New Jersey is known for a wealth of assets—its regional diversity from forests to beautiful beaches, arts and music, its rich history, and you can add “a commitment to fire safety codes” to the list. We’ve been incredibly proactive with code adoption for a long, long time, and that continues this year, as we’re in the process of adopting the 2015 editions of the International Building Code and International Residential Code. Considering we’re implementing these 2015 codes as well as the 2013 edition of the NFPA standards (which are the most current), I can confidently say we’re on the leading edge of code compliance.
New Jersey has a mandate to uphold our fire protection standards, so we always look to past codes when employing new codes to ensure we’re not reducing requirements. If we’ve set up an alarm and sprinkler system under the old codes, we ensure the new codes maintain that same level of protection. To this end, sometimes we intervene and don’t adopt a less-rigorous section of the code or we modify a specific section; that’s why it’s critical for end users to always make sure they’re applying our adopted New Jersey codes.
So what are the new 2015 standards we’re adopting? Let’s take a look:
• Low frequency: In occupancies where sleeping accommodations are provided, the pre-alert tone must include a low-frequency component of 520 Hz square wave range to accommodate the needs of the hearing impaired for fire voice messages and emergency communication messages. This will have a critical impact on life safety because the low-frequency signal is 6 to 10 times more effective at waking hearing-impaired children and young adults than the standard 3 KHz audible fire alarm signal.
• Limits on SLCs: A new standard will limit how far a signaling line circuit (SLC) can be extended in a building. The policy says that a single fault on a pathway connected to addressable devices cannot cause the loss of more than 50 addressable devices. Instead of running a SLC through an entire building, end users now won’t lose a significant part of a building. There’s been a lot of discussion about whether 50 devices is the right number, are there alternative methods, so an amendment could be coming down the pike.
• Point identification: For multistory buildings that exceed 22,500 square feet, point identification will be required. It will now be easier for fire service personnel to locate a fire when they arrive at a building. Instead of the fire system simply indicating that the incident is on the second floor, this code requires identification of the specific room. Also, this will benefit the fire alarm industry; when users troubleshoot a problem, it’s a lot more convenient to know that it came from a specific detector or device. It’s a win-win however you look at it.
• Sensitivity testing for addressable systems: Currently, if you have a conventional system that requires sensitivity testing, you have to literally go to every device in the first year of installation, then again in the third and fifth years. Well, that’s a big back-end cost for property owners who have to manually administer sensitivity testing. However, addressable systems automate that process, so it will be a massive savings for property owners as well as benefiting fire service with fewer nuisance alarms.
• Voice Evacuation: The 2012 I Codes started the trend and the proposed 2015 codes carry forward the proliferation of Voice Evacuation Fire Alarm Systems in a multitude of uses, not just high rises. Voice provides building owners flexibility far beyond that found in conventional notification. First and foremost is Mass Notification especially in sensitive locations such as schools and health care. Coupled with Alternate Uses, the code section that allows non-emergency paging, Voice Systems eliminate the need for separate paging systems.
Despite being a leader in code adoption, we are still learning every day about fire safety in New Jersey. Just consider the recent devastating fire at the Edgewater apartment complex and the aftermath from that tragedy. We always continue to take a strong look at things; even though a standard is permitted, we question whether that should be allowed moving forward.
It’s a matter of public consensus—what risk tolerance does the public have? We want every building sprinkled, alarmed and made out of concrete, but we all know that’s not going to happen. We have to look at the will of the people, consensus, and that’s why code comment periods have been so helpful to us over the years.
So what standards has your state adopted this year? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.
About the Author
John Drucker, CET, serves as the Assistant Construction Official and Fire Protection Subcode Official for the Borough of Red Bank, New Jersey. Prior to joining government service, Drucker spent 15 years with Siemens Fire Safety as a field technician and operations manager, culminating as project manager at the World Trade Center from 1993 to 2001—a role which involved the design, installation, maintenance and repair of one of the largest fire detection and voice evacuation systems covering approximately 10 million square feet of floor space.