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Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code [13 VAC 5 ‑ 51]
Action Update the Statewide Fire Prevention Code
Stage Final
Comment Period Ends 6/29/2018
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6/12/18  10:30 am
Commenter: Anthony McDowell, president, Va Fire Chiefs Assoc

Attachment 2 to VFCA petition
 

Dear Chairman Ainslie:

 

This letter is the second of two companion documents intended to support the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association’s petition to the Board of Housing and Community Development to reconsider its approval of the Statewide Fire Prevention Code, as published on April 30, 2018 in the Register of Regulations.

 

As noted under that petition, we have requested the Board reconsider their approval of those sections and allow only the consensus document created by workgroup 2 that consists of Chapters 1-10 be adopted, and that all other provisions that were removed in the subsequent chapters and sections be reinserted to allow time for consensus to be reached in the next code cycle. If the Board still feels that a total rewrite during this code cycle is necessary, we would respectfully request additional time to allow the stakeholder review process to finish its consensus work which will ensure a workable Statewide Fire Prevention Code that will protect all the citizens of the Commonwealth.

 

Because of the word limit allowed in posting public comments, we are submitted these two separate letters that provide specific examples of the problems associated with the Final Regulations as approved.  These examples do not constitute a comprehensive assessment of the full document, but rather provide a sample of the most egregious and concerning issues in the Statewide Fire Prevention Code as proposed.

 

The following are examples from Chapters 9 through the end:

 

Chapter 9 Issues:

 

901.4 1 – This section requires the system to be “maintained in accordance with the original installation standards for that system”. The installation standard provides the regulation as to how the system is to be constructed and installed. The installation standard does not have any maintenance requirements or provisions and is in conflict with other sections of the code which note NFPA as the maintenance standard.

901.4.1 – Adds additional confusion to 901.4 when this section says “maintained in accordance with this code”.

(N) 901.4.1; (N) 901.4.3; (N) 901.4.6 – The N designation seems to indicate this is only in the appendix N, but these are clearly needed and enforceable provisions of the SFPC. See section 901.4.2 as the proper notation.

901.5.1 – This substantial change prohibits the fire official from prohibiting occupancy of a partially approved and constructed building. This prevents the fire official from correcting a dangerous situation.

901.5 (unchanged from IFC) and 901.5.2 – The FSB added section 901.5.2 to address those issues which are not part of the USBC. And in consort with an edit to 901.5, pulled those things from 901.5 which were USBC provisions and added them to 901.5.2. These things now seem to be regulated and tested twice rather than a single acceptance test.

905.6.2 – The “(N)” preceding this section seems to indicate this section is moving to the appendix N, but nothing is stricken. The format of the Final Regulations is confusing.

907.2.3 – This section was not deleted in the “consensus” changes that were approved by the C&S Committee on 10/18/17, and yet was deleted in the Final Regulations draft presented to the BHCD.

907.4.2.3 – “Approved” should be italicized.

907.6 compared to 907.6.3 – Note the differences in phrases “maintained in accordance with the applicable building code” and “maintained as provided in accordance with the applicable building code.” These two mean the same or do they?

909.18 – This section was not stricken in the draft presented to the BHCD – Book 7 dated 10.16/17 and should remain in the SFPC rather than in the appendix.

909.20.1 – The reference to chapter 9 here is inappropriate. Chapter 9 of the “applicable building code” may not have been addressing these systems. The model code does not specify where the maintenance provisions are spelled out, and a more generic statement is clearly appropriate due to its language in the model code.

Table 911.5 – The consensus document approved by the C&S Committee indicated “no change” and the table appears as deleted in the Final Regulations. The proposal reviewed by the BHCD on 10/16/17 did not include the deletion of the table.

 

Chapter 10 Issues:

 

Many of the Final Regulations in Chapter 10 indicate (N) in front of the code section. This implies these appendix provisions were edited to be enforceable provisions of the SFPC. It seems the following sections are not included in the SFPC but the appendix:

Based on the (N) indicating material dedicated for the appendix, the only provision of chapter 10 will be 1001 and 1003.3. All other sections of this chapter have the (N) designation.

(N) 1003.1 – The scope of the chapter has changed dramatically from addressing simply the elements of the means of egress to the entire building.

(N) 1010.1.9.3 – Deletion of this section removes an operational component that allows fire code officials to have flexibility and work with building occupants to ensure safety and security of their buildings. This section has been used extensively to allow businesses to lock egress doors without having to install panic type hardware to ensure the usability of the exit. This will now require doors to only comply with the building code under which it was constructed and remain in continuance as installed.

1003.4 – Floor surfaces were clearly defined in the IFC as “walking surfaces of the means of egress shall have a slip resistant surface and be securely attached” The new language is vague and opens up the interpretation of “slip and trip hazards” to the individual inspector rather than clear narrowly scoped language related to the specific surface.

