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‘Fire Safety’ was, about five decades ago, a little neglected aspect of ‘safe living’ and ‘safe industrial operations’. However, since then, introduction of relevant codes, norms, regulations and general awareness of how dangerous and fatal fire hazards can be has done much good towards understanding and realizing Fire Safety.

‘Fire Safety’ is a term that is generally used very loosely – at times, without context and accuracy. In a technical sense, ‘Fire Safety’ can simply be defined as a set of one and all measures taken so as to make sure that the risk of fire hazards is minimized in a given place of residence, business, production, industry and general occupation by people.

This definition, as seen by many, is more or less comprehensive, broad and yet to-the-point and hence, largely, acceptable. The said definition however brings into discussion another loosely technical term – ‘Fire Hazard’.

A ‘Fire Hazard’ can be defined as loss or damage of any and every kind of property and/or human life incurred as a direct result of fire or fire related mishaps.

Fire hazards, it is well in order to mention here, are among the chief causes of domestic as well as industrial mishaps that, more often than not, translate into property damage, and in the most unfortunate of cases cause fatalities. However, it would come as an encouraging realization that, more through awareness and education than anything, fire hazards in many countries around the world have been on the decline in the last decade or so.

At this point, it will only be appropriate to discuss the statistics that surround fire hazards. Readers should note that the statistics furnished below (and the discussion to follow) are limited in scope to the data available from the United States. In case statistics or information provided in this article concerns other places/countries, it will be so mentioned in no uncertain terms.

According to the statistics published the United States Fire Administration, the number of fire hazards reported to all kinds of authorities in the United States, and the number of fire hazards that authorities responded to at their own volition (not reported), cumulatively, have gone down significantly in recent years. For instance, in 2002, the number of fire hazards reported was roughly 1,687,500 (annually), while the same number in 2011 was 1,389,500. The following graph shows how the number of reported fire hazards has reduced in years ranging from 2002 to 2011 (statistics by the USFA and FEMA).

Number of Fire Hazards in the United States
Figure 1: Number of Fire Hazards in the United States (2002-2011) (Stats and Chart Courtesy of USFA)

In the same vein, the latest available data, for 2014 (not represented in the chart above) suggests that close to 1,298,000 fire incidents were reported – a decline of more than 22% from 2002.

Fire hazards have an enormous potential to cause damage. This damage is often distributed over two major types:

  1. Loss of Capital Loss of capital that fire hazards can cause involves damage to properties, land, farms, valuables and other possessions.
  2. Casualties and Injuries Injuries due to fire hazards are a very common occurrence in the United States. In some cases, these injuries can prove to be fatal, making this type the gravest of losses caused directly by fire hazards.

Fighting fire hazards is not always easy, as fire mishaps can quickly worsen in nature and scale. Hence, the best course of action, here, is to pre-empt fire hazard, and the only way to achieve this is to incorporate proper and technically sound ‘Fire Safety’ measures.

What this article would primarily aim to focus on is the nature of fire hazards, standard industry codes, common protocols and measures that need to be adopted in order to implement ‘fire safety’ and relevant details regarding avoidance of fire mishaps at households and businesses.

International Building Code

The International Building code is the standard code of practice that is adopted all over the world – especially in the United States in regard with various building procedures, including fire safety.

International Building Code is designed and advised by the International Code Council(ICC), an advisory assembly of various autonomous and governmental building and design institutions in the world. The codes advised by the ICC are implemented in various member communities. These codes are known as I-Codes and, are used as definitive guidelines for various aspects of building construction.

Origins of the International Building Code

International Building Code, even though used in fullness in all American states and over 120 different sovereign countries, does not have a long standing history to boast of. The code, in itself, came into being just over 18 years ago in 1997 when the need for a standard set of guidelines to dictate how buildings were constructed in the United States was felt. Prior to the establishment of the International Code Council, there were many local, regional and state-based institutions that would draft and advise local construction policies. However, this was, quite understandably, far from an ideal practice as differences in regional and local building norms often led to confusion and legal tangles.

To get around this predicament, three of the most prominent building councils of the time, International Conference of Building Officials, Building Officials’ Code Administrators International, and Southern Building Code Congress International decided to merge resources in order to draft a common and extensive building code that would be applicable in all of the American states. This decision was followed by an intensive study and discussion period of three years, at the end of which a common code of practice, also known as a ‘legacy code’, came into existence. This was deemed to be ‘International Building Code’ and had a wide jurisdiction over every imaginable aspect of building construction, from safety of the occupants to beautification.

Following the establishment of this code, many national and international associations of builders, construction companies and architects decided to adopt it, making it a universally accepted building code.

Scope of the International Building Code

International Building Code has a very wide scope when it comes to approving and advising various construction and design parameters. In that sense, the International Building Code is truly a comprehensive and exhaustive set of norms and advisory statutes.

The scope of this code can be summarized as follows:

  1. Classification of Buildings This is the first and the foremost section that most communities around the world rely on the International Building Code for assistance. The code itself carries a set of highly diverse definitions to classify buildings in various cases. Depending upon this classification, further rules and norms can apply, including safety parameters like fire safety code.
  2. Building Parameters Apart from the classification of buildings, another area that the International Building Code largely serves is to define and regulate various building parameters like height and area. These happen to be the most rudimentary parameters for the construction of any building, and hence, very essential.
  3. Design Aspects The code also aims to address various design aspects in relation with construction aspects. A number of architecture and design associations attached to the ICC have laid out comprehensive design codes to make the International Building Code a go-to set of norms for every designer and architect.
  4. Engineering Aspects Engineering aspects of all construction projects are largely dictated by multitudes of guidelines drafted through the International Building Code. All engineering aspects surrounding a construction project, from the foundation to roofing, are addressed by these codes.
  5. Materials Aspects From the selection and qualification of materials to procurement and disposal of them, the International Building Code tries to address every aspect.
  6. Safety Aspects Perhaps the most ‘cited’ portion of various versions of the International Building Code, safety aspects quoted are not only exhaustive in nature, but they also manage to minimize various common hazards occurring through non-compliance.Since this article concerns itself around Fire Safety, it would not be out of line to suggest that this portion of the International Building Code is relevant here to the highest degree.

International Building Code and Fire Safety

Among various safety features suggested, advised and made mandatory by the International Building Code, Fire Safety provisions are the most detailed and elaborate kind. In various versions and amendments of this code published so far, emphasis has been on making buildings ‘safer’ and more ‘friendly’ for the occupants to live in.

In the same vein, it becomes necessary for us to understand various Fire Safety norms present in this code and how they go a long way in ensuring the prevention of fire related mishaps. It should be noted here that Fire Safety clauses in the International Building Code have, so far, been very much unaltered. Even though it is true that minor amendments have indeed been made to increase the effectivity of these clauses, it should be made clear that the core of these clauses is still what it was when the code was drafted in 1997.

The International Building Code relies heavily on identifying and eliminating potential fire hazards in order to minimize the risk associated with them. As a part of this policy, clear stress has been laid on using the most reliable construction material – especially wood. Inferior quality of wood and incorrectly fire-proofed walls have been cited by the International Building Code as two of the commonest reasons for the quick spread of fire inside residential buildings.

Apart from this, the code maintains its emphasis on classical fire prevention techniques like closed electrical systems and well-ventilated indoor spaces. In compliance with all applicable local and federal laws, the use of various fire extinguishing equipment has also been made mandatory.

Indicator assembly (fire alarms, smoke detectors, emergency calling systems etc.) systems, their procurement and design have also been ‘codified’ by the International Building Code. While conceding the influence of the International Building Code on various Fire Safety procedures adopted throughout the world, it should also be noted that a number of prominent American institutions – most notable among them being the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) – have chosen to stay distant from the guidelines issued by the I-Codes.

International Building Code: Points of Note

Throughout its tenure, various versions of the International Building Code have had to endure lasting criticism from competent practitioners and institutions, in spite of its widespread adoption and popularity. However, when it comes to discussing Fire Safety, there are truly many noteworthy points that the International Building Code puts forth. These points have not only been lauded by various peripheral organizations, but also used as standard directives all over the world. Some of these points are noted below:

  1. The International Building Codes makes it mandatory to include all Fire Safety Provisions in all prototypes and archetypes. This makes sure that a good deal of thought is put into actually designing and implementing these ideas, rather than just executing them as an afterthought – as was the practice prior to 1997.
  2. The code also makes it mandatory to include every floor of the building, irrespective of the number of floors or height of the building, to be included in the overall Fire Safety scheme. This is in stark contrast to provisions made prior to 1997, where alternate floors were used as Fire Safety mechanisms.
  3. It has also been made mandatory for all the adult residents of the building to be trained – at least preliminarily – in firefighting and fire prevention techniques. This greatly reduces the risk of fire mishaps, thus helping avoid potentially irrecoverable damage of life.
  4. The International Building Code, through its various amendments and revisions, has made sure that it remains relevant even after almost two decades after it was first drafted. Many codes tend to become obsolete after a certain period of time if they are not properly amended or revised. The International Building Code has managed to remain a prominent exception to this fact.
  5. Among various other points of note, the emphasis on structures that don’t fail due to fire, designs that are easy to be evacuated during a state of emergency, buildings that do not help the spread of fire into adjacent structures and similar points also make Fire Safety guidelines as stated by the International Building Code exhaustive.

