Back To Board Minutes Listing Building Code Chapter 7 | Wednesday, April 29, 2009





          Chapter 7 establishes minimum requirements for fire safety facilities and fire protection systems.


          A critical element that must be investigated during an inspection is the condition of fire safety systems.


          These provisions take on even greater importance in those jurisdictions where periodic fire inspections are not conducted in accordance with a comprehensive fire code.


          In jurisdictions where fire inspections are regularly performed on existing facilities, all inspections must be coordinated with cooperation between the appropriate officials to alleviate multiple and duplicative notices and, at the worst, conflicting instructions.


          A great potential for a fatal fire occurs where people sleep - dwelling units, hotels, motels, nursing homes, etc.  The reasons for the increased hazard are obvious:  there are often delayed reactions before people notice a fire (occupants waking from sleep are temporarily confused), rooms are darkened and the occupants are dressed in bedclothes.  All of these circumstances reduce the reaction time of the occupants and increase the likelihood that they will make a fatal misjudgment.




          Building codes regulating new construction are intended to verify that prior to occupancy, the building has been constructed in a manner that will provide the occupants a relatively safe and secure environment.  Once these new structures are occupied, a variety of hazards inherent in their use may arise.  Often, these hazards are unanticipated and can affect the overall safety of the occupants.


          The purpose of Chapter 7 is to address those fire hazards that arise as the result of a building's occupancy.  It also provides minimum requirements for fire safety issues  that are most likely to arise in older buildings.





          This section establishes the overall goal of the chapter and outlines who is responsible for complying with its provisions.


701.1 Scope.  The provisions of this chapter shall govern the minimum conditions and standards for fire safety relating to structures and exterior premises, including fire safety facilities and equipment to be provided.


          In the International Codes, the foremost code to address fire safety in existing buildings is the International Fire Code (IFC).  Fire safety is also within the scope of the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC);  However, for correlation with the IFC most of the requirements of Chapter 7 either parallel or directly reference that code.  As stated in the preface to this commentary, sections of this chapter with the [F] designation in front of the section number are controlled initially by the International Fire Code Development Committee during the annual code change process of the International Code Council (ICC), thereby preventing conflicts between the IPMC and the IFC.


          Fire safety requirements having to do with means of egress, fire-resistance rating of building elements and fire protection systems, such as sprinklers and smoke detectors, are addressed in this chapter.  Fire safety topics such as storage of combustibles, use or storage of hazardous materials and the regulation of certain activities or operations within buildings that contribute to the fire hazard are covered exclusively in the IFC.


701.2 Responsibility.  The owner of the premises should provide and maintain such fire safety facilities and equipment in compliance with these requirements.  A person should not occupy any premises that does not comply with the requirements of this chapter.

This section clearly establishes that the owner of the premises is responsible for compliance  with these requirements.  Whereas occupants who are not owners have some responsibility in regard to clean and safe conditions within individual dwelling units (see Section 301.2), the requirements of this chapter pertain to building systems and components

that are not typically under the control of the occupants.





          Means of egress in existing buildings is regulated by the IFC.  The IFC contains provisions for number of exits, egress width, stairs, guards, handrails, corridors, dead ends, obstructed exits, exit signs and other requirements for evaluating the means of egress in existing buildings.  Aisles, locked doors and emergency escape openings are life safety features that are frequently affected by routine operations in existing buildings, and can be inspected by property maintenance inspectors in the course of a typical inspection.  These topics, therefore, are included in the subsections of Section 702 of the IPMC.


702.1  General.  Even a slight delay in a fire situation can mean the difference between life and death.  Dangerous levels of smoke can develop in a deceptively quick manner at the early stages of a fire, and obstruction to means of egress or insufficient means of egress very often leads to tragedy in a fire.


          This section prohibits obstruction of corridors, hallways and stairs by miscellaneous storage that could delay egress.  It also prohibits dead-end corridors or passageways that could cause confusion or require occupants to retrace their steps to find a way out of the building.  Specific requirements for means of egress such as permissible length of dead-end corridors or required means of egress width, are found in the IFC.


702.2.  Aisles.  The required width of aisles in accordance with the International Fire Code shall be unobstructed.


          Assembly occupancies that contain seats, tables, displays and similar furnishings or equipment present a unique challenge for efficient and orderly exiting in an emergency situation.  For this reason, the IFC contains detailed requirements for the configuration, width and availability of aisles in these occupancies.  This section requires that aisles be unobstructed so that they will serve their intended (and required) function.



