2021 Code Cycle: New Construction Types, New Fire Safety Guidance

Ray O’Brocki, CFSC Fire Service Relations Manager

Apr 1, 2019

The International Code Council (ICC) has published the final results of the code change proposals considered in 2018, including passage of the entire package of 14 tall mass timber code change proposals.

The new types of construction accepted in the code set fire safety requirements, allowable heights, areas and number of stories for tall mass timber buildings. These types include:

  • Type IV-A – Maximum 18 stories, with non-combustible protection, such as, gypsum wallboard on all mass timber elements providing 2 and 3-hour fire resistance.
  • Type IV-B – Maximum 12 stories, limited-area of exposed mass timber walls or ceilings providing 2-hour fire resistance.
  • Type IV-C – Maximum 9 stories, exposed mass timber designed to provide a 2-hour fire resistance rating but limited to 85’ in height.

These new types of construction were proposed by the ICC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings (TWB), which was created in 2015 to explore the science of tall wood buildings and develop code changes to accommodate tall wood buildings.

In developing the code changes, one of the goals of the TWB was also to provide guidance and requirements for when tall mass timber is most vulnerable, while under construction and prior to fire protection system installation. Within the package of 14, the ICC approved two International Fire Code (IFC) changes, which add precautions to prevent fire during construction and to maintain fire protect features after building occupancy. Safeguards during construction include:

Fire safety during construction (F266-18)

This section is specific to the three new types of construction discussed above and does not apply to existing Type IV- Heavy Timber (HT). The intent of the Ad Hoc committee is to not require these additional precautions until the building exceeds what is currently permitted for Type IV-HT.

IFC section 3308.4 Fire safety requirements for buildings of Types IV-A, IV-B, and IV-C construction. Buildings of Types IV-A, IV-B, and IV-C construction designed to be greater than six stories above grade plane shall comply with the following requirements during construction unless otherwise approved by the fire code official.

  1. Standpipes shall be provided in accordance with Section 3313.
  2. A water supply for fire department operations, as approved by the fire official and the fire chief.
  3. Where building construction exceeds six stories above grade plan, at least one layer of noncombustible protection where required by Section 602.4 of the International Building Code shall be installed on all building elements more than 4 floor levels, including mezzanines, below active mass timber construction before erecting additional floor levels.
  4. Exception: Shafts and vertical exit enclosures shall not be considered a part of the active mass timber construction.
  5. Where building construction exceeds six stories above grade plane required exterior wall coverings shall be installed on all floor levels more than 4 floor levels including mezzanines, below active mass timber construction before erecting additional floor level.

Exception: Shafts and vertical exit enclosures shall not be considered part of the active mass timber construction.

To ensure passive fire protection is maintained post-construction:

IFC Section 701.6 Owner’s responsibility (F88-18)

This section was revised to accommodate the new types of construction above, accepted into the International Building Code.

701.6 Owner’s responsibility. The owner shall maintain an inventory of all required fire-resistance-rated construction, construction installed to resist the passage of smoke and the construction included in Sections 703 through 707 and Sections 602.4.1 and 602.4.2 of the International Building Code. Such construction shall be visually inspected by the owner annually and properly repaired, restored, or replaced where damaged, altered, breached or penetrated. Records of inspections and repairs shall be maintained. Where concealed, such elements shall not be required to be visually inspected by the owner unless the concealed space is accessible by the removal or movement of a panel, access door, ceiling tile or similar movable entry to the space.

Project developers should meet with the local fire service to determine the fire department’s response needs for the specific building under construction and to discuss job site access. For more information on fire codes and standards, proper fire prevention pre-cautions, and securing a job site, explore the Construction Fire Safety Codes & Standards resources.

The 2021 IBC is expected to be released in late 2020, along with the full set of 2021 I-codes. If you have questions about these new code changes for construction fire safety, joining the coalition or speaking with us about a live training, please reach out. We’re here to help! Email me and we will work to set up an in-person presentation. Similarly, if you are conducting training, send me the information and we’ll promote it on our website.

Raymond O’Brocki, is the manager of fire service relations for the American Wood Council. Before that he was the chief building official for the City of Rockville, MD. He retired as the assistant fire chief the Baltimore City Fire Department in 2013. He was appointed fire marshal for Baltimore City in 2008. During his tenure as fire marshal, Baltimore City recorded the three lowest annual fire fatality totals in its history. O’Brocki has served on the Maryland State Child Care Advisory Council, Maryland State Fire Code Update Committee, State Fire Marshals Legislative Working Group in Annapolis and the steering committee for the Mid-Atlantic Life Safety Conference. He has served on the NFPA Urban Fire Safety Task Force and has presented at the National Fire Academy. Ray is currently a sitting member of the NFPA 1 technical committee. He is a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of law and a licensed attorney.