International Building Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

As stated earlier, the International Building Code is a widely used, referenced and adopted code. As of 2015, the International Building Code is used in all 50 American States and Territories. Internationally, it is used in over 120 countries and over 500 various accredited institutions, organizations and communities. The 2015 version of the International Building Code can be purchased from the official website of the ICC by following this link. It should also be noted that the ICC is presently in the process of developing a 2018 version of the code, and all qualified professionals are encouraged to present their views, comments and suggestions to make the 2018 version of the code more impactful and more inclusive.

International Residential Code

like the International Building Code, the International Residential Code was drafted by the International Code Council (ICC) and is amended from time to time to keep it relevant over the years.

While the International Building Code was relevant to any and every constructions, regardless of its size, nature or purpose, the International Residential Code is more or less limited in scope and jurisdiction. The major motivation behind the drafting of the International Residential Code was to create a set of legacy rules (norms) that will help dictate the terms of construction and design of ‘dwellings’ (houses) for one or two families and/or small scale occupied buildings (community centers, town houses etc.) that are three stories high at the maximum.

The International Residential Code, thus, concerns itself in being a code that generalizes the terms of design, procurement of materials, construction and safety aspects of buildings used for occupation by one/two families.

Origins of the International Residential Code

The origins of the International Residential Code can be easily traced back to those of the International Building Code and the foundation of the ICC. Like all other I-Codes, the International Residential Code is, in fullness, complies with all relevant state level and federal rules and regulations that concern construction and occupation of buildings. The idea for a specialized code for ‘dwellings’ for one or two families was first put forth in 1996 when the ICC was founded and the first draft for the International Building Code was being constructed. The major impetus behind taking this idea up and see it through to codification was the fact that even today, more than 60% of building space (floor area) constructed in the United States annually is comprised solely of residential spaces, i.e. ‘dwellings’. Because of this high percentage of residential construction, it was thought appropriate by various institutions and members who are a part of the ICC that there should be an exclusive code for such dwellings. After a four year span of intense study, discussions and scrutiny, the first draft of the International Residential Code was finally submitted to the ICC and was approved by the members. The first code came into existence in 2001 and was soon followed by every American State in strict entirety.

Scope of the International Residential Code

The International Residential Code is not as comprehensive in scope as the International Building Code. However, it must be noted that when it comes to the design and construction of residential buildings in the United States, the International Residential Code holds the highest authority in most experts’ opinion. The very reason for this solid reputation is the fact that a lot of research and thought has been given into the drafting of various versions of this code and all possible aspects of residential building construction have been covered in details through various chapters and sub-chapters of the code.

As far as the scope is concerned, the International Residential Code limits itself to the design and construction parameters, unlike the International Building Code that discusses every step of the process – from procurement to repair.

The major aspects covered by the International Residential Code are as follows:

  1. Mechanical Aspects The mechanical aspects of dwelling construction are quite elaborately discussed and advised via various norms and code put together in the International Residential Code. These aspects mainly focus on mechanical strength, propriety, durability and functionality of the building. Classical and neo-classical mechanics are favored by the International Residential Code.
  2. Electrical Aspects The International Residential Code delves deep into the methods that should be used for equipping any residential dwelling with electrical infrastructures. From convenience of wiring to safety of the building and the occupants, all electrical aspects of design and construction of a dwelling for one/two families are advised in the International Residential Code.
  3. Plumbing Aspects Another important part of any residential building is plumbing. Considering this, the International Residential Code touches upon a number of plumbing methods, codes and standard practices to ensure that followers of the code will be left in the best possible position to build a reliable, convenient, easy to operate and safe plumbing network.
  4. Safety Aspects Among many safety aspects dictated by the International Residential Code, the most prominent are earthquake proofing, fire safety and hurricane proofing. Instructions and norms regarding methods to be adopted in cases of natural or artificial calamities are provided in most versions of the code. Followers of the code are always advised to use the latest available version with all the amendments included.
  5. Energy Aspects

Energy conservation is perhaps the single most influential factor in the design and construction of modern residential dwellings. There are various laws in place to make sure that all new residential buildings are well optimized from energy consumption point of view, with various subsidies and incentives available for making buildings independent of main power grid. Use of renewable power generation sources and recycling methods to satisfy a fraction of the energy needs of a building are two most methods advised, dictated and codified by the International Residential Code as a part of its emphasis on reducing environmental footprint of residential buildings.

International Residential Code and Fire Safety

One of the best known features of the International Residential Code is the heavy emphasis it tried to put on safety of residential buildings. It can be argued that because of the widespread adoption of the International Residential Code in recent years, there has been a marked decline in the number of fire related mishaps observed across the United States (as made clear in the introductory part of this article). The International Residential Code tries to advise, advocate and execute the use of the latest technology available in order to curb mishaps that most commonly occur at residential places. These include making structure of the building strong and integrated, introducing newer techniques to quake-proof the base of the building, making enough provisions for hurricane-proofing of the building whenever and wherever necessary and adopting strict Fire Safety norms so as to diminish all chances of fire related mishaps taking place.

Regarding the design of a dwelling for one/two families, specific design criteria have been advised by the International Residential Code. These criteria aim to make the building easier to evacuate in an unfortunate event of mishap. Also, adequate measures are advised to reduce the chances of fire hazards due to electricity and abate fires using various at-hand means of preliminary firefighting (e.g. fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, indoor sprinklers and fire alarms etc.).

International Residential Code: Points of Note

The International Residential Code, in spite of its limited scope, is a fairly familiar code of standards across all American states and territories. Most architectural, design and construction institutions, companies and organizations identify themselves as a working partners of the ICC, and hence readily adopt all amendments made from time to time in the International Residential Code.

There are many points of note that the International Residential Code and amendments thereof have. Some of these have been summarized below.

  1. Legibility Perhaps the most striking feature that the International Residential Code has is its extreme legibility. Special care has been taken while phrasing various drafts of the code to make sure that the final text will always be precise, to the point and not open to various interpretations. Extreme legibility has many advantages. It makes the use of the code standard and objective (as opposed to conventional rules of thumb that are more often than not subjective), easy to understand and non-confusing in nature.This might appear to be in a contrast with conventional building codes that were loosely drafted and offered a high degree of allowance, making them non-standard and non-reliable.
  2. Safe Design and Construction Even more than the International Building Code, the International Residential Code puts immense emphasis on safe, clean and easy design and construction methods. This involves the use of mandatory empty spaces, wide passages and multiple evacuation strategies. Hence, adopting the International Residential Code while designing and constructing any residential dwelling for one/two families is akin to ensuring the safety of the occupants.
  3. Energy Optimization The International Residential Code has always made it a point to address relevant issues surrounding residential building design and construction. As a part of this ideology, the code tries to make the most of the doctrine of ‘energy independence’ which encourages residential dwellings to become energy independent through the use of various renewable sources of energy.The International Residential Code also endorses maximization of natural light, ventilation and ‘smart’ indoor atmosphere control.
  4. Technology Differing heavily from other relevant codes, the International Residential Code encourages designers and contractors to adopt the latest available technology in order to render the buildings safer, more independent and better, in an overall sense.The latest amendments to the code are expected to carry provisions for ‘Internet of Things’ styled technological innovations.
  5. Integration Another noteworthy characteristic of the International Residential Code (and all other I-Codes) is the fact that it can be easily integrated with other I-Codes.
  6. Inclusive Development Unlike most other codes and their generation processes, the International Residential Code is developed, drafted and finalized in a completely transparent and open-to-all process. All professionals, academics and members of the public are encouraged to follow this development and contribute to it actively via comments, remarks and suggestions. The development process of every version of the code lasts a better part of three years, and hence, all points raised are discussed at length before arriving at conclusions.

International Residential Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

Adoption of the International Residential Code is fairly straightforward. All American residential buildings are legally required to follow the International Residential Code. A formal application to the ICC can easily allow one to get an official permission to use the code as a directive (at their own responsibility). International residential projects wishing to adopt the code may have to pay a certain nominal fee before being able to do so. At present, the 2015 version of the International Residential Code is in effect. It will be amended in 2018 – a procedure that has already gone underway. A detailed scheduled for this amendment and revision process can be accessed here. The present version of the code can be purchased from the official ICC store by following this link.

The International Residential Code is presently used in all American states and territories. However, unlike the International Building Code, there are minor modifications/amendments are required while adopting the code based on the present state of various state laws that dictate the design and construction of residential buildings. This is particularly of importance in relation with laws that concern various safety aspects.

For examples, in a state like Alaska, heavy reliance is on making residential buildings energy optimized so as to battle harsh cold climatic conditions. On the other hands, in a coastal state like Florida, emphasis lies on making residential buildings flood proof, wind proof and hurricane proof. Thus, adoption of the International Residential Code is a direct function of local conditions, and these need to be taken into account while actually executing the code.