702.3.  Locked doors.  All means of egress doors shall be readily openable from the side from which egress is to be made without the need for keys, special knowledge or effort, except where the door hardware conforms to that permitted by the International Building Code.


          One of the fundamental principles of means of egress in both new and existing buildings is that doors must be readily operable from the "egress side" ((the side occupants approach in order to exit the building).  Locks that require key operation from the inside are prohibited except in very limited circumstances involving security at main entrance doors for certain occupancies as prescribed in the  International building code (IBC).  Locks that are operated from the interior, such as thumb turns or flush bolts, are typically prohibited since they require special knowledge or effort, although this is subject to the judgment of the Code Official in existing buildings.  Doors that are locked from the exterior of the building but are released by the unlatching mechanism from the interior, such as panic hardware and security hardware involving doorknobs or lever mechanisms, are the preferred alternative if security is needed.


702.4.  Emergency escape openings.  This section of The Code takes into account that many changes have occurred over the years in the many editions of the construction codes.  The provisions for emergency escape and rescue openings are only subject to The Code that is in effect at the time of construction, rather than expecting all structures to retroactively meet the requirements of each new code. 


          "Required emergency escape openings" refers to the escape windows and doors that are queried for sleeping rooms and basements in new construction.  In the IBC, emergency escape openings are required from all basements as well as all sleeping rooms; however, codes for new construction prior to the development of the IBC did not require emergency escape windows in basements without sleeping rooms. 


          The intent of this section is that emergency escape openings that were required at the time of a building's construction be maintained unobstructed.  It prohibits the installation of security devices on these required openings unless the windows or doors provide a net clear opening of at least that which is required for new construction in accordance with the IBC.  If installed, these devices must be removable (or moveable to provide the required net clear opening space) in a manner that facilitates the quick use of the window in an emergency situation; therefore, security devices that require the unscrewing of screws or bolts, prying with a bar or unlocking with a key in order to be removed or moved are not permitted on these openings.  In addition, they must not require excessive force for their removal, since they may need to be operated by children or the elderly.





          Required fire-resistance-rated walls and opening protective are those elements that are required to be rated in accordance with The Code that was in effect at the time of construction.  This section requires that these be maintained so that they will perform their intended function.


703.1.  Fire-resistance-rated assemblies.  The "required fire-resistance rating" means the required rating of walls or floors at the time of construction.  These required rated assemblies cannot be compromised in terms of construction or they will not perform as intended in a fire emergency.  For instance, holes for running pipe or cable cannot be created in rated corridor walls where they extend above the ceiling line if the rated walls were required at the time of construction to extend to the floor deck above.  Penetrations of this type would be prohibited unless protected as set forth in the IBC for new construction.  Similarly, wall sheathing on rated walls cannot be removed and replaced unless the new material conforms to the listing for the rated wall.


703.2.  Opening protectives.  Opening protectives are window and door assemblies that have been tested in accordance with the application standard and have a fire protection rating.  For example, corridor walls that are required to be rated are also required to have rated door assemblies (typically 20 minutes) protecting the door openings.  These doors are required to be self-closing or automatic closing so that they can serve their intended function and limit the spread of smoke and fire in a fire emergency.  If a closer is removed or the door is propped open by a doorstop, the door has been made inoperable and would allow the free passage of flame and smoke as if the opening were not protected.  Similarly, if a fire shutter protecting a window opening is removed or propped open such that it will not operate upon detection of heat, it has been made inoperable and violate this section of the code.





          Smoke detectors are an essential life safety feature in residential occupancies, and are the only fire protection devices that are required in all dwellings; therefore, the code contains provisions for them and references the IFC for installation details.


704.1.  General.  All systems, devices and equipment to detect a fire, actuate an alarm, or suppress or control a fire or any combination thereof shall be maintained in an operable condition at all times in accordance with the International Fire Code.


          Fire protection systems currently in existing buildings, including sprinklers, standpipes, smoke detectors and fire alarms, are regulated by the IFC (See Figure 704.2).


