An overview of proposed changes to upcoming versions of the Life Safety Code and Fire Code
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2011
By Fred Durso, Jr.
Adopted in 43 states and used in all 50, NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, is the gold standard for building occupant safety. With a 2012 edition of the code in the works, a number of proposed changes are intended to bring additional levels of safety to structures already adhering to the code as well as to buildings under construction.
Code modifications and additions, for example, include a new provision for carbon monoxide detection in certain residential living units, across-the-board safety requirements for new high-rise buildings, and a relaxation of the means of egress requirements for normally unoccupied building service equipment support areas. There are also a number of proposals focusing on health care occupancies to make the setting more homelike (see "Ounce of Prevention" on page 68).
Likewise, NFPA 1, Fire Code, adopted in 19 states and also up for revision this year, has its share of proposed safeguards, including a proposed change to increase floor structural fire resistance in some residential dwellings.
The following is an analysis of some of the more than 800 proposals and 475 comments addressed by NFPA technical committees for both NFPA 1 and NFPA 101. Items receiving a Notice of Intent to Make A Motion (NITMAM) that become Certified Amending Motions (CAMs) on these and other documents in the Fall 2010 and Annual 2011 revision cycles will be discussed during the Association Technical Meeting at NFPA’s Conference & Expo, June 12–15 in Boston.
Life Safety Code
Chapter 11 of NFPA 101 includes a package of provisions for high-rise buildings, but the code currently allows the specific occupancy chapters to decide which aspects should be implemented at particular facilities. "We found that there were inconsistencies—that some occupancies adhered to the entire package, others adhered to some of it, and some didn’t adhere to any of it," says Ron Coté, NFPA staff liaison for the Code. "The proposed change says that, for the first time, this package will apply to all new high-rise buildings, regardless of whether it’s an office building, factory, or hospital."
The high-rise provisions require a sprinkler system per NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, standpipes for use by the fire service, emergency lighting and standby power requirements, an alarm system with voice communication capability, an emergency plan developed by staff that is adequately trained, and an emergency command center. Its location approved by the fire department, the command center would have fire alarm system panels and controls, fire department telephones and communication service panels, fire detection and fire alarm system panels, elevator floor locators and recall switch, elevator emergency power selector switches, sprinkler valve and annunciators, indicators for the emergency generators and fire pumps, and controls for any automatic stairway door unlocking system provided.
Addressing areas in buildings that are seldom visited by people, another proposed change would exempt normally unoccupied building service equipment support areas from having to provide a traditional means of egress system, unless prohibited by a specific occupancy chapter. These areas consist of crawl spaces and attics that typically route ductwork, piping cables, and conduits rarely accessed by people. "There’s been a long-running question that if you have these spaces that people seldom enter, how can you justify spending the money to provide a full means of egress system from these spaces, and in doing so, interfere with the layout and functioning of the space?" Coté says.
This provision would not apply to hotels, dormitories, and apartment buildings, since these chapters in the Life Safety Code will not permit the use of the new exemption for normally unoccupied building service equipment support areas. The exemption would apply to all other occupancies, as the applicable occupancy chapters won’t prohibit the use of the new provisions.
Addressing a number of carbon monoxide poisonings and deaths over the past few years, another proposed change adds provisions for carbon monoxide detection and warning equipment to a core chapter. The core chapter provisions are formatted to be mandatory where required by another section of the code. Actions by various occupancy chapter committees result in new requirements for carbon monoxide alarms or detection systems in new lodging or rooming houses, new hotels, new dormitories, and new apartment buildings with fuel-burning appliances or attached, communicating garages. The devices alert residents to carbon monoxide released by combustion gases that can accumulate in enclosed and semi-enclosed areas, possibly resulting in illness or death if inhaled in large quantities.
"Products of combustion from friendly fires, like those from normally operating fuel-burning home appliances, if not properly vented, can be just as deadly as those from a structure fire," says Coté. These detection devices are also addressed in NFPA 720, Installation of Carbon Monoxide Detection and Warning Equipment.
The carbon monoxide proposal is also a proposed change to NFPA 1, Fire Code, and is extracted entirely from the proposed changes to the Life Safety Code.
NFPA 1, Fire Code
A subject that generated significant committee discussion related to an NFPA 1 proposal to require floor fire protection in new, nonsprinklered, one- and two-family dwellings. This would require a thermal barrier, typically a membrane of gypsum wallboard with a nominal thickness of a half inch, attached to the underside of the floor above an occupied space in a residence without sprinklers. "The fire service representation on the committee was concerned about floor collapses that could occur early in a fire, when firefighters are inside the house conducting search and rescue operations," says Gregory Harrington, staff liaison for NFPA 1.
Part of the committee discussion on this proposal centered on an existing requirement in NFPA 1 to provide automatic sprinkler systems in all new one- and two-family dwellings. For those jurisdictions that amend the code to omit the residential sprinkler requirement, fire service representatives on the technical committee felt an added level of protection for firefighters was needed in new, nonsprinklered dwellings.
