Grill The Fire Expert: Keeping a Close Eye on Code Changes

Oct. 27, 2008
Staying Involved IN the BUILDING CODE Process

Q: How can I be involved in the building code process at some level?

A: Watch for code changes being proposed in your state. By law, every code change is required to be posted in the local newspaper before it takes effect. Don't assume that others in the industry know about pending code adoptions, amendments or proposals. For example, the 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) had an amendment proposal called RB85-04/05 that made it all the way to the Final Action Hearings before being defeated. This amendment would have allowed smoke detection to be eliminated from the bedrooms of all one- and two-family homes, if a sprinkler system was installed.

They said this trade-off would be used to “partially compensate” for the higher cost of “providing fire sprinkler protection.” How cheap has life become to these people that a savings of $30 to eliminate smoke detection to help offset a $3,000 sprinkler system makes sense? The proponents actually claimed that sprinklers were enough to save anyone who was asleep in the room of fire origin.

The sprinkler industry seems to have made some strange converts, since this particular amendment was proposed and supported by the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association. Also disturbing was their supporting justification that referred to “a study” that found “only 72 to 76% of people wake up when an alarm of 60dB was received” and used this as reasoning to try and eliminate smoke detection from sleeping areas. While that statistic may or may not be true, it is immaterial. The facts are, all UL listed smoke alarms are manufactured to produce an alarm of at least 85dB (measured at ten feet from the device) and that NFPA 72 requires a fire alarm system to cause an alarm of at least 75 dB measured “at the pillow.” The report didn't mention that sprinklers are most effective when installed in concert with a fire alarm warning system. (You can read about this latest proposed trade-off attempt online at:

Our alarm and detection industry continues to be assaulted with misleading statements and twisted statistics. Unless we are pro-active, bad ordinances will go through unchallenged.

Obstructed View

Q: Who is correct? I say I can place wall mounted 15 candela strobe lights around the perimeter of a large (148 ft. x 160 ft.) office space, and place them up to 100 feet apart, but the contractor says that the cloth covered cubicle-type divider specified to be installed will obstruct their view.

A: Your office space half-walls don't officially become ADAAG “obstructions” until they are 6 feet tall. Your 5 foot divider doesn't qualify. Consider asking the owner if anyone that will be working there is hearing impaired. Title I of ADA would require that the owner provide “reasonable accommodation” for that employee's workspace. If this is the case, get a change order to provide ceiling mounted strobe lights.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio 's fire alarm inspectors. You can reach him at 888-910-2272; e-mail: [email protected]; or visit his website at