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Fire code issues still unresolved

The Falcon Fire Protection District received a letter dated Aug. 16 from Dennis Hisey, chairman of the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, urging the FFPD and other local fire districts to submit the 2009 International Fire Code to them for approval.Hisey said the Black Forest fire created an urgency to get the new fire code in place.ìPeople want to rebuild homes and they need to know how,î he said.The commissioners are worried that homeowners could be priced out of building a home. ìIf they say you have to pave the driveway so we (FFPD) can get in there in all weather conditions, now youíve kind of added enough cost so that many people arenít going to be able to afford that,î Hisey said.The 2009 IFC has been on the table for a couple years.The historyVernon Champlin, FFPD deputy chief and fire marshal, said the FFPD attempted to get approval for the fire code in December 2011, but the BOCC did not approve it. ìWeíve been very diligent,î Champlin said. ìFor the last two years, there has not been a month go by that I have not been involved in trying to get this code adopted.îAccording to minutes from the July 2010 FFPD board of directors meeting, the district began the process to adopt the 2009 IFC and the amendments that included a requirement for sprinklers to be installed in all structures, including residences, measuring 6,000 square feet or larger.In the April 2012 issue of The New Falcon Herald, Trent Harwig, FFPD fire chief, said, ìThis isnít a sprinkler requirement. Itís a water flow requirement. Sprinklers reduce the amount of water needed when the water system (the hydrants) cannot meet it.îAccording to the January 2012 issue of the NFH, Champlin and representatives from eight other agencies presented their proposal for local amendments to the 2009 IFC to the BOCC for their approval in December 2011. At that time, the BOCC continued the agenda item to their Jan. 17, 2012, meeting.A February 2012 NFH article reported that the BOCC voted to remove the 2009 IFC item from the agenda ìto allow for community discussion.î Amy Lathen, the then chairwoman of the BOCC, said they had adopted the 2006 IFC without community input, and she didnít agree with that practice.The minutes from the January 2012 FFPD board of directors meeting show that the BOCC had also directed the fire district to meet with representatives from the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs and the EPC Regional Building Department to discuss residential sprinkler requirements.Following meetings with the HBA, the FFPD submitted their proposal for the BOCCís agenda for the June 2012 meeting, but the Waldo Canyon fire ignited and the meeting was canceled. HBA and FFPDSince then, the FFPD and the HBA have gone back and forth on the issues and still havenít reached an agreement, Champlin said. There are a few sticking points that have kept the two entities from agreeing to the proposed amendments to the 2009 IFC, he said. The amendment calling for a sprinkler system for a structure of 6,000 square feet or more has been a contentious issue. ìFire flow (the amount of gallons per minute needed to put out a fire) is based on the construction classification and the total square footage of the structure,î Champlin said.The IFC includes a table indicating the fire flow amount needed to handle a structure of a certain size, located in a certain interface and made of a specific material, Champlin said.Based on the table, Champlin said that in a hydranted area the district could probably only deliver 1,500 gpm. The HBA didnít agree with that number, so the FFPD compromised and agreed on1,750 gpm as their water-delivery capabilities in such an area.ìLetís say that we can do 1,750 gpm in a hydranted area,î Champlin said. ìWood frame structures and steel frame structures are the vast majority of the structures in the area. We can do 1,750 gpm, which in a wood frame allows for up to 4,800 square feet (before requiring sprinklers) and for a steel frame allows for up to 7,900 square feet. We averaged those numbers and came up with 6,350.ìInstead of making the industry (builders and developers) go through it all, we just said 6,000 (square feet and above that need sprinklers).îFor areas without fire hydrants, like many of the newly-planned construction areas, Champlin said the National Fire Protection Association code No. 1142 requires that anything with a fire flow requirement over 500 gpm needs to have something, such as sprinklers, to meet the additional fire flow requirement.The 2009 IFC also identifies the application of the International Residential Code as it relates to the 2009 IFC.Mark Bussone, chairman of the HBAís code review board, said the code specifically states that the IFC does not apply to single-family homes and townhomes.ìWe are saying that the way this code is written ñ and we also have the interpretation clarified by the International Code Council ñ the fire code does not pertain to residences of single-family one and two units built under the 2009 IRC,î Bussone said. ìThey talk to each other, but they donít pertain to each other.îChamplin said it is clear that the residential code must defer to the 2009 IFC in relation to access and fire flow. In other words, the IFC trumps the residential code, and he said that is in line with the International Code Council.On Sept. 20, the HBA sent a letter to the FFPD stating their ìfinal position.î The HBAís stance on the sections of the code pertaining to structure size and fire flow did not allow for any amendments. The HBA letter also stated the need for an exception to the code as it is written. That exception defines a ìresidential developmentî as opposed to ìindividual private properties.î Under the exception, the IFC would not apply to developments with four or fewer structures.In a letter drafted by Champlin Sept. 24 and subsequently submitted to the HBA, the position of the FFPD regarding structure size and fire flow was that it would keep the code as written. However, taking into account automatic-aid fire response agreements from neighboring jurisdictions, the district increased its fire flow capabilities to 2,000 gpm as an attempt to compromise with the HBA.Next up ñ BOCCAt the Sept. 25 meeting, the FFPD board of directors unanimously approved the IFC and amendments. They plan to bring the IFC before the BOCC in November.Bussone said, ìThe district can do whatever they want and propose to their board whatever they want. Then that code is put in front of the BOCC.îChamplin said the HBAís recommendations would make the code in special districts like Falcon ìless restrictive than Colorado Springs, with less capabilities, less staffing and less equipment.îìWhen they (the FFPD) bring it to us, weíll debate it and look at the facts,î Lathen said. ìWhen the HBA comes in, theyíll have their opinion and FFPD will have theirs, and we will look at the facts from both sides and make a decision from that. Itís not about favoritism at all.ìItís about safety, it always is. But weíre not going to overregulate or make a policy based on emotion. Weíve got to balance all of it with public policy.î

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