Game on: Fire code proposals to be heard in Baltimore, Oct. 24-26

Be there, be heard

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The Congress for the New Urbanism is proposing changes to the International Fire Code that will empower local fire code officials to be more flexible on street designs. These amendments, developed by new urbanists and fire marshals working cooperatively through CNU’s Emergency Response & Street Design Initiative, will be debated on the weekend of Oct. 24-26 at the International Code Council’s Annual Conference & Code Development Hearings in Baltimore, Md.

We need your help: Check out the proposed amendments on our site and talk to your local firefighter or fire marshal about them. If they're willing to support the changes, ask them to send a letter of support to the Council or testify in person if they're going to the conference themselves. Information about conference attendance can be found here here.

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.

For more information, please contact Jon Davis or Heather Smith.