1004.1 (and subsequent sections) – Without these provisions, the fire official has no authority or prescriptive regulation to adjust the occupant load from that established by the designer. Many times the occupant load is adjusted to meet the needs of the occupant to accommodate added occupants (removal of fixed seating) or reduction in occupants (if exits are blocked or floor area reduced). The removal of these provisions prohibit the ability of the fire code official to exercise judgment based on the environment or customer need.  Additionally, when determining the occupant loads, the charts and tables which have been removed serve as guidance in determining compliance.

1004.2 – Deleted section expressly prohibits the ability of the fire code official to exceed the designed occupant load even if enhanced fire safety provisions are in place. This would not be able to be modified by local amendment as reverting back to the model code language would be less stringent and not permitted.

1004.5 – Outdoor areas – Outdoor areas not associated with a structure are not regulated by the building code. This would allow unlimited occupancy to a patio that is connected to a business, but not regulated by the USBC.

1005.7 – Changes to this section only would prohibit items that are associated with a building element with the new language and deletion of sub sections. Doors that are modified to not open fully, or obstructions to their swing would not be a violation even though they would reduce the egress width. The issue here would be the trashcan behind a door, while limiting the door swing, would not violate the SFPC, but based on this new language be a violation of the USBC, however the building official has no authority or ability to inspect for or correct these issues.

Throughout Chapter 10, there are multiple references to components of the Means of Egress being “maintained in accordance with the applicable building code”. We believe this phrase – used in several sections of the proposed Final Regulations will create confusion. There are no maintenance provisions in the building code, the applicable building code may not have referenced the maintenance standards that are currently required, and a legal question is created since the fire code is enforced as a present regulation and not retroactively.

 

Chapter 21 Issues:

2107.2 – completely deletes the prohibition of solvent tanks below grade as well as the exception and doesn’t even reference back to the applicable building code

2107.2.3 – deletes references to proper spill control; no maintenance requirements for spill control in the applicable building code.  This is operational, not construction.

Chapter 23 Issues:

2303.1 – removes technical guidance for proper location of dispensing devices (often these can be portable and are not covered under the building code)

2306.8.6 – removes requirement for compatibility between products and equipment; existing state amendment

2306.2.3 – removes guidance or indication of the requirements regarding location of outdoor tanks

2306.2.4.1 – deletes tank capacity limits with no reference to MAQ or applicable building code

2306.2.6 – removes guidance for special situation and leaves the term “special enclosure” undefined and unclear as to what it is addressing.

2306.6.2.6 – removes any requirement for spill containers, including portable, and any indication as to the hazard or how to protect against it

2306.8.2 through 2306.8.4 – deletes fire code official approval; deletes signage requirements; operational issues, not construction

2307.7 – removes item 6 and 7 regarding signs and maintenance of area around the dispenser.

2309.2 – makes it unclear if all hydrogen equipment is required to be listed or only if regulated by the building code

Chapter 24 Issues:

2403.2.1.3 – This section regulates equipment outside of the spray booth – electrical cords, motors, hand tools, etc. that are not within the scope of the USBC. As proposed, anything that is not regulated by the USBC would be allowed within the 5 feet of a spray booth where flammable gases may be located. This section is provided in the model code to prevent sources of ignition from being close to the openings of these booths to limit the sources of ignition in flammable gas areas.

2404.3.2.5 – The intent of the model code in this section is for the purposes of keeping the area free of storage of combustibles AND “so that all parts of the booth are readily accessible for cleaning”. The change proposed in the Final Regulations will allow non-combustible storage in areas that will require cleaning and inspections to ensure there is no build-up of flammable finishes. This change increases the risk for fires in and around spray operations.

2407.1 – The proposal deletes a very clear directive and safety provision in that “spraying operations cannot be conducted unless the ventilation system is in operation.” This revision of the language is confusing.

2404.7.8 – Proposed regulations remove critical certification standards for the performance of intake filters. The model code requires UL 900 certification for Class I or Class II combustible atmospheres. These requirements have been removed.

Chapter 25 Issues:

2504.1 – The model code requires all sources of ignition to be controlled and protected from the flammable gases that are associated with fruit and crop ripening operations. The proposed regulation will limit this control of those sources of ignition from ANY source, to only those sources regulated by the USBC. Open flames, smoking, cooking operations, candles, and any other source of ignition would not be prohibited in these dangerous areas as they are not regulated by the building code.

Chapter 27 Issues:

2703.2 – The model code address all electrical wiring and equipment within the hazard area. Hand tools, electronics, phone systems, radios etc. are not regulated by the building code, but are intended to be regulated here due to the hazardous conditions presented and flammable atmospheres likely to occur. Removing the provision of this section will eliminate the fire code official ability to require electronic equipment to meet the explosive resistance required in NFPA 70 thus adding risk to the workspace. This may also allow a non-compliant OSHA condition to be created as well.

