Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has signed legislation establishing a new Fire Code for the City of New York, effective July 1, 2008. It is the first comprehensive revision since the City’s Fire Code was adopted in 1913. The Fire Code, enforced by the Fire Department, governs emergency preparedness and planning and more specifically the permit and inspection process for the use of building safety systems such as sprinklers, fire detectors, and extinguishers.
The new fire code improves public and emergency responder safety by establishing new permit requirements, requiring more detailed fire and safety evacuation plans, requiring a fire safety program and manager on construction sites, clarifying the existing requirement that fire safety systems in temporarily unoccupied buildings be maintained, providing for rooftop access and elimination of rooftop obstructions, and regulating toxic and other hazardous materials. The Code also requires a review every three years to ensure that it is continuously updated to reflect technological advancements and improved experience.
Many of the new provisions might pertain to tragedies like the Deutsche Bank fire last August, where the fire safety system, including the building’s standpipes, was not fully maintained while it was being taken down floor by floor.
The new fire code is a product of work begun in 2004, when the Fire Department established the Fire Code Revision Committee, comprised of technical experts within the Fire Department, senior representatives of the Buildings and City Planning Departments, elected officials, engineering and architectural professionals, real estate developers, building managers, manufacturers and labor officials.
The new Fire Code is based on an International Model Code that has been adopted in hundreds of jurisdictions around the country. The new Code is also more transparent – a result of its improved organization, adoption of national standards, and extensive cross-referencing with the new Building Code and other construction codes.
This transparency will promote Code compliance and economic development in the City by making it easier for design professionals and affected property owners, businesses and other members of the public to understand their obligations under the law. Some changes to the Building Code are as follows:
1. Scissor stairs not allowed in buildings of more than twelve stories. New stairwells will have to be wider, to up to 44 inches from 36 and sheathed in impact-resistant Sheetrock.
2. Indoor staircase risers that are, the upright back on each step may have no more than four inches of their height open, and handrails must have vertical uprights.
3. Direct keyed entry – no longer permitted to lofts and offices from elevators. Elevators must now open into a vestibule, an arrangement that’s deemed safer in a fire.
4. Smoke detectors – Individual smoke detectors are not allowed in bedrooms and hallways of newly constructed apartments they’ll have to be wired together.
5. Expands construction safety– Safety managers or coordinators are required on site at every construction site of a building ten stories or taller. Crane operations will likewise require safety specialists. Sidewalk sheds with scaffolding overhead now need to be designed by an actual engineer, not a requirement until now.
6. Automatic sprinkler requirements – expanded to other types of occupancies such as large places of assembly, factories, and fuel storage areas. Sprinkler systems will be required in residential buildings of three units or more, in attached two-family homes, and even in single-family homes of over three stories.
7. Standpipe systems – Enhanced design of standpipe systems in high-rises to provide substantial in-house water reserves for more efficient firefighting.
8. Enhanced structural integrity requirements – Updates wind load requirements to reflect location, surroundings, and occupancy factors; establishes stronger connectivity requirements to enable buildings to better withstand extreme events; introduces structural integrity design methods to protect structural key elements in areas containing high-pressure gas and in large buildings with unique structural designs.
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