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Changes to the International Fire Code
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Issue 26: Changes to the International Fire Code

By David Bowman, P.E.

The 2009 Edition of the International Fire Code will contain several changes to thresholds and "triggers" for fire sprinkler protection, new retroactive requirements for fire sprinkler protection in I-2 occupancies (institutional occupancies such as hospitals), a new chapter for marinas and a new chapter containing all requirements for existing buildings.

For Group E (Educational) occupancies, the fire area threshold for the installation of an automatic sprinkler system was reduced from 20,000 square feet (1900 m2) to 12,000 square feet (1100 m2) which now treats the fire hazards associated with Group E occupancies equally with other occupancies with similar fuel loads and hazards such as Group F-1 (Moderate hazard factories), S-1 (Moderate hazard storage) and M (Mercantile) occupancies. The requirement for the installation of an automatic sprinkler system at a lower threshold will allow design professionals to take advantage of International Building Code- and International Fire Code-permitted trade-ups and credits, which should reduce the cost of constructing Group E (Educational) occupancies.

A new 4th sprinkler trigger condition has been added in the interest of making furniture retail and warehouse facilities safer for employees, customers and first responders. It will require sprinklers for Group M occupancies displaying and selling upholstered furniture and recognizes that, under certain circumstances, upholstered furniture will ignite and contribute significantly to the fuel load of a fire.

The section of the Fire Code regarding sprinklers in storage occupancies has been revised to address an inconsistency in the IFC with respect to sprinkler thresholds for Group S-1 (Moderate hazard storage) and S-2 (Low hazard storage) occupancies. In the 2006 IFC Section 903.2.8, there are fire-area-size-based sprinkler thresholds established for S-1 (Moderate hazard storage) occupancies. However, in Section 903.2.9 there was no area threshold for Group S-2 enclosed parking garages; they all required sprinklers. Then, Section 903.2.9.1 brought back in an area threshold for commercial parking garages. So, in the 2006 IFC, the sprinkler requirements for S-2 enclosed parking garages were the most restrictive of the Group S occupancies, yet they are considered the least hazardous use. It appeared that an area threshold was "missing" in IFC Section 903.2.9. This was supported by the IFC Commentary, which stated that it was not the intent for enclosed parking garage sprinkler requirements to be more restrictive than a repair garage. Accordingly, the revision establishes a sprinkler threshold for S-2 parking garages that is similar to S-1 (Moderate hazard storage) occupancies.

A new section has been added which directs the code user to new Chapter 46 of the code for retroactive sprinkler requirements for existing Group I-2 occupancies, which are Institutional occupancies for medical, surgical, psychiatric, nursing or custodial care on a 24-hour basis of more than five persons who are not capable of self-preservation. This occupancy group includes hospitals, nursing homes (both intermediate care and skilled), mental hospitals and detoxification facilities. Section 4603.4.2 requires sprinkler protection throughout the floor where the Group I-2 occupancy is located and in all floors between the Group I-2 occupancy and the level of exit discharge.


Chapter 45 is a new chapter addressing the fire protection and prevention requirements for marinas. This chapter was developed in response to the complications encountered by a number of fire departments responsible for the protection of marinas as well as fire loss history in marinas that lacked fire protection. Firefighting operations at marinas are challenging from the perspectives of hose stream deployment, access and the proximity of exposures. These factors are compounded because most personal marine craft typically are constructed of rigid thermoplastics or wood and burn differently than fires involving passenger vehicles. Part of the basis for the approval of these requirements was the US fire loss history for marina fires. As part of its requirements, Chapter 45 adopts by reference the requirements of the 2006 edition of NFPA 303, Fire Protection Standard for Marinas and Boatyards, on electrical equipment (Section 4503.5), berthing and storage activities (Section 4503.6), and standpipe systems (Section 4504.2).

Chapter 46 is a new chapter in the 2009 edition of the code and aggregates many of the existing building fire protection and life safety requirements from Chapters 7, 9 and 10 into one location for easy reference. Requirements for addressing identification of buildings still remain in Chapter 5 and the existing building interior finish requirements remain in Chapter 8. The IFC has always contained minimum construction requirements for existing buildings. The requirements are primarily concerned with occupant life safety by prescribing protection of vertical shafts, fire service control of elevators during an incident, means of egress and occupant notification using a fire alarm and detection systems. Previously, these requirements were located in various chapters and were not compiled into a single source. Excluding the general provisions and definitions, Chapter 46 is divided into three sections. Section 4603 addresses fire safety requirements for existing buildings including protection of vertical openings, floor openings for escalators, automatic sprinklers, standpipes and fire alarm and detection systems in existing buildings. Section 4604 specifies the minimum means of egress requirements for existing buildings based on the provision previously found in Section 1027. Section 4605 sets forth the requirements for fire department access to outdoor storage of tires, which is retroactive to any existing storage conditions.

David Bowman, P.E., is with the International Code Council.

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