2704 – All of this section dealing with storage is beyond the scope of the USBC and should not be modified. These are operational issues, include the maximum allowable quantity, which may not have been identified in the construction of the building.

Chapter 28 Issues:

2803.4 – This provision deals with more than just building systems and requires all electrical equipment – hand tools and the like – be compliant with NFPA 70. Those items not regulated by the USBC would in fact become not regulated.

Chapter 32 Issues:

3208.2 – The proposed regulation indicates, “where automatic sprinklers are provided, they shall be maintained in accordance with the applicable building code.” This creates confusion as Chapter 9 directs all inspection testing and maintenance of water based fire protection systems to be done in accordance with NFPA 25. Additionally, there are no maintenance provisions in the USBC and the language here as in all other parts of the Final Regulations where the phrase is used will create confusion.

3208.3.1 – The addition of the heighted text here is problematic, “where required by the fire code official, flue spaces required by the applicable building code…”. The fire code official does not have the authority to enforce the USBC. The Final Regulations here take out the reference in the model code that outlines when the fire code official can take action on protection of a flue space in high piled storage. The Final Regulations as published are unenforceable.

Chapter 50 - 67 issues:

The regulation of hazardous materials –in the handling, storage, and use – is not within the application of the USBC. The USBC notes in section 103.1, “In accordance with Section 36-99 of the Code of Virginia, the USBC shall prescribe building regulations to be complied with in the construction and rehabilitation of buildings and structures, and the equipment therein.” [emphasis added]. This clearly does not include materials, chemicals, emergency planning, evacuation drills, or anything else that falls within the scope of the Statewide Fire Prevention Code.

In contrast, the SFPC’s purpose as stated in 101.3 is, to provide for statewide standards to safeguard life and property from the hazards of fire or explosion arising from the improper maintenance of life safety and fire prevention and protection materials, devices, systems and structures, and the unsafe storage, handling, and use of substances, materials and devices, including explosives and blasting agents, wherever located.” [emphasis added]. It’s clear when held side by side, the provisions in chapter 50 of the SFPC are enforceable, and should not undergo such heavy amendments in the absence of a clear problem with the code. This entire chapter should be left as is in the model code or with existing state amendments until further evaluation of the proposed changes can be fully evaluated and only those construction provisions are removed.

Chapter 60 Specific Issues:

Various changes in this chapter were not reviewed at the workgroup meetings. Three sections (two of which were unchanged at the time of the WG review), were reviewed on 8/26/16 meeting: 6004.1.1; 6003.2.5; 6004.1.1.1. Sections now modified in the Final Regulations include 6001.1; 6003.1 (2 sections); 6004.2.2.6; 6004.2.2.8 (2 sections)

6004.1.2 (5) – Change is not consistent with other SFPC rewrite changes and points to a deleted section of the code.

6004.2.1.1 – This section points to a deleted group of tables in chapter 50.

6004.3.2.1.2 – Several sections related to methods of construction were retained and are not consistent with the purpose of the SFPC rewrite.

Chapter 61 Specific Issues:

There were two sections reviewed at the workgroup meeting on 8/26/16. The following sections were modified without workgroup review or input:

6103; 6104; 6108; 6109

6103.3.1 – The reference to these systems being maintained in accordance with the code under which they were installed is inconsistent with other changes and does not reference maintenance standards for these systems.

Chapter 62 Specific Issues:

There were only two sections reviewed at the workgroup meetings based on the summaries published from the final workgroup meeting on 8/26/16, and there were no changes noted to those sections.

The following sections were modified and not reviewed according to the workgroup summaries: 6203.1 and 5 additional subsections; 6203.2; 6204 and 12 additional subsections.

Chapter 63 Specific Issues:

There were only three sections reviewed at the 8/26/16 workgroup meeting.

There were 17 sections modified and four tables deleted in the Final Regulations which were not reviewed by the workgroups.

Chapter 64 Specific Issues:

There was only one section (6404.1.4) which was reviewed by the workgroup at the 8/16/16 meeting. There were 11 additional sections modified in the Final Regulations which have not been reviewed by the workgroup.

Chapter 65 Specific Issues:

There was only one section (6504.1.3) which was reviewed by the workgroup at the 8/16/16 meeting. There were two additional sections modified in the Final Regulations which have not been reviewed by the workgroup.

Chapter 66 Issues:

There were three sections which were reviewed by the workgroup at the 8/16/16 meeting. There were seven additional sections modified in the Final Regulations which have not been reviewed by the workgroup.

Chapter 67 Specific Issues:

There was only one section which was reviewed by the workgroup at the 8/16/16 meeting. There were eight additional sections modified in the Final Regulations which have not been reviewed by the workgroup.

6705.1 – Points to deleted sections of the SFPC.

 

These examples do not constitute a comprehensive assessment of the full document, but rather provide a sample of the most egregious and concerning issues in the Statewide Fire Prevention Code as proposed.

 

Sincerely,

Anthony E. McDowell

VFCA President