Fire Safety Regulations: NAVIGATING THE MAZE

By Patterson, Jennifer C. | Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Fire Safety Regulations: NAVIGATING THE MAZE


Patterson, Jennifer C., Matrix: The Magazine for Leaders in Higher Education


Even the most diligent college administrator may find his or her campus lacks some facets of fire safety. With a dizzying array of codes, laws, and ordinances, it is difficult to know if your campus is in compliance.

The risks associated with a campus fire are obvious. Although any building fire can be harrowing for an administrator, "a residence hall fire is the worst case," Janice Abraham, president of education insurance company United Educators in Chevy Chase, Md., said.

Fires generally pose three major risks, Abraham said. First is the loss of life or injury. Second is loss of property. Third is loss of revenue resulting from the potential need to shut down a building or even send students home. Fire-safety regulations are designed to minimize these risks.

Experts consulted for this article agree that the first step toward reaching and maintaining compliance is a call to your local fire-safety professional. This may be your campus fire-safety officer, your municipal fire department, or your state agency. The authority that has jurisdiction over your campus should be happy to help you assess your campus and plan necessary upgrades. Sam Husoe, executive director of the Committee for Fire-safe Dwellings, emphasizes the importance of drawing on the services of experts. "Talk to your local or state fire marshal. He will be aware of the various layers of the onion," he said.

No matter which organization has jurisdiction over your campus, it is likely that the authority has used the Life Safety Code--one of the most common fire-safety codes--as the basis for its regulations. The Life Safety Code, produced by the National Fire Prevention Association, codifies certain minimum requirements for the design, operation, and maintenance of buildings. Requirements fall into two basic categories. First, the code defines hazards, describes possible exit strategies, and discusses equipment to help control and detect fires. Second, the code contains requirements specific to a building's use and occupancy total. The code functions either in tandem with local regulations or alone in jurisdictions that do not have a comparable building code on the books. More information can be obtained from the NFPA Web site at http://www.nfpa.org. The Life Safety Code is designed to complement the many building codes in effect across the country. Three of the most common building codes that include fire safety provisions are the BOCA Code, the Uniform Building Code, and the Standard Building Code.

The BOCA National Building Code is a publication of the Building Officers and Code Administrators International. It is used largely in Middle Atlantic states. The Uniform Building Code, from the International Conference of Building Officials, is the primary building code in Western states. The Standard Code from the Southern Building Code Congress International is used throughout the South. Your builder or general contractor will be able to advise you about the code in your area. (For more information, consult http://www.bocai.org, http://www.icbo.org, and http://www.sbcci.org.)

Building codes are typically designed to be models that can be adopted in whole or in part by local jurisdictions. They also may be altered to address specific challenges in a particular locality. For example, in some parts of California that are especially prone to fires, roofs made of wood or wood products are prohibited.

When contemplating new construction or a renovation, Husoe suggests that campus administrators draw upon the experts before beginning the job. "In the initial stages, have a technical advisory committee meeting with all affected parties, including the local fire marshal and building contractor," he said. "This will save time, money, and frustration," he said. Don't adjourn this meeting until all parties are satisfied that the new or renovated building meets all applicable fire safety regulations.

Laws and Pending Legislation

Building and fire codes are only one piece of the puzzle. …

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