By Martin M. King, State Coordinator, National Fire Sprinkler Association – Wisconsin Chapter
(Appeared in the June 2018 issue of The Dispatcher)
As I look at my personal fire service library of about 50 manuals and standards, I ask myself, “how can one person master all these diverse topics on fire prevention?” The fire prevention code alone is a lot to review and remember, and it covers topics from combustible vegetation to storage of hazardous materials. This does not include the many codes that affect the design, installation, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection systems (active and passive), as well as, the structure occupancy and contents within.
So where does fire prevention begin? As with anything else, we must start at the beginning. If we are talking about a new structure, we must begin with the plans and refer to the codes. Submitted plans should be done by an architect or other supervising professional with the approval of the owner. The plans are required to be designed to a specific code or standard, which shall be noted on the plans. Some municipalities require a technical review process for new construction or renovations. The review is usually accomplished by multiple city departments (Building, Zoning, Fire, Engineering, and Forestry) to assure the project meets the municipalities requirements. This is a review and not a full code plan review, mainly because it generally involves only some parts of the total plan set.
The codes require that all construction, or work requiring a permit, is inspected. It requires that the owner or owner’s agent keep the work accessible and exposed for inspection purposes. Approval as a result of an inspection shall not be construed to be an approval of a violation. The owner or supervising professional is responsible for assuring that the codes are followed. The inspector is responsible for assuring compliance with the codes. This does not remove all liability from the inspector, especially if they noted corrections that were not enforced.
A good working relationship between building inspection and fire prevention is important to assure that the building is constructed to code. This is key to the fire department because they respond to the building in an emergency, and how it is constructed and maintained, is important for what strategies and tactics will be employed at that emergency scene. This should include joint inspections for all fire protection features to ensure they are installed and maintained during construction.
One of the most common issues during construction is maintaining fire walls. If there is a fire wall there is certainly going to be a penetration. It is important that these be installed and maintained properly, as they will affect fire/smoke spread. As part of this process, proper installation of the penetration must include the proper system. This is often left out of the plans and not submitted later. Left to subcontractors who penetrate these walls, they may only provide a fire caulk installed by an unexperienced contractorGenerally, this is done by an unskilled laborer with no direction. They tend to install the caulk like “frosting a cake.”
Diligence is required on all to assure that the codes are followed. This starts with the architect/designer, followed by the installing contractor, inspected for compliance by the AHJ, and finally, maintained by the owner.