Changes to the International Fire Code

Proposed code changes point to more industry scrutiny.

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Proposed changes to the International Fire Code (IFC) and International Building Code (IBC) have the potential to affect tent rental companies and manufacturers at every level. Tom Markel, owner of Bravo Events, Buffalo, N.Y., and William Fitch, P.E., principal, Phyrefish Consulting, Miami, Fla., have represented the Tent Rental Division (TRD) of IFAI at public hearings this year in Dallas, Phoenix and Chicago, as the International Code Council (ICC) and its committees consider changes for the 2014-IFC.

The biggest change proposed is an attempt to create a new Chapter 17 in the IFC related to special events, including indoor and outdoor trade shows, outdoor mazes, indoor vehicle displays and vehicle demonstrations. While this proposal has been dismissed, Markel expects that there will be an attempt to adopt some form of it in the appendix and the next code cycle. The proposal includes provisions for trade shows to adhere to certain IBC regulations related to sprinkler systems, fire systems, smoke abatement, booth size and design, and more. “This is coming out of the western region, namely Phoenix and Las Vegas, and they feel that some of the concoctions are probably a little hazardous, so they wanted to change some of the code on that, which is probably not wrong, but then they push for any structure that’s holding a trade show to come up to the IBC regulations,” Markel says. “The tent industry will need to respond with a proposal covering temporary non-regular trade show buildings such as tents and warehouses that follow some guidelines but not to the extent of IBC Chapter 16.”

Additional proposals that affect the industry include:

  • F266-13. This proposed change would remove other temporary structures from Chapter 31 (Tents) and pass them back to the IBC. Markel had no objection to this proposal on behalf of TRD, because it doesn’t affect how tents are regulated. This action was approved at the April hearing.
  • F267-13. This proposal relates to potential changes in Chapter 31 of the IFC related to using tents as a special amusement building such as a haunted house. The proposed action would require that tents meet the same standards as a permanent building used for the same purpose, such as fire alarms, sprinkler systems, exits and so on. The action was disapproved at the April hearing; however, Markel is preparing an alternative in case the proposal is modified by a proponent. Under Markel’s alternative, tents for such purposes would be limited to 40 by 60 feet, or 2,400 square feet; four to five exits would be required depending on how the maze was designed; fire extinguishers would be required at every exit and staff instructed in how to use them; a smoke alarm would be required for every 600 square feet; and so on.
  • F268-13. Markel describes this proposal, which was disapproved at the April hearing, as the most worrisome to the industry. The proposal would have moved a sentence about providing documentation of structural stability from the “Anchorage” section and give it its own section. By removing it from “Anchorage,” the sentence would then require that documentation of structural stability for the entire tent be supplied upon request. In addition the proposal would have required IBC Chapter 16 structural design if a tent had an occupancy of more than 100; was being used for a Group A, E or I occupancy (most tent uses are Group A); was being used for a Group “R” (residential) occupancy of more than 50; or was more than one story. Markel says the proposal required that all tents be wind rated if they were being used for any of the above occupancies, rendering a lot of inventory and designs useless. He argued against the proposal, except for its application on clearspans that exceed one story since engineering is already available for that use.
  • F269-13. This proposal, approved with language modifications at the April hearing, relates to stages that support equipment and have more than 400 square feet of fabric as a canopy. It is in direct response to the 2011 stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair. The proposal would require such “temporary stage canopies,” as they are defined in the proposal, to be engineered, inspected and permitted by a fire code official, and it delineates the scope of engineering and inspection for each installation. In the case of a use of a tent as a stage cover without installation of any lighting or sound equipment, these requirements might become too expensive because of the required engineering certification, he says.

The final public hearing will be in Atlantic City, N.J., in October. The deadline for receipt of public comments on proposals to the IFC has passed. However, Markel says that tent manufacturers and renters can have their voices heard by becoming TRD members and encouraging other companies to do so as well. In addition to benefits such as the ballasting tool, membership dues go to funding TRD representation at these public hearings. “The dues are worth it, as we must stay engaged in the process if we intend to stay in business,” he says.

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