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Throughout history, codes have been developed and changed due to tragedies.  The fire at the Iroquois Theater inspired the design of the first panic device.  The development of NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code occurred after a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  This pattern of tragedy followed by code change is repeated again and again, including the code changes pertaining to Assembly occupancies that were a result of the Station Nightclub Fire in 2003.

There is information online about all of these tragedies.  The best presentation I have seen detailing the history of fires and code changes comes from the Iowa Department of Public Safety, and I have received permission to upload this presentation here.  There is also an NFPA document detailing the 20 deadliest fires, and some of the resulting code changes.  As you read about these tragedies, you will understand why it is so important that we continue to improve the codes and ensure that the requirements are followed.  Many countries outside of the US do not have enforceable codes, or do not have the personnel to enforce them.  While codes may be confusing, and may sometimes seem restrictive, they help to make our buildings safe for occupants.

Most codes and standards are developed through a consensus process, overseen by a committee, typically on a 3-year cycle.  Code change proposals may be submitted by any individuals or groups, there is a series of hearings where proponents and opponents can state their support or their objection to the proposal, and the committee ultimately votes on whether to accept the proposal, reject the proposal, or modify the proposal.  Accepted and modified proposals become part of the next edition of the code.

The Decoded course is based mainly on four codes and standards.  Your jurisdiction may not use the same editions of the codes and standards, but what you will learn can be applied to other editions.  There may also be state and local code modifications affecting doors.  These are the publications for this course:

  • NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code – This code is enforced by many fire marshals for existing buildings, by CMS and the Joint Commission for health care facilities, and is occasionally used by building inspectors for new buildings.  The requirements between NFPA 101 and other model codes are similar, and I will point out where they differ during the course.
  • International Building Code (IBC) – Prior to 2000, there were 3 model building codes used in different regions of the US (BOCA, UBC, and SBC).  These model code groups worked together to form the International Code Council and created the International Building Code.  The ICC is also responsible for many other codes and standards.  Almost all states use some form of the IBC as their building code – many states adopt state modifications to the code, so it is important to be aware of any changes your state may have made.
  • ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities – This is the standard for accessibility that is referenced by the IBC.  Instead of including all of the requirements for doors on an accessible route within the IBC, it refers to this separate standard for that detailed information.  A117.1 is very similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.  Your state may use one of these publications for accessibility, or may have its own state accessibility requirements.  The prevailing accessibility standards will be those referenced by the building code that has been adopted for your project’s jurisdiction.  For example, the Massachusetts State Building Code references a state accessibility standard called 521 CMR.  The California Building Code also references a state-specific accessibility standard.  Some state codes reference the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.  Other states adopt the International Building Code, which references A117.1, and A117.1 becomes the prevailing accessibility standard for that state.
  • NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives – This standard covers the requirements for fire doors, and is referenced in the IBC, NFPA 101, and other codes.  NFPA 80 will not tell you where you need a fire door (the building code tells you that), but it contains the detailed requirements for fire doors.  It is important to note which edition of a standard is referenced in a code, because the requirements may vary from one edition to the next.  For example, if your state has adopted the 2021 IBC (possibly with state modifications), that edition of the IBC references the 2019 edition of NFPA 80.

When you’re working on a project, you need to know which code is in use, including which edition.  You can search online, ask the architect, or call the building inspector’s office.  The code in effect at the time the building permit was issued, and the standards referenced in that code, are the regulations that will apply to the project.  Note that not all states adopt a statewide building code, and may allow individual cities to adopt a code or may have no official building code.  The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) may be the fire marshal, the building inspector, an accreditation organization, or someone else – it is basically the person who is responsible for enforcing a code.  It is common to have more than one AHJ on a project, and sometimes they are enforcing different codes.  When code requirements conflict, it is typically the most stringent requirement that must be followed.

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1) When you are writing a specification, which code or standard takes precedence for doors on an accessible route?

  • a) NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives
  • b) ADA Standards for Accessible Design
  • c) NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code
  • d) The building code adopted in the local jurisdiction, and the standards referenced by that code

2) Codes and standards are typically revised how often?

  • a) every year
  • b) every 2 years
  • c) every 3 years
  • d) as needed

3) Proposals to change a code or standard may be submitted by whom?

  • a) anyone
  • b) code officials
  • c) only recognized organizations
  • d) the applicable code committee

4) The most prevalent building code in the US is which publication?

  • a) NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code
  • b) The International Building Code
  • c) The Uniform Building Code
  • d) NFPA 5000 – Building Construction and Safety Code

5) NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code is most often enforced by whom?

  • a) fire marshals
  • b) building inspectors
  • c) accessibility inspectors
  • d) fire door inspectors

6) Of the codes and standards referenced in this course, where would you find information on the type of hinges required for a fire door?

  • a) NFPA 101
  • b) NFPA 80
  • c) IBC
  • d) A117.1

7) Of the codes and standards referenced in this course, where would you find the maximum threshold height for a door on an accessible route?

  • a) NFPA 101
  • b) NFPA 80
  • c) IBC
  • d) A117.1

8) Which codes and referenced standards apply to the jurisdiction where your office is located?

Answers:  1-d, 2-c, 3-a, 4-b, 5-a, 6-b, 7-d, 8 – check online, or with your local building inspector’s office

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