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NFPA 1:  When is Fire Department Access Required? #FireCodeFridays

Blog Post created by kristinbigda Employee on Jul 26, 2019

Special thanks to Zack Fischer, one the interns spending a summer at the NFPA working in our Technical Services and Engineering divisions, for his contributions to this blog. Zack is studying for his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and is scheduled to graduate in May 2020.

Without access to the situation, fire departments couldn’t do their job very well. They need access to every inch of the facility needing care. The overall idea of “fire department access” is whether or not a fire apparatus is able to access a building or facility close enough to effectively use fire hose lines, fire hydrants, and any other connections.

Fire department access requirements may vary all across the United States. To be sure what your state or counties fire access rules are, check your local fire prevention division and/or NFPA’s Code Finder. In NFPA 1, fire department access is addressed in Chapter 18, and provisions exist to allow fire departments to efficiently combat fire, keeping buildings and people safe. On top of the rules set in place by NFPA 1, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) may require additional fire protection requirements when necessary. They are also allowed to modify existing requirements in situations where standing requirements are onerous and impractical to meet.

Fire department access and fire department access roads must be providing as well as maintained in accordance with Section 18.2 of the Code. Regarding access to structures, the AHJ has the authority to require an access box(es) to be installed in an accessible location where access to or within a structure or area is difficult because of security. The access box(es) must be of an approved type listed in accordance with UL 1037, Standard for Antitheft Alarms and Devices. The AHJ also has the authority to require fire department access be provided to gated subdivisions or developments through the use of an approved device or system. The owner or occupant of a structure or area, with required fire department access must notify the AHJ when the access is modified in a manner that could prevent fire department access.

Fire department access roads must be up to code to provide effective firefighting and allowing for a quick response time. Before designing or determining compliance of the fire department access, the first step is to determine when and where the Code mandates these. (Check out this post to learn more about the design criteria and specifications required for fire department access roads.) In section 18.2.3, NFPA 1 requires approved fire department access roads be provided for every facility, building, or portion of a building constructed or relocated. Acceptable fire department access roads will consist of roadways, fire lanes, parking lot lanes, or a combination thereof. If any one of the following conditions exist, the AHJ may modify whether or not a fire department access road is required:

  1. One- and two-family dwellings protected by an approved automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 13.1 of NFPA 1
  2. Existing one- and two-family dwellings
  3. Private garages having an area not exceeding 400 ft2
  4. Carports having an area not exceeding 400 ft2
  5. Agricultural buildings having an area not exceeding 400 ft2
  6. Sheds and other detached buildings having an area not exceeding 400 ft2

The intent is to not require fire department access roads to detached gazebos and ramadas, independent buildings associated with golf courses, parks, and similar uses such as restrooms or snack shops that are 400 ft2 (37 m2) or less in area, and detached equipment or storage buildings for commercial use that are 400 ft2 (37 m2) or less in area. Interestingly, the Fire Code Technical Committee addressed an issue regarding fire department access as their First Draft meeting last fall, leading to a revision which was voted into the First Draft of the next edition of the Code (you can view the First Draft Report here). Where the Code now states that sheds and other detached buildings having an area not exceeding 400 ft2 may be exempt from fire department road access, the Technical Committee made a change as follows: “(6) Sheds and other detached buildings, not classified as a residential occupancy, having an area not exceeding 400 ft2”.   The proposed change addresses "tiny homes" and similar structures, therefore requiring the application of Sections 18.2.3.1 through 18.2.3.2.2.1 in the Code that otherwise may have exempted these structures from fire department access roads. The growing trend of 'tiny homes', which are residential occupancies, can create a hazardous situation where homes are located close together or where multiple homes are located on a single property. By calling out small detached buildings that are also residential occupancies, this ensures that their fire department access not be compromised.

In summary, almost every building is required to have one fire department access road. Some might even need additional ones if an AHJ says so. Many factors go into determining fire department access, from structure and road requirements to AHJ input. These factors are all listed in NFPA 1, and following these codes will provide safer living conditions and save lives!

As a fire inspector or AHJ enforcing NFPA 1, what issues have you seen with fire department access? Does the Code miss any scenarios that would beneficial to update or review to accommodate common compliance issues around fire department access? Comment below, we would like to hear from you!

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