The Fire Code is a comprehensive document for issues related to life safety from fire to building occupants, property protection, and enhanced emergency responder safety. In fact, there are 15 different items listed under the scope of the Code including but not limited to inspection of buildings, fire investigation, plans review, fire and life safety education, design, installation and maintenance of fire protection systems, storage and use of hazardous materials, conditions impacting fire fighter safety and the design and maintenance of egress systems. Together, the items addressed by the Code provide a single resource that can be utilized by a fire inspector during their day to day jobs.
Chapter 1 of the Code provides many of the ‘ground rules’ for the scope, application and enforcement of the Code. While Chapter 1 provides comprehensive provisions and direction on how the Code should be administered and enforced, these administrative procedures and requirements are frequently customized by the jurisdiction as part of the code adoption process. The remainder of the Code cannot be applied without first understanding the foundation set forth in the provisions of Chapter 1. For those familiar with some other NFPA codes and standards, Chapter 1 of NFPA 1 is quite a bit longer due to the scope of the Code and the responsibilities of a fire inspector.
One of those responsibilities with respect to the application of NFPA 1 is to issue permits. The Code requires a permit for more than 80 different types of operations and activities so a fire inspector must be aware of where and what activities are occurring in its jurisdiction that could affect fire and life safety. They are predicated upon compliance with the requirements of NFPA 1 and constitute written authority issued by the AHJ to maintain, store, use, or handle materials; to conduct processes that could produce conditions hazardous to life or property; or to install equipment used in connection with such activities. By requiring permits and approvals, the AHJ can ensure that the activities or operations are performed safely. In some jurisdictions, the AHJ may allow the permitting of some of these activities through other departments in the jurisdiction. As an example, the AHJ may allow all permits for new construction to be applied for and issued at the building department. In these circumstances, the AHJ still maintains the permit, plan review, and inspection authority granted in this Code.
Permits are sought via an application to the AHJ and may be accompanied by any data or information as required by the AHJ as well as the appropriate fee. AHJs have the responsibility to review all permit applications and issue permits as required. Where an application for a permit is rejected by the AHJ, the applicant is to be advised of the reasons for such rejection. The reasons for rejections should be detailed sufficiently so that the applicant can understand what actions are required to resubmit the permit application and potentially receive approval. Other permitting requirements include, but are not limited to the following (See also NFPA 1 Section 1.12 for all provisions related to permitting and approvals):
- The AHJ may require an inspection prior to issuance of a permit
- Permits issued under NFPA 1 can continue until revoked or for the period of time designated on the permit.
- Permits are issued to one person or business only and only for the location or purpose described in the permit application.
- Any change that affects any of the conditions of the permit requires a new or amended permit.
- Permit extensions may occur if the AHJ has been presented by the permittee an appropriate reason for failure to start or complete the work in the timeframe authorized by the original permit.
- A copy of the permit must be posted or readily accessible at each place of operation and is subject to inspection as specified by the AHJ
Permit activities regulated under NFPA 1 may also be regulated by other government bodies. One example is the installation of underground petroleum storage tanks. In many jurisdictions, a separate environmental protection agency may be charged with responsibility to review the environmental factors of petroleum storage tank installations. The AHJ for NFPA 1 may wish to withhold fire code permit approval until confirmation is received that an approval from the environmental permitting body has also been received. The fire code inspector however, is not to be held responsible for enforcement of the regulations of other regulatory agencies unless specifically mandate to enforce those agencies’ regulations. Where additional permits, approvals, certificates, or licenses are required by these other organizations, they must be obtained by the applicant before work on the activity can begin. The fire inspector/AHJ serves an invaluable role in the permitting process. Many activities and operations cannot start or continue without issuance of a permit, and without an AHJ approval there is no permit.
Those serving in a fire inspector role are required to meet the minimum professional qualifications established in NFPA 1031, Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Inspector and Plan Examiner. One way to accomplish this is with a Certified Fire Inspector (CFI) certification. These programs were created back in 1998 in response from local jurisdictions for a certification program based on the competencies in NFPA 1031. Starting in NFPA 1, 2018 edition, compliance with NFPA 1031 is mandated for all fire inspectors and plans examiners. The NFPA CFI I and CFI II certification programs are one way to demonstrate compliance with this requirement, promote professionalism in the role of a fire inspector, help demonstrate and understanding of the application and use of codes and standards, and improve job performance. For more information on these programs and how to enroll, visit their page.
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