International Residential Code: Compliance Regulations

Although the International Residential Code is not a government statute or regulation, many states and local authorities make it mandatory for all new residential dwellings for one/two families to adopt the code in order to make sure that the design and construction of residential buildings is safe for occupation. This is particularly important as it has been observed in the past that adoption of the International Residential Code in entirety can be instrumental in avoiding many mishaps and accidents – including fire hazards.

International Plumbing Code

Just like the International Building Code and the International Residential Code, the International Plumbing Code provides a set of exhaustive guidelines for the design, installation and maintenance of all plumbing infrastructure in residential, community and commercial buildings. The International Plumbing Code was first drafted in 1997 when the International Code Council (ICC) was founded. After rigorous discussions and reviews, first edition of the code was brought into effect in 1998. Since then, it has been made customary by the ICC to revise and amend the code every three years.

Origins of the International Plumbing Code

When the ICC was founded, almost two decades ago, the chief impetus behind the development of various standardized codes was to create a common and non-confusing benchmark for various construction projects around the United States. The first code to be developed in this vein, as mentioned earlier, was the International Building Code. Soon, other codes followed, with the International Plumbing Code being a major addition. The first edition of the code was relatively ‘classical’ in nature, meaning that various customs and traditions in plumbing were codified to meet a diverse set of requirements, without much addition to common knowledge. However, this was changes in the next (and subsequent) editions of the code, as more and more unique and time-relevant additions in technique were addressed through various amendments. The International Plumbing Code is, perhaps, the most widely adopted I-Code published by the ICC. It is universally accepted as a standardized set of directives. Many local authorities around the United States have already made it mandatory to base the piping and plumbing infrastructure of all new constructions on the International Plumbing Code.

Scope of the International Plumbing Code

Since the International Plumbing Code is a ‘specialty code’, there are certain limitations to its application and adoption. However, for the very reason that plumbing is an essential part of the infrastructure of just about every construction, regardless of its purpose or nature, it becomes quite predictable that the International Plumbing Code is widely used. The scope of the code is limited to various plumbing and piping related aspects of the design and construction of buildings. Following points are touched upon in varying details by the International Plumbing Code.

  1. Design Aspects Flawless design of plumbing infrastructure is arguably the most important phase in the overall design of any building, be it a residential building or a commercial building. As it is extremely difficult to ‘tweak’ with the plumbing infrastructure once it is constructed, it becomes essential that the design be just about perfect. Keeping this in consideration, the International Plumbing Code places heavy emphasis on the design of plumbing infrastructure that is well thought out and implemented. Various allowances for future expansions, maintenance and alterations are also deemed important by various legacy norms integrated via the International Plumbing Code.
  2. Efficiency Aspects Another quality of plumbing infrastructure that the International Plumbing Code manages to put at the forefront is efficiency. Various codes and norms integrated via the International Plumbing Code insist on maintaining the optimum level of efficiency through the use of ‘most suitable materials and techniques’ so as to guarantee the durability and performance of the infrastructure.
  3. Maintenance Aspects It is a common observation that any plumbing network is only as good as the scope or allowance it accords for maintenance. Every plumbing network will inevitably be required to be repaired, adjusted or even replaced after the lapse of a certain period of time. Considering this, the International Plumbing Code has made enough provisions and allowances to make sure that every plumbing infrastructure that is designed and constructed in compliance with its codes remains flexible to changes and accessible for maintenance.
  4. Wastewater Aspects Managing wastewater was a commonly neglected aspect of plumbing prior to the introduction of the International Plumbing Code in 1997. However, the code has tried to encourage various reusing methods of wastewater and rainwater – from harvesting to regeneration and from groundwater seepage to gardening. Wastewater is best treated at the source of generation, and the International Plumbing Code certainly endorses this principle by putting in place various relevant norms.

International Plumbing Code and Fire Safety

There isn’t a straightforward or direct connection between the plumbing infrastructure of a building and its Fire Safety. However, since the International Building Code has made it mandatory for every occupied building to have in-house firefighting sprinklers, an inherent consideration to the design and integration of such sprinklers into the existing/new plumbing infrastructure has become essential and pertinent. As an extension of this point, the International Plumbing Code has drafted and updated various guidelines that dictate the installation and maintenance of such sprinklers. Apart from these overhead sprinklers, provisions are also made to connect every building with the local mainframe firefighting water line.

International Plumbing Code: Points of Note

There are certain points of note that need to be mentioned in passing while discussing the International Plumbing Code.

  1. Cost Optimization The International Plumbing Code, unlike any other building/infrastructure code that preceded it, actively encourages contractors and designers to optimize plumbing networks in terms of costs. There are various norms, rules and regulations mentioned in the code to retrench the overall infrastructure expenditure (plumbing) by way of procuring ‘most suitable’ materials, workforce and advanced techniques of operation.
  2. Non-destructive Testing The International Plumbing Code has made it mandatory for contractors to use non-destructive techniques of testing and/or fault-finding so as to avoid unnecessary discomfort to the residents of the building. Some of these techniques like ultrasound and laser block detection are now used widely all over the world, as a direct result of endorsements made by the International Plumbing Code.
  3. Fixing Responsibilities Another very important feature that the International Plumbing Code brings forth for the end-users (occupants/users of the building) is the fixing of responsibility. The code makes it explicitly clear that for a minimum period of 36 months, the responsibility of any and every ‘sizeable’ maintenance assignment will be borne by the contractor and/or the designer.This means that for a minimum period of 3 years, residents/occupants/users of the building will not have to bear any financial burden of plumbing maintenance, provided that the maintenance assignments in question are deemed necessary through no fault of their own.

International Plumbing Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

The International Plumbing Code is a popular I-Code and is fully owned by the International Code Council (ICC). As the code draft policy of the ICC explicitly makes clear, all I-Codes are reviews and amended (if needed) at the end of three years. What this means is that all I-Codes, upon publication, have a validity period of three years. The International Plumbing Code is no exception to this rule. Presently, the 2015 edition of the code is in effect. The next edition will be published in 2018, after extensive public discussions and reviews. The official copy of the code can be purchased directly from the website of the ICC.

International Mechanical Code

Another widely adopted and referred to building and construction code that is hosted by the family of I-Codes is the International Mechanical Code. Adopted in over 100 countries and all American States, the International Mechanical Code is generally considered to be the most neutral, standard and technically advanced mechanical code there is.

Origins of the International Mechanical Code

The idea of the International Mechanical Code was first proposed in 1997, the year in which the International Code Council (ICC) was founded. The motivation behind this idea was to collect, regulate and classify all ‘floating’ mechanical codes in order to prepare a standardized universal version.

It would be well worth mentioning here that there were more than 15 different mechanical codes in existence before the International Mechanical Code was first drafted. However, since then, the number has dwindled as the International Mechanical Code is regarded as the standard authority in its areas of jurisdiction. It should also be noted that the International Mechanical Code enjoys the maximum governmental adoption, with over 25 states making it mandatory for all new constructions to abide by it.

Scope of the International Mechanical Code

The International Mechanical Code is more akin in scope to the International Building Code than other specialty codes like the International Plumbing Code. One of the primary causes for this wide scope and range is the fact that each and every building/construction project is required to rely solely on mechanical aspects to improve the quality of the indoor atmosphere. Right from essentials like temperature and humidity to other aspects like ventilation and structural integrity of the building, the International Mechanical Code covers it all, thus making it a truly comprehensive mechanical code.

There are many other alternatives to the International Mechanical Code, however, none of them is as well understood or as standardized as the International Mechanical Code.

  1. Heating Aspects The single most exhaustive aspect that the International Mechanical Code covers in extreme details is the heating aspect. Giving enough thought and engaging enough resources in making sure that the building is optimally heated without attracting corresponding dangers of fire hazards lies at the root of heating aspects discussed, mandated, regulated and dictated by the International Mechanical Code.Heating a building with proper measure is essential for survival in cold climate (in most American states, during winters). Because of this fact, the International Mechanical Code offers a range of heating regulations which address a diverse set of heating requirements, from extreme heating demand in states like Alaska to negligible heating demand in states like Florida. Because of this policy of inclusion of diverse conditions, the International Mechanical Code provides a thoroughly comprehensive guideline regarding indoor heating.Apart from residential and community buildings, completely different guidelines are also issued to be implemented at places of business. These guidelines are more stringent in nature and are required in most states to be met in order for the building to get occupation/business certification and clearance.
  2. Cooling Aspects Much in the same vein as the heating aspects of all new constructions, various aspects of design, construction and maintenance of cooling equipment (coolers, air conditioners etc.) are dictated to a detailed degree by the International Mechanical Code. The extent of this dictation is thorough and intensive, ensuring the convenience and safety of the building and, in turn, of the occupants of the building.
  3. Ventilation Aspects Among other aspects dictated and codified by the International Mechanical Code, ventilation aspects are also notable. Ventilation is extremely essential in order to maintain the quality of indoor air and atmosphere (as decided by the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States). Ventilation is often aimed at allowing stale air to exit and fresher air to enter the indoor atmosphere, making sure that occupants of the building are allowed to breathe healthier air. Stale air is known to cause discomfiture to occupants on many levels – from nausea and difficulty in breathing to depression and asthma. That’s why, maintaining a structured format presiding over the designs, installation and maintenance of ventilation equipment (and inherent building design) is essential. The International Mechanical Code aims to achieve this very objective by presenting a number of stringent guidelines for ventilation.

