Topic: Code Enforcement

City snowy street

NFPA 25 provides guidance on maximizing fire safety during sprinkler systems restoration process

Over the past couple of weeks, one of the common themes among news stories and social media posts addressing the recent winter storms has been the impact of plunging temperatures on pipes. Numerous videos and images have shown frozen leaks extruding from systems and burst pipes allowing continuous flow of water from plumbing systems, which included all portions of automatic fire sprinkler systems. NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, contains provisions that require protection of sprinkler system from freezing where exposure to low temperatures can be expected. Options for this protection, which have been addressed in previous blogs, include listed antifreeze solutions, the use of dry sprinklers or dry sprinkler systems, and heat tracing. While these are effective solutions when done properly and maintained in accordance with NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, these solutions are not typically provided in conditioned spaces where the heating system is expected to maintain temperatures above freezing. In the situation where utility outages and rolling blackouts disable the heating system, the water filled pipe in those heated areas can then be subject to extreme temperatures, causing the water to freeze and subsequent failures within the system. This is a situation beyond what the standard normally anticipates. Unfortunately, as those videos and images showed last week, many systems were subjected to record cold temperatures and suffered failures. At that point, the building contains a compromised sprinkler system and is no longer protected at the level that is expected while the system is in service. In NFPA 25, the term for a system that is out of order is an impairment. In fact, one of the specifically identified ‘emergency impairments’ is frozen or ruptured piping. Impairments need to be addressed and resolved as quickly as possible in order to provide the expected level of protection for life and property. If the impairment is prolonged, additional measures need to be taken in consideration of life and property protection. Impairment Program In the time before the restoration of service, NFPA 25 provides details on impairment programs and what they should cover: Determination of the extent and expected duration of the impairment Determination of the area or buildings involved are inspected and increased risks Submittal of recommendations to mitigate any increased risks Notification of the fire department Notification of the insurance carrier, alarm company, property owner, and other authorities having jurisdiction Notification of supervisors in the areas affected Implementation of a Tag impairment system Prolonged Impairments In addition to these steps, what may be the most important or impactful provision is arranging for one or more of the following measures when the fire protection system is out of service for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period: Evacuation of the building or portion of the building affected by the system out of service Implementation of an approved fire watch program Establishment of a temporary water supply Establishment and implementation of an approved program to eliminate potential ignition sources and limit the amount of fuel available to a fire Restoring Systems to Service When repair work has been completed and the system is restored to service, the following items need to be confirmed: Any necessary inspections and tests have been conducted Supervisors have been advised that protection is restored The fire department has been advised that protection is restored The insurance carrier, alarm company, property owner, and other authorities having jurisdiction are notified that protection is restored The impairment tag is removed The impacts of the recent weather events will be seen for a while, and as weather patterns throughout the U.S. become more extreme, these kinds of incidents will likely become more common. Taking the proper precautions and establishing a plan for handling these types of scenarios well ahead of time can make a tremendous difference in mitigating the impacts of extreme weather on sprinkler systems. NFPA offers a series of online trainings that can help ensure the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in multiple environments, including the upcoming NFPA 13 (2019) Live Virtual Training, which will held on March 8-12, 2021, and theNFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (2019) Online Learning Course.  
Houses under construction

