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March  2004



Height and Area Tables Under Discussion
A Balanced Approach Works Best in Life Safety
by Michael Fischer

One of the key issues for the interior fire door members of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) is the debate over height and area tables found in the International Building Code (IBC). This may provide overly relaxed safety conditions for buildings constructed under the IBC which use sprinklers as a means of fire protection. 

Working with Key People
WDMA worked with the Alliance for Fire Safety (AFS) during adoption processes in several states to try to protect the passive fire product industry. WDMA has stressed a balanced approach to fire safety during testimony at hearings, most recently in Florida. When I spoke to the fire technical advisory committee (TAC) of the Florida Building Commission during a work session held in December in Orlando, Fla., I advised them that WDMA is taking the position that the discussion should not be of active versus passive fire protection, but active and passive. This means we must use the best of both approaches in combination to provide a safe-built environment. Other industry representatives expressed similar viewpoints.

The Florida TAC likely will follow the example of Louisiana in adopting height and area tables more consistent with existing codes. Florida is moving to adoption of the IBC, but is considering technical differences and reviewing its potential impact on the next Florida Code. It is ironic that in the case of fire safety, Florida, long known as a leader in wind-resistant construction codes, would rely on Louisiana’s approach. 

Proposed Amendments
Following are aspects of the model codes, according to the AFS, where increased use of fire-resistant construction and/or smoke-resistant features could enhance fire safety for building occupants and firefighters:
• Height and area tables;
• Rated construction: non-load bearing interior partitions;
• Egress corridors;
• Higher, fire-resistant types of construction: fire-resistant ratings;
• Fire wall ratings;
• Two-story unlimited-area 
• Tenant separations;
• Exterior wall ratings;
• Fire area concept;
• High-rise buildings: fire-resistant ratings;
• High-rise buildings: smoke 
• Area thresholds for mandatory sprinklers; 
• Smoke control in one- or two-story mall buildings;
• Double sprinkler trade-offs (permitted increases in height and area);
• Unprotected vertical openings: two-story buildings;
• Anchor buildings separations for malls; and
• Occupancy systems: one hour sprinkler trade-offs. 

Raising Awareness
The AFS, an activity of the Alliance for Fire and Smoke Containment and Control (AFSCC), is a broad effort by the passive fire industry designed to raise awareness of the need for balanced design in dealing with fire and smoke safety.

WDMA recently joined the AFSCC as a way to provide both support and coordination in this effort. In fact, during the fall ICC code hearings several 
industry representatives worked together to coordinate testimony strategy. 

The discussion about the height and area tables is not that different than other safety debates. The need for a balanced approach to safety solutions runs parallel to many of the issues facing window and door manufacturers. Whether we are discussing child falls from windows, safety glazing or emergency escape and rescue problems, the best solution is often striking a balance between the various features of our products to provide the best and safest possible benefit to our end users.

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