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Chapter 33 of the International Fire Code Poised for a Makeover

Raymond O’Brocki

June 3, 2021

When it comes to Chapter 33 of the IFC, I think we can all agree on a few things. The chapter, which deals specifically with construction fire safety, is thorough and detailed. Its provisions have clearly proven over time to help prevent the start and spread of fires at construction sites nationwide.

But there is also universal agreement that the code is difficult to enforce, in large part because those charged with enforcement find it cumbersome, confusing, and disjointed. As one person described it to me recently, “it reads like one long stream of consciousness.”

Well, help is hopefully on the way.

During its most recent meeting in May, the ICC Fire Code Action Committee (FCAC) voted unanimously to reorganize Chapter 33 in the IFC.    

The goal or the reorganization is two-fold: Provide a more user-friendly roadmap so code enforcers can effectively and efficiently do their job, and to close the enforcement gap.

The consensus of the FCAC – comprised of fire marshals, fire chiefs and fire protection engineers – is that there are enough codes on the books. Now is not the time to add more. This view is also shared by the Construction Fire Safety Working Group, which was established by FCAC.

In 2020 and 2021, FCAC held a series of virtual meetings open to any interested party. The working group also held multiple meetings to discuss, develop and debate the proposed changes.

As a result, the reorganization will not include any new sections, none of the existing sections have been struck and importantly, no new requirements have been added and there is no reason to believe the changes will increase or decrease construction costs. The reorganization proposal groups similar code provisions in the same general area in a logical framework and under applicable section names, though some main section heading titles have been deleted after being deemed unnecessary.

So, what’s next?

The public comment phase begins in mid-September and all interested parties will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. At some point, the ICC will have the opportunity to approve the FCAC recommendation, modify it based on public comments or simply reject it.

The reorganization of Chapter 33 and the process of enshrining it in the code will hopefully put the code requirements and provisions back on the radar screens for the officials charged with enforcing it and keeping construction sites, property, and human lives safer.

Anyone with questions can contact me, or for those interested in taking a deeper dive into the reorganization and process can review documentation and reports at the FCAC website at: https://www.iccsafe.org/products-and-services/i-codes/code-development/cs/fire-code-action-committee-fcac/.