Types of Construction and Material Combustibility

It is important to understand how a building will perform in a fire. Minimum construction requirements are established to help maintain structural integrity for the time needed for evacuation or relocation to a safe location in the building. The combustibility of a material gives an indication of how quickly a fire will grow. Both of these aspects are essential to fire and life safety.  NFPA 220, Standard on Types of Building Construction, defines types of building construction based on the combustibility and the fire resistance rating of a building's structural elements. When we talk about fire resistance rating, we mean the time, in minutes or hours, that materials or assemblies have withstood a fire exposure as determined by specific tests.  NFPA 101 requires certain occupancies to meet minimum construction requirements, which can be found in section 1, subsection 6 of any of the occupancy chapter (XX.1.6). NFPA 101 isn’t the only code that specifies minimum construction types, other codes, such as a building code will also specify minimum construction types. Often times the type of construction that the building is permitted to be made out of correlates to how many stories the building will have and whether or not the building will have sprinklers installed.  NFPA Construction Types NFPA 220 breaks down building construction into five different types which relate to the material, each one of these types is numbered one through five (in roman numerals). When codes and standards refer to the type of construction required or permitted there are three numbers in parenthesis that follow the type of construction. These numbers indicate the fire resistance rating in hours of different structural elements that are required. The image below gives an example of how you might see this rating in a document and explains the different types as well as the following numbers.  Type I: Noncombustible (or limited-combustible) construction with a high level of fire resistance, typically concrete construction.  Type II: Noncombustible (or limited-combustible) construction with a lower level of fire resistance than Type I, typically this is steel construction with or without fireproofing.  Type III: Exterior walls and structural elements are noncombustible or limited-combustible materials, and interior structural elements, walls, arches, floors, and roofs are wood that is smaller than what is required for Type IV construction. This is usually called ordinary construction and an example of this is a mixed masonry/wood building.  Type IV: Fire walls, exterior walls, and interior bearing walls are approved noncombustible or limited-combustible materials. Other interior structural elements, arches, floors, and roofs are solid or laminated wood or cross-laminated timber. There are certain dimensional requirements:  Columns – 8in (205mm) x 8in (205mm) if supporting floor, 6in (150mm) x 8in (205mm)  if supporting roof Beams – 6in (150mm) x 10in (255mm) if supporting floor, 4in x 6in (150mm) if supporting roof Arches – Varies 8in (205mm) x 8in (205mm) to 4in (100mm) x 6in (150mm) Floors – 3in (75mm) or 4in (100mm) thick  Type V: Structural elements, walls, arches, floors, and roofs are wood or other approved material. Most residential construction is Type V. First Digit (X00): Exterior bearing walls Second Digit (0X0): Columns, beams, girders, trusses and arches, supporting bearing walls, columns or loads from more than one floor.  Third Digit (00X): Floor construction Material Combustibility Outside of the construction type and fire resistance rating of the structural elements there are also different designations for what is considered a combustible material, limited combustible material and noncombustible material. Noncombustible Material Materials that pass the criteria in ASTM E136 when tested in accordance with either ASTM E136 or ASTM E2652 are considered noncombustible. Also, any inherently noncombustible materials can be considered noncombustible without having to be tested. Although the standard doesn’t explicitly say exactly what is inherently noncombustible the associated annex material goes on to suggest that it consists of materials such as concrete, masonry, glass and steel.  Limited Combustible Material Material that is considered limited combustible needs to meet certain criteria.  It needs to be able to produce a heat value less than 3,500 BTU/lb when tested in accordance with NFPA 259. (For context paper has a heat value of approximately 7,000 BTU/lb, wood is about 10,000 BTU/lb while most plastics are in the 15,000 to 22,000 BTU/lb range) Tested in accordance with ASTM E2965 at an incident heat flux of 75kW/m2 for 20 minutes and meet the following conditions. a. Peak heat release rate doesn’t exceed 150kW/m2 for more than 10 seconds b. Total heat released is less than 8MJ/m2 Either one of the following a. Material has a noncombustible base with a surface that doesn’t have a flame spread index greater than 50 when tested in accordance with ASTM E84. The surface ontop of the noncombustible base can’t be thicker than 1/8th inch (3.2mm) b. Flame spread index is less than 25 when tested with ASTM E84 or UL 723, even if the material is cut.  An example of a limited combustible material is gypsum wallboard.  Combustible Material Defining combustible materials is done so by process of elimination. If the materials don’t meet the definition of limited-combustible or noncombustible then it is a combustible material. A common example of a combustible material is untreated wood.  Ensuring a building remains structurally sound and that materials react to fire predictably is important to overall life safety. Understanding and complying with construction type requirements is the first step in creating a safe built environment. We gave some common examples of each type of construction, what are some other examples? Let me know in the comments below. 

