International Building Codes (IBC) and Fire Prevention

When a fire occurs, it is essential that a well functioning fire detection and prevention system is in place. Early detection can help save lives and property from damage. However, it is not enough to merely detect the fire. The building itself should be designed to prevent fires and to keep them from spreading. A building must provide adequate access points, so firefighters can come in, and those who need to get out can do so quickly and efficiently. The International Building Code, or IBC, was developed by the International Code Council (ICC) as a model building code with fire prevention in mind. It has been adopted as standard building code regulation by most parts of the United States.

The IBC outlines how a building is to be constructed and designed in order to be fire resistant. Fire code, on the other hand, deals with the completed and occupied building and how to address fire prevention from that aspect. While the IBC will designate how many exits there are to be in a building, fire code will want those exits to remain unblocked. Both are essential aspects to fire prevention and detection. However, if a building is built with fire prevention in mind there is much less chance of an accidental fire occurring, or if it does occur, it should be able to be contained easily due to the design of the structure.

The IBC code book has over 700 pages, and discusses every aspect of building design. Chapters include building occupancy classifications, building heights and areas, interior finishes, materials used in construction, means of egress, commodities classification, and fire protection systems including detailed sprinkler system requirements and design. Smoke vent and exhaust system standards are also and important aspect of building design. Smoke and exhaust can occur because of fire but also from various aspects of manufacturing. If smoke and exhaust do not vent properly, it can pollute the inside of the building, causing harm to workers, or, if it is venting outside unrestrained, can cause air pollution.

Means of egress is an essential aspect of IBC standards. This is the means by which people enter and leave the building, and involves access points, doors, hallways, stairways and elevators. The path of travel to an exit, the exit itself and the exit discharge constitute the three main parts of the path. How many exit doors that are required and how the paths are set up depends on the nature of the buildings function and whether or not toxic or flammable chemicals will be in use at the building. A hospital, for example, has different requirements than a building used for plastics manufacturing.

When designing a building it is essential that the architect be familiar with the most current edition of the IBC. They are regularly published every 3 years. The most recent edition as of the date of this article, created in 2009, has significant changes compared to its 2006 predecessor. As technology increases, so does the risk of fire. In order to remain up to code, buildings must be prepared to deal with the new fire dangers to minimize risk to humans and property.


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