Firefighting tactics also led to another proposal that would require sprinklers in all new buildings three or more stories in height, regardless of occupancy, with the exception of detached open parking structures. "Where buildings are more than three stories in height, there can be a significant delay in manual firefighting suppression efforts," says Harrington. As stated in the proposal’s substantiation outlined in the ROP for the code’s 2012 edition, building height can exacerbate such actions as entry to the fire location, deployment of hose lines, connection to a standpipe, search-and-rescue operations, and ventilation and roof access. The most effective method for fire suppression, it adds, is early intervention with a fire sprinkler system.
Another proposed change would impose additional limits on grilling. NFPA 1 already prohibits the use of grills on balconies, under any overhanging portion, or within 10 feet of a structure unless the device is listed, approved, permanently installed equipment, or in a one- and two-family dwelling. The code does not currently prohibit residents from storing grills in these areas, making it difficult for code enforcers to determine if the grill is actually being used. Enhancing the provision in the new edition by including that grills should not be stored at these locations will simplify enforcement and compliance.
Ounce of Prevention
Health care revisions to the Life Safety Code and NFPA 99
The Life Safety Code® impacts all health care occupancies in the United States. These facilities must comply with NFPA 101® in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funds from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Joint Commission, an organization that certifies and accredits more than 18,000 health care programs and organizations, also mandates compliance with the Life Safety Code. The following is a list of proposed changes to NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities, and NFPA 101 that address recent approaches to safety in these settings.
- A proposal that existing occupancy chapters be deleted and that "risk categories" for different health care occupancies be established in their place. A facility’s requirements would be based on risk assessment of the procedures actually taking place in the facility, rather than on the term applied to the occupancy, such as hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, etc.
- A proposal to delete the chapter on laboratories, since the material is covered by NFPA 45, Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals.
- A proposal to change the term "wet locations" to "wet procedure locations" and that "operating rooms shall be a considered a wet procedure location unless a risk assessment conducted by the health care governing body determines otherwise."
— Fred Durso, Jr.
Elevators and the Environment
Proposed changes to NFPA 5000
Of the more than 450 proposals and 240 comments for NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®, two important recommendations involve elevator use during emergencies and buildings with environmentally sustainable features.
The issue of emergency elevator use has been addressed in the code since the 2009 edition. A proposed change would replace the term "first responders use elevators" with "fire service access elevators" to better distinguish the features that must be added to passenger and freight elevators to make them safe for the fire service to use under fire conditions. "These changes address the need to also increase the resistance of physical damage that would result from emergencies and other events," says Allan Fraser, NFPA staff liaison for the code’s Building Systems Committee. "They’re structurally more stable, bigger, and have better protection for their mechanical features."
The revised code would include provisions that would require a single fire service access elevator to be sized for a minimum capacity of 4,000 pounds, or for two elevators to be sized for a minimum capacity of 3,500 pounds, to accommodate weighty firefighter equipment; dimensions large enough to accommodate an ambulance stretcher; an elevator lobby with a minimum one-hour fire resistance-rated separation from the remainder of the floor, and an elevator lobby door that is self-closing and has a minimum three-quarters-of-an-hour fire protection rating; a standpipe hose connection near exit stairs with access to the elevator lobby; increased levels of emergency power; and better protection for wiring and cables.
Fraser adds there are "very significant discussions" that need to take place about how building occupants access these elevators, and under what potential priority system, during an emergency. "If we do have a catastrophic failure of a building, we want to find a way to get people out of there safely," he says. "These discussions will be ongoing, and there has to be a lot more research on this issue. There are very real practical issues when you talk about an elevator operating during an emergency, such as who gets to use it first. There’s also a lot of education work we need to do."
The Fire Protection Research Foundation, for example, is currently overseeing a project addressing elevator messaging strategies. The project, conducted by NIST, focuses on establishing guidance for emergency message content (audible and visual) and delivery based on the threat or hazard, the stage of the event (including pre-event), the sources and recipients of the communications, recommended message content and format, and the methods of message delivery. The project will provide tools and message templates for use by elevator designers to address emergency events internal to the building, and will address the needs of all building occupants including those with disabilities and emergency responders. The work is scheduled for completion in December.
Addressing a national movement for increased building designs promoting environmental consciousness and building sustainability, a code recommendation places these features into a new NFPA 5000 annex. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has developed the ANSI Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings. The proposed annex will house provisions addressing such diverse features and functions as optimizing sunlight through proper building orientation, public transit opportunities near buildings, vegetated "green" roofs that help cool the building’s interior while reducing storm water runoff, Brownfield sites that are underused due to land degradation, and recycled building materials.
"As new ideas start to generate, it’s not uncommon for NFPA to put them into an annex where a local jurisdiction can try them out," says Fraser, who sits on ASHRAE’s Standards Committee, similar to NFPA’s Standards Council. "We’re not saying it’s the best practice or that it’s ready for prime time, but we do think it should be considered."
— Fred Durso, Jr.