International Mechanical Code and Fire Safety

The discussion is article is mainly centered about Fire Safety. Keeping that in contention, it would be proper to discuss, albeit briefly, how the International Mechanical Code relates itself to various Fire Safety Measures.

The one and only direct way in which the International Mechanical Code concerns itself to Fire Safety is by advocating the design and construction of ‘safer’ buildings. Safer buildings are generally considered to adhere to standard norms of building design and construction (as noted by the International Building Code). By advocating health and safety of the residents, users or occupants of the building, the International Mechanical Code ensures that adequate Fire Safety measures are integrated into the building, helping avoid potential fire hazards and damages that follow.

International Mechanical Code: Points of Note

Apart from being an exhaustive and well-reputed collection of mechanical codes, the International Mechanical Code has numerous other points that should be noted by those who are interested in understanding why it is that many states and organizations have embraced it as a measuring standard.

  1. Specialisation of Responsibilities Perhaps the single most critical criterion that sets the International Mechanical Code apart from many other mechanical codes is the fact that extreme thought has been put into making it a highly specific, yet easily adaptable code. Specialisation of responsibilities of various kinds ensures that the code is firm and rigid at the skeletal level (design) while being sufficiently pliable at the implemental level (construction). This allows for a wider application and adoption of the code – a factor that the popularity and trust that the International Mechanical Code enjoys from various communities and organizations can be directly attributed to.
  2. Health and Safety Health and Safety are two commonly discussed, yet universally connived aspects of mechanical aspects of building construction. Prior to the arrival of the International Mechanical Code in the United States, the health and safety norms and rules were largely limited in nature to building design and construction. Various amendments in the International Building Code further ensured that enough emphasis was placed on maintaining safe and sound building constructions. However, when it came to extending the same idea to mechanical aspects of construction, there was a marked reluctance on the part of designers and contractor, perhaps due to the fact that laws didn’t really extend themselves to these areas.The International Mechanical Code, however, seems to have changed that fact by making sure that all heating, cooling and ventilation equipment and infrastructure is fully safe and sound for installation, use and maintenance. The number of fire mishaps occurring all over the world due to faulty heaters and radiators is certainly not negligible. Hence, from this point of view in itself, resident members of the American, and International communities have the International Mechanical Code to thank for passively contributing towards safer indoor environment.Apart from Fire Safety, the International Mechanical Code also places strict regulations for electrical safety, mechanical safety and application safety of all indoor equipment, regardless of their use. This has helped bring various electrical appliances, from heaters to humidifiers and from clothing irons to water geysers into the jurisdiction of Occupational Safety & Healthy Act (OSHA, Indoor).
  3. Inspection and Testing The International Mechanical Code has collated all traditional guidelines regarding Inspection and Testing of mechanical equipment, infrastructure and devices at all buildings (regardless of their type/nature/purpose) in order to make them easily accessible and available for testing, inspection and possible maintenance. As a part of this policy of easy access, the code has made it mandatory to use equipment that allow for such access, resulting into a fairer and less troublesome deal for the end users (occupants of the building).
  4. Temporary Use of EquipmentParticularly in cases of heating and cooling equipment, the application is limited to a certain period of the year, depending upon the weather. Because of this, many buildings, especially commercial buildings, prefer to use temporary equipment as per the necessities dictated by the weather. However, prior to the introduction of the International Mechanical Code, there were no solid guidelines or codes governing the selection, installation and maintenance of such temporary infrastructure. This resulted into gross negligence being accorded to such activities. Taking this fact into account, the International Mechanical Code has codified the use of temporary mechanical equipment, making the whole exercise an organized and safer affair.
  5. More Authority for Code Inspectors In the process of implementation of any quality/safety code, a lot depends upon the level of authority that corresponding code inspectors are bestowed with. The International Mechanical Code, particularly since its 2009 edition, has accorded extra authorities to code inspectors by allowing them to restrict or grant access at the site of work.This is important because the number of mishaps (fire hazards, for example) that can be directly attributed to undesired/unauthorized presence of non-trained personnel on site is substantial. By grating the powers to restrict access to code inspectors, the International Mechanical Code has addressed a very relevant issue. In addition, the right to issue/void identification and permits has also been given to code inspectors, meaning that code inspectors (on their own volition) can secure a work site in the safest way as per their discretion.

International Mechanical Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

The most peculiar thing about the family of I-Codes is the fact that all of them have been drafted after a great deal of deliberation and thought. The International Mechanical Code is no exception to this. Every three years, an open amendment process is carried out by the International Code Council to elicit various views and opinions from industry experts and academics, as well as common members of the public to bring the International Mechanical Code up to date with changing practices in design, construction and installation. Also, adequate amendments are made to address various technical and technological innovations and developments, so that the code remains relevant to the times. The present edition of the International Mechanical Code applicable and available till 2018 is the sixth (2015) edition. The amendment process for the seventh (2018) edition is underway, and interested parties can take part in this process to contribute with their valuable inputs.

The latest copy of the International Mechanical Code (2015) can be purchased from the official website of the International Code Council by following this link.

International Private Sewage Disposal Code

Disposal of sewage in private properties that are not connected with registered housing societies or associations can be a very tricky proposition as sewage disposal is often neglected because it can be an expensive exercise, especially in isolation. Similarly, at a bulk level – that is to say in housing colonies and societies – sewage disposal can often be observed to be carried out in a manner that cannot be classified as methodical in any way whatsoever. To tackle this very problem, the International Private Sewage Disposal Code was drafted.

Origins of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code

The International Private Sewage Disposal Code is among the oldest I-Codes. The first printing of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code was carried out in 1995, even before the foundation of the International Code Council (ICC). As noted in the introductory point of this code, the code was initially aimed at creating a flexible framework to oversee various sewage related designs, constructions and maintenance activities so as to ensure quality of work and safety of the personnel undertaking the tasks, as well as benefiting from the works.

The International Private Sewage Disposal Code is adopted in over 20 American states as a mandatory code, while most other states allow for the use of it as a quality-control code (non-mandatory). Various countries (especially Latin American countries) use the International Private Sewage Disposal Code as a mandatory construction quality marker in various civil, governmental and business construction projects.

Scope of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code

The scope of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code is quite limited in nature, especially when one is to compare it against the scope of other widely adopted
codes like the International Building Code. Since the application and jurisdiction of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code is mainly limited to sewage design, construction and maintenance, it can be quite easily understood that the code is not exactly a stringent set of norms. It is – as far as industry practices are concerned – seen as a directive, rather than a regulation.

  1. Sanitary Safety Sanitary safety is the most emphasised aspect in the overall scope of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code. Prior to the introduction of the code, it was a common practice to leave sanitary safety at the very bottom of the priority hierarchy during any sort of construction project. It was also very common to ‘manipulate’ sewage parameters as an ‘afterthought’, rather than having them planned and incorporated into the overall design of the project. As a result, sanitary failures and subsequent maintenance costs were quite inevitably faced by residents and users of the buildings.However, the sanitary safety aspect introduced by the International Private Sewage Disposal Code has largely succeeded in curbing these inefficient and unsafe sewage disposal methods by making it mandatory to employ ‘adequately robust’ sanitary mechanism.
  2. Quality Control Aspects By making sure that adequately enforceable quality control codes and norms are brought into effect, the International Private Sewage Disposal Code has furthered the prospects of improved overall efficiency of sewage mechanism and other peripheral activities.
  3. Health Aspects Inefficient sewage can not only deteriorate the entire value of a property but it also exposes users and occupants of the building to grave health risks by way of infectious diseases and overall ambiance of uncleanliness. Considering this, the International Private Sewage Disposal Code has developed norms to oversee that the sewage design, construction and maintenance operations are oriented towards efficient, as well as ‘healthy’ disposal. This involves working against inadvertent leakages, seepages, contamination, exposure and groundwater pollution.

International Private Sewage Disposal Code and Fire Safety

There is no direct relation between fire hazards and sewage disposal infrastructure of a building. Hence, the International Private Sewage Disposal Code doesn’t have any provisions that directly concern themselves with Fire Safety of the construction. In certain cases, albeit very rare ones, custom codes are applied to make sure that effervescent gases from sewage decomposition (most notably, methane) are properly vented out so as to minimize the risk of fire hazards emanating from their spontaneous and natural combustion reactions.

International Private Sewage Disposal Code: Points of Note

The following points regarding the International Private Sewage Disposal Code are noteworthy.