704.2  Smoke alarms.  Single and multiple-station smoke alarms shall be installed and maintained in Groups R-2, R-3, R-4, and in dwellings not regulated in Group R occupancies, regardless of occupant load at all of the following locations:


          1.  On the ceiling or wall outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of bedrooms.


          2.  In each room used for sleeping purposes.


          3.  In each story within a dwelling unit, including basements and cellars but not including crawl spaces and uninhabitable attics.  In dwellings or dwelling units with split levels and without an intervening door between the adjacent levels, a smoke alarm installed on the upper level shall suffice for the adjacent lower level provided that the lower level is less than one full story below the upper level.


          The greatest danger associated with dwelling units and sleeping rooms is the fact that occupants may be asleep and unaware of a fire developing in the room or egress path.  Single-or multiple-station smoke alarms must be provided in the sleeping room and any intervening room or space between the sleeping room and the exit access door from the room to increase the likelihood of a fire being detected, therefore improving the ability of sleeping occupants to respond.  If the dwelling unit or suite involves more than one level, a smoke alarm must also be provided on every separate level.


          Smoke alarms are required in split-level arrangements, except those that meet the conditions described in Item 3.  All smoke alarms within a guestroom or suite must be interconnected so that actuation of one alarm will actuate all smoke alarms within the guestroom or suite.


704.3.  Power source.  In Group R occupancies and in dwellings not regulated as Group R occupancies, single-station smoke alarms shall receive their primary power from the building wiring provided that such wiring is served from a commercial source and shall be equipped with a battery backup.  Smoke alarms shall emit a signal when the batteries are low.  Wiring shall be permanent and without a disconnecting switch other than as required for overcuurent protection.


Smoke alarms are required to utilize alternating current (AC) as a primary power source and battery power source and battery power as a secondary source in order to enhance their reliability.  For example, during a power outage, the probability of fire is never decreased; in fact, it is increased somewhat because of the use of candles or lanterns for temporary lighting and the possibility of lightning-related fire.  Required backup battery power is intended to provide for continued performance of the smoke alarms.  Smoke alarms are commonly designed to emit a recurring signal when batteries are low and need to be replaced.


          Certain Group R-1 occupancies may already have an emergency electrical system provided in the building to monitor other  building system conditions.  The emergency electrical system provides an equivalent level of reliability as compared to battery backup; therefore, backup would be unnecessary as stated in the exception.


          It is not the intent of the code to require smoke alarms in all existing buildings to be served from a commercial power source (120 volts AC).  Battery-operated smoke alarms may be the only power source when a commercial power source is not available or when extensive alteration or repairs are not being conducted in a building.  Where permanent building wiring can be installed without the removal of interior finishes, this section recognized the increased reliability that a "hard-wired" commercial power source can provide; therefore, where feasible, permanent wiring should be provided.


704.4.  Interconnection.  Where more than one smoke alarm is required to be installed within an individual dwelling unit in Group R-2, R-3, R-4 and in dwellings not regulated as Group R occupancies, the smoke alarms shall be interconnected in such a manner that the activation of one alarm will activate all of the alarms in the individual unit.  The alarm shall be clearly audible in all bedrooms over background noise levels with all intervening doors closed.




          1.  Interconnection is not required in buildings which are not                             undergoing alterations, repairs, or construction of any kind.


          2.  Smoke alarms in existing areas are not required to be                                         interconnected where alterations or repairs do not result in the                    removal of interior walls or ceiling finishes exposing the structure,         unless there is an attic, crawl space or basement available which                         could provide access for interconnection without the removal of                    interior finishes.


          The installation of smoke alarms in areas remote from the sleeping area will be of minimal value if the alarm is not heard by the occupants.  Interconnection of multiple smoke alarms within an individual dwelling unit, guestroom or suite is required in order to alert a sleeping occupant of a remote fire within the unit before the products of combustion reach the smoke alarm in the sleeping area, thus providing additional time for evacuation.  It should be noted that the term "interconnection" is intended to allow the use of not only hard-wired systems but also those that use radio signals (wireless systems) (see Section 907.5 of the IBC.)  Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) has listed smoke alarms that use this new technology.  It is presumed that on safely evacuating the unit or room of fire origin, an occupant will notify other occupants by actuating the manual fire alarm system or other means available.


          Exception 1 permits only battery-operated smoke alarms in existing buildings to not be interconnected.  The exception recognizes the impracticality of hard wiring and interconnecting smoke alarms in existing buildings that may or may not have a commercial power source available.  Exception 2 recognizes that interconnecting smoke alarms is typically not feasible unless the extent of alterations or repairs results in adequate access being made available for such interconnection.
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