New web version and quarterly print schedule for NFPA Journal

NFPA Journal®, the magazine of the National Fire Protection Association, has launched a new web version and moved to a quarterly print publication schedule as part of a larger plan to expand the magazine’s online presence, extend the association’s global reach, and provide convenient access to a range of content generated by the award-winning NFPA Journal team and the magazine’s many contributors. The new NFPA Journal online site will feature highlighted pieces from the print magazine, as well as breaking news coverage, thought leadership content, a daily feed of national fire service news, and the latest installments of the popular NFPA Podcast and Learn Something New video series. Readers can also view the current issue of the magazine in digital flipbook format and access NFPA Journal en Espanol. Until recently the print edition of NFPA Journal was published on a bimonthly basis. Now, NFPA Journal will be distributed exclusively to NFPA members in February, May, August, and November. The magazine will continue to provide in-depth coverage of emerging trends, codes and standards development, and education and advocacy initiatives to NFPA members. “These changes mark an exciting point in the evolution of NFPA Journal and represent an important part of NFPA’s growing international influence,” said Scott Sutherland, executive editor of NFPA Journal. “Our new and expanded web identity, combined with our new print schedule, will help us reach more audiences around the world with a wider variety of stories on emerging fire and life safety issues.” Visit and bookmark to access fire, electrical, building and life safety news or download the NFPA Journal app for IOSor >Android today.
NFPA 70E blog banner

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: An authority having jurisdiction for a standard not adopted by law

Sorry that I have been away for some time, but 2020 was a year of challenges. I have been writing this blog mostly on a bi-weekly basis for four years. This is the first blog that will be published monthly. I hope you will continue to find the information and views beneficial in your continued effort to increase electrical safety in your workplace. My last blog (October) pointed out that if a standard is adopted into law, it is a government agent who typically becomes the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). That blog also pointed out that although the NEC is typically mandated, there are many electrical installations not inspected by the government AHJ. Are there AHJs for a standard that is not legislated? NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® is such a standard. Product standards are another example. These standards contain requirements but do not have a government AHJ to enforce them. Who has the responsibility for verifying compliance with the requirements if these non-legislated standards are used? The requirement to use NFPA 70E is often directed by an employer through their electrical safety program. Their purpose for using NFPA 70E is to help them meet federally mandated obligations to provide a workplace that is free from known electrical hazards. It is probable that the electrical safety program will fail if management directs that NFPA 70E be utilized without assigning AHJs. No one will develop safe work practices, no one will audit electrical safety practices or keep procedures current, no one will inspect in-house installations, and no one will train employees or verify their qualifications. You get the point. Most employees will not accept such responsibility on their own. Someone must be assigned these tasks but NFPA 70E often does not mention an AHJ. The overall enforcement (AHJ) for NFPA 70E is therefore the employer. It is their responsibility to establish, document, and implement the safety-related work practices and procedures required by NFPA 70E and to provide employees with training in safety related work practices and procedures. The CEO is not going to do this. Upper management may require using NFPA 70E, but they are not the AHJ for specific requirements. They are not inspecting the daily condition of equipment, they are not evaluating safety procedures for establishing an electrically safe work condition, they are not verifying an employee’s method of donning of PPE, nor are they evaluating the qualifications and training of individual employees. If the employer mandates the use of NFPA 70E without addressing the necessary AHJs for the requirements, everything from the electrical safety program to unqualified persons and contract employees are at risk. As discussed in my blog, you are the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), everyone is an AHJ for NFPA 70E at some time. However, most employees will not accept the role without being notified by management that the AHJ responsibility is theirs. NFPA 70E does not assign an AHJ for any requirement just as the often-mandated NEC does not assign an AHJ. Anyone can be assigned an AHJ for any standard or for any requirement contained in that standard. It is the employer’s responsibility to specify who the AHJ is for inhouse electrical installations, for PPE, for employee qualifications, for documented work procedures, for field audits, or any of the other items that need to be verified. An AHJ should be qualified to oversee their assigned responsibilities and must be knowledgeable of the requirements to determine compliance. The employer decides this just as they decide who is qualified to be hired for a position or perform any other task. The documented electrical safety program is a good place to assign the AHJs for what occurs in the facility. Even with a policy to follow NFPA 70E, there is no way to comply with it without an assigned AHJ. Are there AHJs at your facility? Next time: Why is assigning an authority having jurisdiction so difficult? Want to keep track of what is happening with the National Electrical Code® (NEC®)? Subscribe to the NFPA Network to stay informed of new content. The newsletter also includes NFPA 70E information such as my blogs.
Fire ratings

How to determine the required fire protection rating of an opening protective?