  1. Standardisation of Norms The International Private Sewage Disposal Code has managed to standardise long standing conventional sewage disposal practices by issuing specific guidelines for various building types and activities. This has ensured that there is a common industry standard that all new construction projects can work to, minimizing confusion as well as maximizing commonness of adoption.
  2. Health and Safety Sewage disposal may not relate directly to the immediate safety of occupants and users of a building. However, lack of efficient sewage disposal infrastructure can easily lead to compromising of long-term health and safety of residents. The International Private Sewage Disposal Code has taken into account this factor, and put into place standard codes to make health and safety a top priority while designing, constructing and maintaining sewage infrastructure.
  3. Inspection and Testing The International Mechanical Code has collated all traditional guidelines regarding Inspection and Testing of mechanical equipment, infrastructure and devices at all buildings (regardless of their type/nature/purpose) in order to make them easily accessible and available for testing, inspection and possible maintenance. As a part of this policy of easy access, the code has made it mandatory to use equipment that allow for such access, resulting into a fairer and less troublesome deal for the end users (occupants of the building).

International Private Sewage Disposal Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

The International Private Sewage Disposal Code was first drafted over two decades ago in 1995. Since then, a few amendments have been introduced to the code, however, the extent and number of these amendments is strikingly low as compared to other I-Codes. The present version of the International Private Sewage Disposal Code that is applicable and used industry wide is 2015 version. However, in many states and communities, the 2012 version is also considered to be applicable (for residential project).

The 2015 edition of the code can be purchased directly from the official website of the International Code Council by following this link.

International Fuel Gas Code

An important code in the family of I-Code published by the International Code Council (ICC), the International Fuel Gas Code is a widely adopted and cited code that is critically assessed at technical, academic and industrial levels every three years.

It can be argued that ever since the use of fuel gas for various heating and energy purposes has gone on the decline because of the introduction and improved feasibility of renewable sources of energy, the importance, relevance and dependability of the International Fuel Gas Code has also proportionately reduced in significance. However, the very fact that fuel gas is still one of the major energy sources at residential as well as industrial levels in the United States (and the rest of the world), the International Fuel Gas Code is still considered to be an important set of norms for various equipment and infrastructure that either directly depend on fuel gases or depend on energy forms extracted from fuel gases.

Origins of the International Fuel Gas Code

The International Fuel Gas Code was one of the very first codes initiated, drafted and published by the International Code Council. The idea of a common industry and civil code for various fuel gas equipment and infrastructure was first proposed in 1996. A committee of representatives from the designated founding institutions of the ICC (International Conference of Building Officials, Southern Building Code Congress International, Building Officials and Code Administrators International) as well as experienced technical experts from the Oil & Gas Industry and relevant academic fields was formed to create the first draft of the International Fuel Gas Code. The draft was discussed and finally approved by the ICC in 1997.

There has also been a significant contribution in terms of knowledge resources to the development of the International Fuel Gas Code by the American Gas Association (AGA).

Scope of the International Fuel Gas Code

The International Fuel Gas Code enjoys a wide and ultimate authority when it comes to installing and maintaining any and every kind of fuel gas equipment or infrastructure apparatus. The code is help in high regard as it applies at every level imaginable – from gigantic oil and gas related industrial operation to small scale residential buildings.

  1. Fuel Efficiency AspectsThe International Fuel Gas Code places enormous emphasis on maintaining high fuel efficiency of all equipment and infrastructure sections that rely on fuel gas energy directly or indirectly.The chief reason for this elevated emphasis is the increasing cost of using fuel gas for energy, as well as depleting fossil fuel reserves all over the world. By making sure that each and every equipment used in every building works at a high fuel efficiency, the International Fuel Gas Code tries to ensure minimum wastage and maximum exploitation of fuel gas energy.
  2. Piping Infrastructure Aspects Whenever it comes to transport of ‘fluids’ (liquids and gases), piping infrastructure is of utmost importance. It has been widely believed that in large applications, the largest share of pressure drop and energy wastage during transport of fluid occurs in the piping network. Considering this, the International Fuel Gas Code has established a set of stringent guidelines so as to optimize the efficiency and structure of fuel gas piping network in all new construction projects. Right from piping material and diameters to piping efficiency and durability, all aspects that govern the active life of any piping network are addressed by the International Fuel Gas Code.
  3. Safety Aspects Since fuel gas and relevant equipment are quite susceptible to various types of accidents and can cause subsequent damage, the International Fuel Gas Code has established extremely stringent guidelines to ensure that a good deal of effort goes into ascertaining the safety of equipment, infrastructure, property, and most importantly of those who operate the infrastructure or are in the vicinity of it.

International Fuel Gas Code and Fire Safety

Among all the I-Codes published by the International Code Council, the International Fuel Gas Code is perhaps the only code that relates itself directly to the Fire Safety of buildings in which it is implemented.

Quite understandably, there is a great amount of stress laid by the International Fuel Gas Code on ensuring the safety of occupants, users and operators of all equipment and infrastructure that are dependent on fuel gases for energy.

International Fuel Gas Code: Points of Note

Ever since it came into effect in 1997, the International Fuel Gas Code has been at the forefront of ascertaining the safety of all fuel gas equipment. In this quest to achieve a reliable, safe and efficient degree of operation, many important points in the International Fuel Gas Code have contributed. Some of these points of note are discussed in short brief below.

  1. Regulations of Safeguard Various regulations of safeguard that are collected and implemented as a part of the International Fuel Gas Code have been extremely effective in bringing down the average annual damage that can directly attributed to fuel gas related equipment and infrastructure through mishaps (mostly fire hazards). These regulations are not only diverse in nature, but they are extremely stringent, thereby ensuring that when being complied with, they more or less preclude the possibility of mishaps.Among these various regulations of safeguards, most notable are:
    • Seismic Safeguarding Seismic safeguarding was an aspect that, in a general sense, was never paid much sincere attention to by technicians, designers and contractors, prior to 1960s. However, since then, many advancements in manufacturing and installation techniques have enabled us to use seismic safeguarding measures in order to reduce second degree damage that unfortunate natural calamities like earthquakes can cause through equipment bursting and subsequent fire hazards.
    • Wind Safeguarding In some American states (especially south-eastern states), cyclones, hurricanes and tornadoes are known to regularly bring civil life to a grinding halt. In such conditions, and when there’s a high wind, equipment reliant on fuel gas can quickly transform into potentially dangerous fire and explosion triggers.
    • Vibrational Safeguarding Vibrational safeguarding is more of relevance at industrial sites than regular house applications. However, nowadays, manufacturers use advanced techniques to minimize vibrational impedance of
      fuel gas equipment, making these safeguarding norms redundant. However, to ensure that there is not even a slight chance of equipment damage, accident or malfunction due to vibrations, vibrational safeguarding norms presented by the International Fuel Gas Code remain instrumental.
  2. Improved Label Management Label management has become an essential part of quality maintenance in all walks of product manufacturing. Equipment that use fuel gas for energy are no exception to that. The International Fuel Gas Code has established a set of definitive guidelines for the proper and classified management of label on such equipment, in a bid to ensure that these equipment use standard label systems that can further ease up the installation, use and maintenance prospects. Although not directly related to safety of the users, label management helps reduce ambiguity that surrounds equipment that are technically complex from the operational point of view.
  3. Miscellaneous There are quite a few other aspects that are unique to the International Fuel Gas Code, in comparison with other construction codes and norms of practice.For example, rodentproofing is a concept identified, discussed and advised by the International Fuel Gas Code in details that no other codes seem to possess. It might sound like a frivolous concept, but it is a commonly observed and known fact that rodents – especially in households – can contribute to malfunction and potentially dangerous breaking down of fuel gas equipment. Considering this, the International Fuel Gas Code has suggest implementation of a wide array of rodentproofing techniques.Similarly, the code has also borrowed a number of guidelines from the International Plumbing Code in order to extend its application and adoption, and make relevant plumbing connections surrounding

International Fuel Gas Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

In order to remain relevant in fast changing times of technological advancements and newer techniques of manufacturing, assembly and installation, the International Fuel Gas Code has made it a point – like all other I-Codes – to publish newer, up to the date editions every three years.

To incorporate a wide range of ideas, views and opinions, participation from a diverse set of technologists, industry experts, academics, members of common public etc. is sought by the International Code Council, to make every edition of the International Fuel Gas Code more and more consumer-safety oriented and pertinent to the times.

Presently, the 2015 edition of the International Fuel Gas Code is in effect and projects that need to adhere to the code need to refer to it for guidelines. This edition can be purchased from the website of the ICC by following this link.

The next edition of the International Fuel Gas Code will be published in 2018. Amendment exercise for the upcoming edition has already commenced.

International Fire Code

The International Fire Code is the second most widely used I-Code in the United States, ranking behind the International Building Code. Drafted for the first time in 1998, the code aims at minimizing the risk of fire hazards and their enormous potential to cause damage to capital as well as life, by presenting a sophisticated set of safeguarding regulations for residential, community and commercial buildings. Regardless of the size of the construction project, the International Fire Code – when adopted in good faith – has the ability to reduce risks of fire hazards to a minimal level through stringent equipment, installation, operation and maintenance regulations.

Origins of the International Fire Code

Just after the foundation of the International Code Council (ICC) in 1997, it was proposed by founding members and associations that a generic code to safeguard the interests of building owners and occupants at every level, a comprehensive set of legacy norms and regulations be enforced.

