from across the state, including leading members of the fire service, determined that NFPA 5000 will provide the highest levels of safety to protect people and property in California, in part because our codes are developed with input from a broad cross section of technical experts and supported by NFPA staff. The quality of those codes and NFPA's services will give California a building code and a fire code that reflect the needs of both users and enforcers, once the state's code amendment process is complete.
The CBSC's review demonstrated that NFPA's codes represented the best public safety option for the state. A main selling point was our proven ability to provide jurisdictions that adopt our codes with a wide range of technical support, including on-site training, documents and training materials, and technical advisory services.
After a detailed and extensive review, California's state fire marshal wrote in his recommendation to the CBSC that NFPA's support services will make the transition from the Uniform Building Code, which the state was using, easier. NFPA also has an established record in public safety education, and several of our educational programs directly support the state fire marshal's mission to promote public safety.
NFPA's experienced staff of experts in structural engineering, architecture, and building systems administers professional certification programs for building inspectors and building plans examiners, and NFPA traditionally provides jurisdictions that adopt our codes with free training and codebooks. We've also posted online the complete text of NFPA 5000 to make it easy for building officials to familiarize themselves with the new document.
In addition, NFPA is opening an office in California to support the smooth transition to the new code. The Sacramento office, known as the Western Code Support Office, joins the roster of regional NFPA offices already in place in the United States, Canada, and other countries.
"NFPA's Sacramento presence will enable our technical staff to continue to work hand-in-hand with state agencies to address California-specific code issues, expediting the preparation of proposed state amendments," says James M. Shannon, NFPA's president and CEO. "This action demonstrates our commitment to supporting the state, code users, and the people of California throughout the use of NFPA's building and fire codes."
NFPA's regional and international outreach efforts promote the adoption of our codes and standards, ensure appropriate representation at code hearings and legislative sessions, help NFPA staff coordinate activities with key constituencies, and allow us to identify ways NFPA services can be used to improve fire, building, and life safety worldwide.
This type of technical support, which has been in place for years, is unmatched among code-writing organizations and should mean that the more Californians get to know NFPA 5000, the more they'll like it.
A pledge of support
In California's case, "We are fully committed to providing the support California needs for a smooth transition to NFPA 5000," says Ray Bizal, regional manager of NFPA's Western Building Code Field Office.
Bizal is responsible for expanding field outreach and support for NFPA 5000 by working with state and local building officials and associations to include them in the code-development process. Throughout the intensive code-amendment process, the Sacramento-based staff will provide technical and clerical support to state agencies that have the authority to promulgate codes.
"We have offered to assist them in any way possible," Bizal says.
Currently, NFPA is working with these agencies to develop a timeline for preparing state-specific amendments to California's current model building code, which hasn't been updated since 1998, to align them with the CBSC recommendations.
The amendment process is quite involved, requiring input from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, the Division of the State Architect, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal to process the state-specific revisions. These amendments will then be sent to the CBSC for review by its various code advisory committees, which will make their own recommendations on how best to amend the model code. The amendments will also be offered for public comment.
Eventually, the CBSC will be asked to adopt and approve these changes, and the new regulations are anticipated to take effect after their publication in late 2005. Local jurisdictions can then adopt the state code or amend it further, as long as their amendments aren't less restrictive than the state code.
Because of its fiscal constraints, California is unable to devote as much technical expertise as is needed to develop amendments to a statewide model code. As a result, NFPA is helping draft them, a valuable service available to all other states and jurisdictions considering adopting NFPA 5000.
"We are helping to prepare the amendments and then refine them for presentation for approval," Bizal says.
This not only provides California authorities with NFPA's renowned training and expertise, but it saves the state tax dollars, he adds.
"We've provided similar support to the city of Phoenix as it works to finalize its adoption of NFPA 5000," adds Bizal.
This is all part of what NFPA offers any jurisdiction that adopts NFPA codes, says David Nuss, NFPA's Denver regional manager, who's helping coordinate the amendment process for California.
"NFPA is most qualified to be providing this support," he says.
Nuss, who has more than 18 years of fire prevention and building code enforcement experience, is responsible for promoting the adoption and use of NFPA codes and standards, NFPA educational programs and curricula, and membership throughout his region. He also represents NFPA at code hearings, legislative sessions, fire safety meetings, and regional membership activities.
To get the Sacramento office up and running, NFPA contracted with Hughes Associates, Inc. (HAI), a fire protection engineering, research and consulting firm, and with Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc. (SGH), a structural engineering firm that designs, investigates, and retrofits buildings and structures of all types. These two firms will provide needed technical expertise during the amendment process, Bizal says.
"As we have always done, we will make it easy for users and enforcers to get code interpretations," says Nuss. "Our Sacramento office will offer a convenient point of contact for local jurisdictions."
The staff of HAI has an international reputation, employing experts in all facets of fire protection who are active in the NFPA codes- and standards-making process, as well as those of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), and other model-code groups. These experts serve on more than 50 fire-related standards-rating committees.
HAI's Cheryl Domnitch, P.E., has 20 years' experience working with California's authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and using NFPA codes and standards in California.
"This places us (HAI) in a unique position because of our understanding of NFPA codes and the NFPA code-adoption process," she says.
Domnitch calls the adoptions of NFPA 5000 and NFPA 1 significant for NFPA and the state of California. California has used the Uniform Building Code as the basis of its state building code for more than 20 years, and NFPA 5000 represents a departure that will benefit the state, she says.
Aside from helping draft language for model legislation and testifying at public hearings, NFPA staff will brief California AHJs on the contents of various codes and standards, the consensus process under which the code or standard was developed, and its benefits.
"We will also provide training for enforcement agencies," Nuss says. "First, we'll begin with the state agencies and state staff. It's premature to provide support to local agencies because many are waiting to see how the amendment process goes and what the final amendments are [before they make changes in their own building codes]."
Nuss notes that NFPA provided similar support when California adopted the National Electrical Code® in 2001.
Because the amendment process isn't completed, NFPA's Professional Development Division hasn't finalized its portion of the post-adoption technical support. However, it will undoubtedly include the services NFPA usually provides to adopting jurisdictions.
These include on-site training for code officials in areas such as building and life safety, fire prevention, automatic sprinkler systems, and fire alarms. Code officials also receive copies of the adopted NFPA documents and related training materials for their staffs, and they can call, write, or E-mail NFPA experts for answers to their code interpretation questions.
In addition, NFPA offers a two-day code seminar for building officials, architects, engineers, designers, building inspectors, and plans examiners that covers the development, organization, and application of the building code, explains the essential requirements for business occupancies, and gives an overview of requirements specific to other occupancies. The seminar meets the training requirements for transfer into the NFPA Certified Building Inspector and Building Plans Examiner Programs.
John Nicholson is managing editor of the NFPA Journal®.