Depending on the construction type and use, buildings may be designed and constructed with fire resistance-rated walls, floors and ceilings for structural integrity as well as to prevent fire and smoke from spreading throughout the building. However, openings in these fire rated assemblies are necessary for egress, communication, security, everyday travel throughout the building, and building services and equipment. Openings in fire rated assemblies must be protected accordingly so as to not compromise the fire resistance of the assembly in which they are located. Unprotected or improperly protected openings can void the rating of the wall, floor or ceiling by leaving ways for fire and smoke to spread unintentionally to adjacent fire compartments.    Fire rated components in buildings have either a fire resistance rating or a fire protection rating. It is important to understand the difference in the two ratings and to understand how to determine the required ratings of assemblies both when designing a building and also when determining compliance of existing installations. Although often used interchangeably, the terms are different.  Fire resistance rating vs. fire protection rating When a building assembly, such as a fire barrier, is required to be fire rated it must be reasonably airtight under increased air pressure on the fire side due to heated air expansion and must prevent the passage of heat and flame for a designated time. Fire barriers also must be capable of withstanding direct impingement by the fire, as determined by large-scale tests, either ASTM E119 or ANSI/UL 263. The ASTM E119 and ANSI/UL 263 test standards determine fire resistance ratings, in hours, based on exposure to the standard time-temperature curve and provide the rating of the construction of the particular assembly and the actual testing of the assembly in the test furnace. Assemblies protecting openings, such as doors and windows, located in fire resistance-rated assemblies must be capable of withstanding the effects of fire, as determined by large-scale tests such as NFPA 252, NFPA 257, ANSI UL10B, ANSI/UL 10C or ANSI/UL 9. The acceptance criteria for these fire protection-rated assemblies, differ from those for fire resistance-rated construction, such as a wall or floor/ceiling assembly. The limitation of temperature rise through a fire door is not normally a measure of acceptance, although it is a measure of acceptance for a fire resistance–rated assembly such as a wall.   Some openings may also be protected with products that have a fire resistance rating where they have been tested as, and passed criteria as required for walls, floors or ceilings.  Fire resistance rating, glazing, is an example of this. It may be installed and used as a wall in some cases if permitted and tested accordingly. Determining the required fire protection rating To properly protect an opening in a fire resistance-rated assembly, the proper fire protection rating is required. The following steps should be followed when determining the appropriate fire protection rating of an opening protective:   Step 1: Determine the required fire resistance rating of the component under evaluation.  Components include, but are not limited to, vertical shafts, horizontal exits, exit access corridors, and smoke barriers.  Codes, such as NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code, mandate where a building component is required to have a fire-resistance rating.    Step 2: Utilize the tables, “Minimum Fire Ratings For Opening Protectives in Fire Resistance-Rated Assemblies and Fire-Rated Glazing Markings”, found in Chapter 8 of both NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 to determine the minimum fire protection rating of the opening protective based on the fire resistance rating determined in Step 1. It should be carefully noted that this table DOES NOT mandate the fire resistance ratings of components, other provisions in the Code will require it.    Step 3: Confirm through footnotes, other code text associated with the component, and through occupancy specific provisions, that no further modifications to the general fire protection ratings are permitted.  In some cases, there may be exemptions for some opening protectives in existing installations or for certain conditions in some occupancies.     Example Let’s look at an example: What is the required fire protection rating for a corridor door in an exit access corridor in a new, non-sprinklered, office building?     Per NFPA 101, most new, non-sprinklered, business occupancies require exit access corridors have a minimum 1-hour fire resistance rating (step 1).  Next, by going to the referenced table in NFPA 101 (table it can be determined that a 1-hour fire resistance-rated exit access corridor requires a minimum 1/3-hour, or 20-minute, fire-protection-rated door. It can then be confirmed that no further modifications are permitted (step 3).    Why can the fire protection rating be less than the fire resistance rating? The required minimum fire protection ratings of opening protectives are sometimes permitted to be of a lower rating than the fire resistance rating of the fire barrier in which they are located. For example, a 2-hour fire barrier enclosing an exit stair is permitted to have fire doors protected by 1½-hour fire protection-rated door assemblies.  The test procedures on which the ratings are based, discussed above, are different. Although combustibles placed against a fire resistance–rated wall expose the wall to a considerable fire challenge, a fire protection-rated door assembly does not usually have combustibles placed against it, because the opening must be clear to use the door and kept free of obstructions for proper operation of the door. Such a scenario suggests that, if a door is not to be used and combustible storage is to be placed at the door opening, the door should be removed and the opening replaced with solid construction to restore the wall to its required fire resistance rating.   Fire rated components are a critical piece to the comprehensive protection strategy that buildings use to protect people and the building itself from the effects of fire.  The success of passive fire protection methods such as the use of compartmentation requires careful compliance during design and installation as well as effective and consistent inspection, testing and maintenance to ensure the system will perform as intended during a fire.    What challenges have you faced when designing buildings with fire rated components?  In what role have you worked with applying code requirements for opening protectives?  Please share your feedback in the comments below!