As the suggestion was accepted by the ICC, the drafting of the first edition of the International Fire Code officially commenced. After an intensive drafting, research and discussion schedule of over 18 months, the code was submitted to the ICC and accepted by the ICC in 1999. Since then, the International Fire Code has played an instrumental role in providing a highly detailed regulation methodology for designers, contractors, operators and occupants of buildings, not only in the United States, but in over 100 different countries.

Scope of the International Fire Code

The scope that the International Fire Code enjoys today is largely a result of efforts made by the ICC to include any and every possibility of fire hazard and deal with it in a systematic manner, without sacrificing the ease of installation, operation or maintenance. Special care has been taken while drafting the code to ensure that end users will not be presented with any increased level of difficulty as equipment and infrastructure is made more and more invulnerable to fire hazards. The scope of the present edition of the International Fire Code is discussed in brief in the following points.

  1. Fire Safety Aspects In relation to this article in particular, the International Fire Code and its Fire Safety provisions are the most relevant ones. There are numerous provisions and regulations cited, advised and mandated by the code in order to create a standard framework that aims to reduce the risk of fire hazards through:
    • Safe equipment selection,
    • Safe equipment procurement,
    • Safe infrastructure design,
    • Safe installation procedures,
    • Safe operation procedures,
    • Safe maintenance procedures,
    • Safe replacement procedures,
    • Safe upscaling/downscaling procedures,
    • Safe handling of associated waste products
  2. Occupational Safeguarding Aspects Risks of fire hazards increase exponentially at places of business because of the fact that the scale of various equipment and activity is much larger in such places. Considering this, the International Fire Code has enforced more stringent conditions and norms for ensuring the Fire Safety of place of commercial interests and business. These include:
    • Office complexes,
    • Stores and vendor locations,
    • Warehouses,
    • Industrial plants,
    • Manufacturing facilities,
    • Assembly lines,
    • All other non-classified places used for commercial purposes
  3. Storage Aspects Another common reason for various fire hazards observed throughout the world is non-scientific ways of storing materials that can, in themselves, are inflammable, or can catch fire (combustible).Common examples include clothing, cotton, paper, wood, plastic, rubber, electronics, fuel etc.While carrying out such storage activities (at residential as well as commercial places), a strict compliance with guidelines stated and enforced by the International Fire Code is required. Such compliance makes sure that stored materials and goods are not susceptible to fire hazards, thereby ensuring the avoidance of a significant loss of capital to owners, and minimization of associated fire damage to life and property.
  4. Tires and Rubber Tires are cited as one of the chief causes of industrial and domestic fires. In the United States, it is a common practice to store used tires at houses in basements and garages. Similarly, in automobile repair and servicing stations, a large number of discarded tires can be observed to be stored in a pile – often exposed to natural deteriorating factors such as wind, rain, snow and sunlight. In favorable conditions, tires easily catch fire that can quickly spread. Addressing this issue in isolation, the International Fire Code has enforced a set of codes for tire storage and recycle.
  5. Pest Control, Fumigation and Chemical Sprays In households and places of business, pest control and fumigation operations are carried out at regular intervals, in accordance with applicable laws. However, at times, these operations can turn out to be hazardous for residents of the building, by way of chemical inhalation, topical exposure and accidental fires. To minimize this rink, the International Fire Code has suggested various voluntary measures of Fire Safety.
  6. Construction and Design Aspects The International Fire Code offers a vastly detailed code for virtually fire-proof design and construction of buildings of all kinds, irrespective of their sizes. These codes can be adopted on their own, or through other exhaustive building codes like International Building Code.
  7. Means of Firefighting Despite the adoption of the code in entirety, accidental fires can still expose residents and the building itself to grave fire hazards. In such unfortunate events, the International Fire Code resorts to the use of technically optimized means of firefighting.The code presents instructions for the design of implementation of firefighting apparatus that includes:
    • Fire hydrants
    • In house sprinklers
    • Automated smoke detectors and alarms
    • Automated fire detectors and alarms
    • Fire extinguishers (dry and wet)
  8. Hot Works The International Fire Code has established a set of definitive guidelines to carry out various domestic and industrial hot works that can potentially trigger fire hazards.Domestic activities like cooking, baking and the use of furnaces fall under this category. Use of quality controlled and eligible equipment in a manner advised by the manufacturer is expected at all times while carrying out such activities.At industrial levels, various operations (most typically welding, ironing, heating, melting etc.) have been brought under this category.
  9. Fireworks and Explosives The International Fire Code has made stricter the already existing Federal Norms for Fireworks and Explosives by disallowing storage of any and every sort of explosive in populated areas.Use of fireworks has also been strictly regulated in order to avoid accidental fires that fireworks, more often than not, cause.Ammunition storage (above legally permitted domestic limit) in households has also been disallowed by the International Fire Code.
  10. Using Fuels Use of fuel (liquid, solid and gas) has been standardised across America, thanks to the efforts made over the years by the ICC through the International Fire Code.Fuels of all types and in all phases of existences – from natural gas to solid aviation fuel – have been brought under a generic ‘fuel’ category, making it easy to monitor and govern their safe and optimum use at domestic and industrial sites.
  11. Fire Hazard Classification Another instrumental aspect that the scope of the International Fire Code covers is the classification of fire hazards.Fire can start from a variety of reasons. The nature of fire hazard largely determines the way in which it should be fought. Because of the this very fact, the International Fire Code has established a widely accepted classification methodology for fire hazard in terms of the origin of the hazard, nature of the hazard, nature of the affected areas, peripheral factors, scale of the hazard and the potential for growth.
  12. Fire Flow Requirements Fire Flow Requirements codified by the ICC through the International Fire Code largely dictate the design of evacuation routes and other access modes in residential and commercial buildings. These norms are mandatory for all new constructions in the United States and are widely used in many other countries as well.

International Fire Code: Points of Note

Some of the most noteworthy points about the International Fire Code are mentioned below. These points are more or less common with notable points of other I-Codes discussed earlier.

  1. Improved Preventive Measures In comparison with applicable fire prevention laws and regulations in the United States, the International Fire Code has much more relevant and ‘safety-centric’ norms. Various preventive measures enforced by this code mean that the overall probability of accidental fire hazards occurring in domestic and industrial buildings has largely diminished.
  2. Standardisation and Ease of Application Prior to the introduction of the International Fire Code, fire prevention and fighting regulations were scattered across state and federal boundaries, as well as diverse local authority enforced laws. However, the International Fire Code has managed to bring these measures and methods under one roof by standardising their interpretation and ease of application.
  3. Reliance on Technology Significant advancement in firefighting equipment and procedures is observed every passing year. The International Fire Code has always tried to keep up with these advancements by allowing for the use and codification of such methods in every new edition.
  4. Relations with other I-Codes I-Codes are often used and enforced as a ‘family of codes’ rather than a single code in isolation. Because of this feature, the International Fire Code is made compatible with other I-Codes like the International Building Code, International Plumbing Code etc.

International Fire Code: Adoption, Present Status and Availability

Just like the International Building Code, the International Fire Code is accepted and adopted in all American states. Some states (Colorado, for example) have also accorded official governmental status to the International Fire Code, making it mandatory for all new construction projects to abide by the provisions made by it.

At present, the 2015 edition of the International Fire Code is in effect. This edition can be purchased by following this link. Open amendment procedure for the next (2018) edition of the code is in process, the developments in which can be followed here.

National Fire News

Smoke Alarm Summit 2015

Vision 20/20, a not for profit organization working for the betterment of domestic health and safety in the United States recently released an advanced report detailing the developments in the National Smoke Alarm Summit that was held in July, 2015.

The summit was carried out in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.

The report is primarily aimed at addressing the dire need of over 100 million smoke alarms in American households and community centers. It was estimated in the report, compiled by industry experts, NFPA representatives and academics that fire hazard casualties in the country can be as much as halved by installation of efficient smoke alarm systems.

The report can be accessed online here.

Improved Hazmat Communication by MSDSOnline

MSDSOnline, a private company working in the field of management of chemical information in industries, has planned on revolutionizing the way chemical information is shared to the official First Responders.

Traditionally, such information is shared with First Responders only after they arrive at the scene of the mishap, further delaying their efforts at tackling the situation. What MSDSOnline has proposed is a Common Cloud method of Chemical MSDS sharing, in which all the information of chemicals (in question) will be shared in a real time basis with the official agencies. This is expected to improve the strategy making and execution plans of First Responders by allowing them precious time before actually reaching the site of the mishap.

An exhibitory demo of the technology was held by the company at the NFPA Expo in June this year.

World Trade Center 7 Collapse and Fire Safety

WTC 7 Fire

Figure 2: WTC 7 Fire (Image Credit: NBC)

The events that took place on 9/11 in 2001 have, without any shadow of doubt, changed the world forever. The event that unfolded on what many now consider to be the blackest day in the history of the country have been watched, written and talked about, discussed and dissected countless number of times so far.

Despite this widespread global attention, there has not been much discussion surrounding the collapse of the World Trade Center 7 building, in the vicinity of Twin Towers that were hit by the hijacked airplanes.

