Emergency Response Initiative seeks fire code change

Proposed amendments seek flexibility; learn more at CNU 17

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Seeking to improve overall public safety, street network connectivity, and emergency response times, the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Emergency Response & Street Design Initiative has filed proposals with the International Code Council for new fire code language and a new appendix to the international code.

The proposed amendment to Section 503 of the International Fire Code — developed by Carl Wren, chief engineer with the Austin, Texas, Fire Department, and Rick Merck, senior fire protection engineer with Montgomery County, Md., Fire & Rescue — would empower local fire code officials to be flexible on the code’s current mandate that roads potentially accessed by fire equipment have at least 20 feet of unobstructed space.

The proposed new performance-based appendix — authored by Patrick Siegman, a principal at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting in San Francisco, and Peter Swift, president of Swift & Associates in Longmont, Colo. — would be available to local communities for adoption. If they did so, the appendix would supplant parts of the existing fire code. This is key, Siegman notes, because in specifying dimensions for "fire apparatus access roads," the fire code currently “specifies the key dimensions for many, if not most, public and private streets.”

"This is significant not only for fire safety, but also for road safety. A substantial body of traffic safety research literature has found conclusively that the dimensions of streets significantly affect road safety. Therefore, the current International Fire Code sets specifications for the design of many, if not most, public and private streets, and these specifications significantly affect traffic safety."

Instead of the “20-foot clear” rule, the appendix allows unobstructed widths “that permits passage of the jurisdiction’s fire apparatus and, wherever necessary, provides adequate space for deploying the jurisdiction’s fire apparatus and for conducting fire and rescue operations.” The appendix also takes turning radii and road grades into account.

CNU’s proposed fire code amendments will be vetted at the ICC’s code hearings in Baltimore, Md., in October, but you can learn more about them this Saturday, June 13, at CNU 17, Experiencing New Urbanism: The Convenient Remedy, in Denver, Colo. Street Design & The Fire Code: Latest News from the Field, from 4:00 to 5:15 p.m. in Ballroom F, offers observations, information, and insight from members of the Initiative team.

See PDF copies of current International Fire Code language, and the proposed code amendment and new appendix filings here.

PDF copies of the new CNU Report on Emergency Response & Street Design, which describes the Initiative’s work to date and shows how streets can save lives, improve emergency response times, and reduce vehicle miles traveled, can be found here.

The Emergency Response & Street Design Initiative is a cooperative venture between CNU, fire marshals from across the United States, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Initiative began in late 2007 to seek common ground and solutions in neighborhood street design.