Fire Apparatus Access Roads

Fire departments provide fire protection services to their jurisdictions as well as respond to a variety of other emergencies such as medical emergencies, motor vehicle accidents, hazardous material spills, electrical hazards, floods, and construction accidents. In order for these first responders to do their jobs effectively they need to be able to have access to the areas where incidents might occur, and this is where fire department access and access road requirements come in. Requirements for this topic come from Chapter 18 of NFPA 1, Fire Code.

When we talk about fire apparatus access roads, this includes more than just the fire lane outside of a building, it encompasses roadways and parking lots that must be traveled in order to allow access and operational setup for firefighting and rescue apparatus.

Fire engines not only need to be able to travel to their destination but when they get there, they need to be able to get close enough to any building to effectively deploy hose lines, access to fire hydrants and access fire department connections. Ladder trucks also need adequate room to setup rescue and laddering operations.

Access Road Location Requirements

Fire department access roads must be provided so fire apparatus can drive within 50 ft (15 m) of an exterior door that allows access to the interior of the building. This 50 ft (15 m) distance can be increased to 150 ft (46 m) for one- or two-family dwellings, or townhouses, that are protected with an automatic sprinkler system.

The fire department access roads also need to be located so that any portion of the building or facility is not more than 150 ft (46 m) from fire department access roads as measured around the exterior of the building or facility. This requirement ensures that first responders can reach most parts of the building with their hose lines. This 150 ft (46 m) distance can be increased to 450 ft in buildings that are protected with an automatic sprinkler system because a correctly installed sprinkler system reduces the fire risk to the occupants and firefighters.

If the AHJ determines that a single fire department access road can be impaired by through traffic, terrain challenges, climate conditions or anything else then multiple access roads might be required.

Access Road Specifications

Access roads need to allow adequate access to the building and room to setup and perform manual suppression operations. Fire department access roads require 20 ft (6.1 m) of unobstructed width, 13.5 ft (4.1 m) of unobstructed vertical clearance and an appropriate radius for turns in the roads and dead ends for the vehicles apparatus to turn around. The minimum 20 ft (6.1 m) width allows for two-way vehicular traffic and for one fire apparatus vehicle to pass while another is working at a fire hydrant or conducting aerial operations while the 13.5 ft  (4.1 m) vertical clearance ensures that fire apparatus can safely pass under power lines, bridges, and other obstructions. Bridges need to be designed to be able to support a load sufficient enough to carry a fully loaded fire apparatus and the vehicle load limits need to be provided at both entrances to the bridge. The grade of the road also must not exceed 1 ft (0.3 m) of elevation change every 20 ft (6.1 m) or whatever the design limits of the local fire apparatus dictate. As determined by the AHJ, certain parts of the fire department access road are required to be marked, these marked portions of the fire department access roads are called fire lanes.

Obstructions

This next requirement is one that most people have heard of because it is typically painted in large letters in front of buildings, but I’ll reiterate it here. If an area is designated as a fire lane, cars are not allowed to be parked there. In addition, the width of the rest of the fire department access road needs to be maintained and unobstructed. This means that parked vehicles need to be accounted for on roads or lots where they would normally park.

Other obstructions might include gates, doors or any other security feature. First responders must be able to access these areas in an event of an emergency. Access can be granted by installing an access box which is a listed box that usually contains items such as keys, access codes, card keys, or a remote opening device for first responders.

Fire departments must have adequate, unobstructed access to the buildings where incidents can occur in order for them to do their job properly. It is to everyone’s benefit to allow fire departments easy access and the requirements in Chapter 18 of NFPA 1 help ensure this happens.

Do you have any experience with unique fire department access challenges? If so let us know about them in the comments below.

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Brian O'Connor
Technical Services Engineer , passionate about all things fire protection.

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