However, many agencies – especially the ones working in forensic search and fire hazard analysis – have taken up independent studies to probe the mysterious collapse of WTC 7.

Here’s a brief summary of the events that unfolded on that fateful September day in 2001.

  • The Twin Towers were first attacked by hijacked airplanes on the morning of 9/11, between 8 and 9 am.
  • The towers soon succumbed under the attack and an enormous cloud of solid and dusty debris surrounded the entire neighborhood.
  • The WTC 7, situated in the immediate vicinity of Twin Towers, is thought to have endured a great deal of debris (second degree damage) from Twin Tower, making it structurally weak.
  • Inadvertent fire ignitions inside the building soon transformed into major blazes as most of the firefighting machinery concentrated on attending the grave situation at the Twin Towers’ site.
  • WTC 7 fire, largely unattended and unchecked, soon weakened the core of the building, as the building eventually collapsed at around 5.30 pm, the same day.

Although there have been many opinions expressing different views regarding these events, a largely accepted theory (supported by the 9/11 Commission) explains the causes of the failure of the building as follow:

  • Large concrete and steel fragments of the skeletons of Twin Towers directly landed on and around the WTC 7 building throughout the day, leaving the building in an inaccessible state.
  • These pieces of debris also deteriorated most of the WTC 7 infrastructure, including electricity and water.
  • Because of electricity failure, automated alarm systems were rendered ineffective. Also, piping network failure meant that sprinkler systems inside the building also failed to work.
  • Small fires ignited inside the WTC 7 building soon grew in scale and the whole building was reduced into a burning construction that ultimately collapsed to the ground at 5.20 pm.

Domestic Dryer Fires: Facts, Figures and Ways of Avoidance

It doesn’t take much for fire to start, and once started, it can be very difficult to contain, especially indoors. It may sound insubstantial, but seemingly innocuous household appliances like clothes dryers can be a cause of devastating fire accidents.

Facts & Figures surrounding Dryer Fires

According to the FEMA, dryer fires are very common all over the United States. The facts and figures published by the agency can be helpful in understanding the gravity of the case.

  • On an average, about 2900 cases of domestic fires that can be directly attributed to overheated or malfunctioning clothes dryers are reported to the authorities in the United States.
  • These cases, cumulatively, amount to (approximately) 5 life casualties, over 100 injuries of varying gravity and capital loss of anywhere up to $35 million.

Ways to Avoid Clothes Dryer Fires

Simple precautions can suffice to avoid dryer fires. Some of them are mentioned below.

  • Do not leave the dry on when not in operation.
  • Clean the dryer vent and lint holder from time to time.
  • Keeping the dryer away from other combustible items like mattresses and papers helps.
  • If you observe that your clothes dryer is either overheating unusually or malfunctioning, getting it serviced or replaces is essential.

Home Fires

Homes fires, despite diminishing in numbers in recent years, are still a force to reckon with. Following graph shows the number of deaths occurring due to such fires in the United States in recent years (figure 3, courtesy – USFPA).

Along with precious loss of life and injuries, home fires can quickly cause capital damage that can run into millions of dollars. Figure 4 shown below shows an estimation of the trend in such capital losses attributed to home fires in recent years (figure 4, courtesy – USFPA).

Home Fires and Deaths in the US

Figure 3: Home Fires and Deaths in the US (Courtesy – USFPA)

Home Fires and Associated Dollar Loss in the US
Figure 4: Home Fires and Associated Dollar Loss in the US (Courtesy – USFPA)

What to do before you encounter a home fire?

Home fires are, as the graphs above show, quite common in the US. Considering this, everyone needs to be best equipped in terms of knowledge, skills and equipment to face home fires should the need be. In order to achieve that goal, following preventive measures before you encounter a home fire can be life savers.

  • Make sure that you and everyone in your household is properly trained in understanding the nature of home fires and relevant preliminary actions to be taken.
  • All household members must be trained in using fire extinguishers and manual fire alarms.
  • Similarly, everyone needs to be trained to send out distress calls to emergency hotlines (911, for example).
  • All adult and young adult members of the house should be adequately trained in first aid.

What to do during a home fire?

If at all you have to encounter a home fire, you need to be able to understand what needs to be done. Following points can help you get started on that journey.

  • Staying calm and composed is the most important thing when you encounter a home fire. Not panicking can help you tackle emergency situations in the best manner.
  • The first thing you need to do in such a situation is to ensure the safety of elderly, infirm and/or young members of the household.
  • Calling First Responders services should be the next step.
  • Evacuating the site, without worrying about the loss of property/belongings is very important.

What to do after a home fire?

Even if you leave unscathed from a fire, home fires can leave a long lasting mental trauma. Please take note of the following points in order to deal with life after a home fire.

  • If you think you are suffering from post-fire mental trauma, qualified medical help is the best way. Charity organizations like Red Cross and WHO run free counselling centers that can be quite useful.
  • Be sure to get relevant certifications from the local authorities before you move into the property again.

Things you need to know about home fires

Home fires can pose multiple challenges that you need to tackle in order to get to a safe place. What you encounter a home fire, however, you need to be conversant with some of the most rudimentary, yet least known facts about fires.

  • Fires do not take a long time to spread. Even though it may take a while for a fire to get ‘traction’, you would be surprised at the pace at which it has potential to grow in favorable conditions. Home fires are known to create temperature of the order of 600 degree Celsius. Such high temperature are adequate for indoor air to get so hot that mere breathing of such hot air can permanently damage your respiratory system.
  • Easily combustible materials like papers and clothes only contribute to so much as ‘flashing’ fire. They are usually not enough to sustain fire. Slow burning materials like wood and rubber that keep fire going. These have the highest potential to cause capital damage.
  • More than fire itself, it is smoke that causes more life casualties in home fire. Smoke can reach places that fire cannot and even if you are out of the reach of flames, you will find it hard to escape smoke unless you have an easy access to evacuation route. Furthermore, as fire keeps on going, it consumes more and more of indoor oxygen, leaving you in dire difficulty.
  • Contrary to popular belief, home fires are not bright indoors. The overall ambiance of smoke and soot makes it dark enough to cloud one’s visions, making it more difficult to escape.

Home Fire Prevention

Embracing the danger of sounding clichéd, it must be mentioned here that prevention is always better than a cure.

In that spirit, all of us should try our best to curb home fires by not allowing them to break out to begin with. Following preventive measures will help readers understand how simple measures can go a long way in preventing home fires.

  • Fire alarms and smoke alarms must be installed in every occupied building. These alarms should be of the highest quality and should be doubly powered (battery and mains). Alarms should be checked and serviced at regular intervals.
  • Regular mock fire drills should be conducted at domestic level. If your household has children, they should trained in emergency evacuation and self-safety.
  • Making sure that your house adheres to International Fire Code, International Building Code and other relevant codes can be an effective way of preventing accidental home fires.
  • Do not let inexperienced persons or children near fireplaces, cooking tops or electric heaters.
  • Keep all electrical equipment and infrastructure in your house up to date, in a well serviced condition.
  • Any burning object – from fireplace coals and barbecue rocks to candles and half lit cigarettes – should never be left in an unattended state indoors.
  • Keep your house well stocked with fire blankets, fire extinguishers and ensure that overhead water tanks are adequately filled at all times, so that sprinkler systems do not suffer from the lack of water.
  • Test all fire preventions equipment at regular intervals through mock drills.

Fire Safety Research

What is ‘Fire Safety’?

Fire Safety is a term that is often used quite liberally, without understanding its exact technical significance. As per the definition mentioned and accepted by the USFPA ‘Fire Safety’ is ‘a collection of measures effected in order to minimize prospects of fires and subsequent damage of various kinds’.

Fire Safety Tips

  • Fire Safety at Households Fire Safety is an important part of ‘safe living’. Some go so far as saying that living in a Fire Safe house is nothing more than claiming one’s right to safe life. From this viewpoint, it would be easier to grasp the importance of embracing Fire Safety measures at households.Various tips to make households ‘Fire Safe’ have already been discussed in the earlier part of this article.
  • Fire Safety at Workplaces/Places of Business Maintaining a ‘Fire Safe’ workplace/place of business has been made legally mandatory for every business runner by various governmental statutes and laws. Following tips may help readers understand how a workplace can be made relatively Fire Safe.
    1. Every workplace should be designed in accordance with stringent quality codes of safety (e.g. International Fire Code).
    2. All workplaces should have adequate in-house firefighting measures for preliminary action (e.g. fire hydrants, sprinklers, extinguishers).
    3. Alternative means of escape (e.g. stairwell, fire escapes) should be present at each and every floor of the building.
    4. Up-to-the-date alarm systems should be maintained in workplaces.
    5. All employees should be trained in preliminary firefighting and escape methods by employers.
    6. Regular mock drills should be conducted to ensure that employees and other people who occupy the workplace are well familiar with emergency situations.

Fire Detection

Detecting fire can be straightforward in most cases. However, there are rare cases in which all detectors simultaneously fail to detect fire, allowing it to reach dangerous scales.