State Policymaking Key to Widespread Adoption of Wildfire Mitigation and Hazard Reduction Measures

With wildfires slated to remain persistent and destructive, state governments must chart a course to risk reduction. The overwhelming nature of some recent fires, like California’s one million acre August Complex, means that course cannot simply rely on bumping up fire suppression efforts. Instead, communities in harm’s way urgently need changes to the built environment, resources for first responders, attention paid to the landscape, and a public that better understands how to reduce risk to their own homes. Bills that have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year show some policymakers are grappling with these goals. Fittingly, legislators in California are perhaps the boldest. According to researchers, over the past 50 years—excluding the last four—wildfires have cost that state roughly $1 billion per year, adjusted for inflation. For each of the last four years, that cost has jumped to at least $10 billion per year. SB 55 aims to cut down on new risk by calling for a construction moratorium in all high-risk areas. However, while we must stop adding to the problem, the bill doesn’t address the bulk of the risk—homes that already exist. Two other proposals, though, do attempt to address that risk. SB 12 would make a number of big changes to the state’s land use planning regime—requirements to push local governments to mitigate wildfire risk for both new and existing developments. In addition, it would enable Cal Fire to turn to certified third parties to assist with inspections and property assessments. Historically, Cal Fire has only been able to inspect a fraction of the properties within their jurisdiction. Boosting their capacity to educate, inspect, and enforce, especially with California’s new standards to clear flammable materials from the space immediately by the home, would greatly help their efforts to reduce risk. SB 63 would also help Cal Fire in their duties to educate the public and assess properties by allowing qualified entities to perform property assessments and report the data to the agency. And, it would expand the use of California’s wildfire building codes to areas beyond just those with the most severe risk. This, and SB 12’s requirement for Cal Fire to update maps that determine building code requirements, are necessary to provide an updated picture of risk in the state and to reflect the fact that some places that have burned recently, like Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park, did not appear on high severity zone maps. In Oregon, the legislature is set to consider wildfire legislation, too. Regrettably, Governor Kate Brown’s 2020 proposal for a robust wildfire building code program for the state did not advance. However, like last year, the proposal the Governor is expected to put forward this year will also direct the development of statewide maps of wildfire risk. That $50 million proposal would also spend $25 million on expanding the state’s firefighting capacity, but only $8 to $10 million on community mitigation programs. Legislative sessions are fleeting. It’s already mid-February and Oregon’s session will wrap up in June; California’s in September. Arizona, which also experienced one of its most active wildfire seasons in 2020, has taken scant legislative action to address the growing problem and its session will be over by the end of April. With millions of homes at risk across thousands of communities, mitigation will take time. But, as we learn more about how homes burn in the wildland/urban interface and how to prevent it, the time to start applying those lessons is now. State policymaking is key to widespread adoption of mitigation and hazard reduction measures. State lawmakers cannot afford to continue to set this topic aside. Learn more about issues related to wildfire preparedness policy on page 66 of the spring edition of NFPA Journal.
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