ICC Disapproves Two Fire-Resistance Code Change Proposals
May 17, 2010

The International Code Council (ICC) did not approve the proposed change to the International Building Code’s (IBC) Means of Egress section that would have mandated both automatic sprinklers and one-hour fire-rated exit corridors be used in educational occupancies with fire areas greater than 12,000 square feet (E113/09-10). Glass industry professionals have long debated the importance of using proactive solutions, such as fire-rated glazing materials, as well as reactive systems, such as sprinklers, in public buildings. CLICK HERE to read an article from USGlass on the importance of using fire-rated building materials, including glass, and sprinkler systems in new construction.

Currently, educational occupancies with fire areas less than 12,000 square feet (typically small schools often in rural areas) are not required to include automatic sprinkler systems, though one-hour fire-rated exit corridors are required. In fire areas exceeding 12,000 square feet, however, the code does require the installation of automatic sprinklers, but the one-hour fire-rated exit corridor requirement is eliminated. (CLICK HERE for more information.)

In disapproving the action, the code hearing committee had reasoned that removing the trade-off for sprinklers versus fire-rated corridors would result in many more schools designed without sprinklers. According to the committee:

Sprinklered schools are safer during a fire event than schools with rated corridors. The antidotal data vs. the NFPA data does not justify the significant increase in the cost of construction. In addition there will be issues with maintaining the fire resistance rating of the walls especially to automatic closers on the doors being in-place and functional. The fire doors with automatic closers will be a problem for access to classrooms. This would also require rated corridors in day care facilities, which would be excessive. Information was not provided for the justification for the 30 occupant exception for the proposed ratings.

The committee further noted that the change proponents continually referred to the possibility of a fire event during a lockdown situation, which led the committee to rule:

Rating of a corridor is a means of egress issue, not a security issue. Rated corridors will not protect students from terrorists during a lockdown situation. If there is a concern for a fire event during a lock-down that needs to be addressed with the emergency responders in the fire and safety evacuation plans, not through a corridor rating.

In addition, there are other safety concerns in schools. Schools commonly have doors with vision panels and sidelights for observation of the classrooms and student/teacher interaction. Requiring rated doors at these locations would either significantly raise the costs for the opening protective and/or result in solid doors without this necessary observation feature.

The code hearing committee likewise disapproved a proposal to require Category III and IV buildings in hurricane prone and seismic areas to include one-hour fire resistance rated corridors (E114-09/10).

The code hearing committee reasoned:

Buildings in earthquake and hurricane areas are already designed to a higher standard, therefore this rated corridor requirement is not needed. Structural robustness is not related to fire-resistance-rated corridors. Technical justification was not providing indicating that the fire incidences are higher for the specified buildings in earthquake and hurricane areas. This would require rated corridors in schools, police stations, fire stations, all emergency shelters (i.e., churches, schools, community centers, football stadiums). This would be a serious operational issue for Group I-2 functions where this would require rated corridors.

The ICC’s code change proposal hearings take place this week through May 23 in Dallas. Stay tuned to USGNN.com™ for code change hearing updates.

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