There are three major ways of fire detection (or prognosis):

  1. Smoke Detectors Smoke detectors are the commonest equipment used for detecting indoor fire. Smoke detectors are based on the principle that indoor fires are often accompanied by smoke.Actual functionality of smoke detectors is generally based on transparency of indoor air, as smoke can easily decrease the transparency. There are advanced smoke detectors (mainly used in laboratories and industrial warehouses) that detect the slightest presence of smoke in the air by keeping a track of chemical composition of indoor air in real time.
  2. Heat Detectors Heat detectors are simple transducers that are extremely sensitive. They are often used to detect spikes in air temperature that indoor fires can cause. Heat detectors work on the heat impedance of ceramics and semi-conductor elements.
  3. Flame Detectors Flame detectors are used mainly in places that can experience enormous damage through something as minor as a frictional spark (oil storage tanks, warehouses, hay warehouses etc.). Flame detectors work on the principle of ‘ionisation’, as flames can quickly ionise surrounding air molecules.

Major Causes of Fire

Before discussing what the major causes of fire around the world are, we need to understand when fire occurs.

For fire to start, three factors are required. The absence of even one of these is enough for fire to not start.

Fire Triangle Depiction
Figure 5: Fire Triangle Depiction (Image Credit: Elite Fire UK)
  1. Combustible material or fuel (material that would burn)
  2. Air (that is to say, oxygen)
  3. Means to reach ignition temperature (sparks, friction, secondary flames etc.)

Here are some of the major causes of fire in the US, as well as other countries.

  • Mishaps Despite enough care being taken, it’s quite common for fires to start through mishaps and unanticipated chain of events. These causes are best clubbed together and counted as ‘mishaps’ or ‘accidents’.
  • Storage Non-methodical storage of combustible materials like paper, timber, fuel, rubber etc. can often lead to fires.
  • Electrical MalfunctionShort circuits and electrical malfunctions are also often observed to be common fire starters. Various kinds of electrical appliances (e.g. clothes dryers, irons, electrical grills, ovens etc.) can also start fires when they malfunction.
  • Carelessness Carelessness and irresponsible behavior on the part of residents can lead to fires (e.g. leaving half burn cigarettes on the mattress, placing burning candles near fuel tanks).
  • Fuel and Heating Fuels of all kinds are quite quick to catch fire. Energy equipment like heating stoves or wood burners can also lead to fires.

About Fire Extinguishers

A generic fire extinguisher
Figure 6: A generic fire extinguisher (Image Credit:

A fire extinguisher is the very first thing that most people associate with ‘Fire Safety’, and quite rightly so. We see fire extinguishers everywhere, from schools and offices to homes and malls. Despite that being the case, many people don’t know much about how fire extinguishers really work.

Fire extinguishers are portable cylindrical pressure vessels that are to be used to douse fires that are:

  1. Small in scale
  2. Do not jeopardize the safety of the person using the extinguisher
  3. Not of chemical origin (fuel/toxic substances)
  4. Can be contained easily

It must be noted that fire extinguishers are only emergency means of redress – they are not to be used to douse dangerously large fires. Evacuation is the best idea in such cases.

How Fire Extinguishers Work

Fire extinguishers are composed of three main constituents:

  1. Extinguishing agent
  2. Release and lock assembly (usually pneumatic)
  3. Pressure vessel that holds these together

In fire extinguishers, the agent is compressed at high pressures. When one removes the safety pin and pulls the actuator (handle/gear) down, it activates the release mechanism inside the vessel. This mechanism releases air/other inert gases at high pressures. These gases further push compressed extinguishing agent out of the nozzle at the top with very high force.

The agent is generally a heavier than air substance. It settles down on the surface of the burning object, cutting its contact with air, thereby dousing the flames.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

There are many types of fire extinguishers that can be used in a variety of scenarios. Using the correct type of fire extinguisher is important as wrong extinguishers can prove to be completely ineffective in certain cases. Fire extinguishers are generally classified on the basis of their colors and the agent used. The following table summarizes various types of fire extinguishers and their color codes.

Table 1: Fire Extinguisher Types, Color Codes and Applications


Color Code

Agent Used


Where not to use

Water Extinguisher

White on Red


Regular organic fires (wood, rubber, clothes, paper etc.)

Electrical, fuel and chemical fires

Water Mist Extinguisher

Red on White

Water and Organic Additives

Organic fires, electrical fires

Chemical and toxic fires

Powder Extinguisher


Dry chemical powder (varies)

Organic, electrical, oil, domestic fires

Explosive fires

Foam Extinguisher

Cream (off-white)

Chemical foam

Organic, oil, stove, fuel, gas, liquid, electrical fires

Carbon Dioxide Extinguisher


Carbon Dioxide

Most kinds of fires, including electrical fires

Not to be used on oil/grease fires from close distance

Wet Chemical Extinguisher


Various pressurized liquids

Oil fires, kitchen fires, fuel fires, liquid fires, organic fires

Chemical fires

The First Interstate Tower Fire

The First Interstate Tower ablaze in flames, 1988
Figure 7: The First Interstate Tower ablaze in flames, 1988 (Image Credit: LA Times)

In the history of indoor fires in the US, the First Interstate Tower fire of 1988 will always be counted among the worst. The fire came as a rude wake-up call to businesses, contractors, designers and legislators that strict compliance with codes is of utmost importance in order to avoid repetition of such ghastly occurrences.

How the Fire broke out

The First Interstate Tower, constructed in 1973, was a prominent high rise building in downtown Los Angeles, CA. Being used as a commercial space by many corporations, the tower was a landmark in the region. At the time of the construction of the building, laws didn’t make it mandatory to have sprinkler systems installed in high rise buildings, although it was a standard practice to install them. On May 4, 1988, when installation of sprinkler systems was underway all over the building, smoke alarms on the fifth floor are known to have gone off. In a short period of up to 30 minutes, over three adjacent floors of the building were engulfed in flames.

The firefighting efforts lasted for over 4 hours. By the time fire was brought under control, over 10 floors had been directly impacted and all of the building was rendered structurally weak. The incident is thought to have cost over $50 million in capital damages.


In the aftermath of the incident, many studies were carried out to draw inferences. The famous case study published by FEMA details the causes and effects of fire in great comprehension. In the wake of the incident, California State Laws for Domestic and Commercial Fire were changed and the use of in-house sprinklers was made mandatory for all buildings, regardless of size and structure. Following lessons were learnt from the First Interstate Tower fire of 1988:

  1. Incident Management System (IMS) must always be synchronised with first responders.
  2. Adequate workforce must be deployed as soon as possible, after the incident is reported.
  3. Singular strategy should be used to avoid confusion.
  4. All buildings must be equipped with in-house preliminary firefighting equipment, including sprinklers.
  5. All high rise buildings should have smoke and fire alarms at each and every floor.

Occupational Outlook – Fire Fighters

Firefighters at work
Figure 8: Firefighters at work (Image Credit:

All over the world, children have this extreme attraction for firefighters and fire trucks. Many of them love playing with little fire trucks and pretending to be real firefighters. The reason for this is quite clear. Firefighting is a job that carries a lot of respect in community as firefighters are looked at as life savers, the kind of people who risk their own safety and even life to save others.

Firefighting is still largely a community duty of voluntary basis. However, it can also be looked at as a specialized career option if one has a penchant for bravery and presence of mind. Here are some facts that readers who are interested in knowing more about the occupation of firefighting would find interesting:

  1. Firefighting can be chosen as a full time and/or part time career.
  2. Firefighters are employed by local authorities, state institutions, federal institutions and private corporations as well.
  3. A career is firefighting is ideal for those who are physically fit and have sound ‘decision making’ skills.

Types of Firefighters

There are various types of firefighters who are usually classified based on their specific skill sets. Since fires can be of various types and can entail extremely diverse challenges, it is often considered the best practice to allow specialised firefighters to tackle specific fire types. Some of the commonest types of firefighters are mentioned below:

  1. Structural/Building Firefighters What most of us mean when we refer to a ‘firefighter’ is a ‘structural firefighter’. Structural firefighters are trained in fighting all sorts of domestic and small to medium scale commercial/industrial fires. They specialize in emergency first aid and preliminary paramedicine, as well. Most local authorities employ structural firefighters on an ad-hoc as well as on a permanent basis.
  2. Industrial Firefighters Industrial firefighters specialize in fighting fires of large scales. They are also trained in combating chemical and electrical fires such as fuel fires at chemical plants. They are generally employed full time by local authorities and private corporations.
  3. Natural/Outdoor Firefighters Outdoor firefighters specialize in fighting fires of natural origins, such as bushfires, wildfires, forest fires, fires in public places such as stadia etc.
  4. Aircraft Firefighters Aircraft firefighters are highly specialised firefighters who have targeted skill sets for fighting fires in and due to aircrafts.
  5. Oil and Gas Firefighters Oil and Gas firefighters are usually employed by O&G Companies on a permanent basis. They are trained in handling various kinds of natural gas and oil fires. Such fires are often extremely devastating and cannot be contained for weeks.

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