Fire marshals are code experts, but they look to the tent industry for information.
The Tent Rental Division (TRD) of IFAI is an active participant in the code development process, submitting code proposals during the code revision cycle, attending and testifying at public hearings and serving as a resource to fire and code officials.
But TRD and individuals in the tent rental industry do not ultimately vote on tent codes. When code revisions are up for a vote, only International Code Council (ICC) governmental members and honorary members have the right to vote on the consensus document.
Those voters include members of the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM). While marshals are experts on the fire code, tents can be a challenge, says Jon Narva, NASFM director of external relations.
“Our association is made up of state fire marshals from all across the United States,” Narva says. “The marshals will often promulgate the code at the state level and help to enforce it with the local jurisdictions when needed.”
The NASFM Model Codes Committee is made up of about a half dozen marshals who pore over the fire code and code revision proposals, including codes related to tents and temporary membrane structures, Narva says.
“Our marshals’ expertise lies in the codes, but on the technology behind the materials or devices or process, we are always open and reaching out for information to help understand code proposals better from the industry experts,” he says.
Two areas of focus for NASFM related to tents are the ability of a structure to withstand wind and the potential for fire in the structure itself, Narva says.
“Marshals want to make sure the flammability of the tent is adequate and up to code, but also that there’s the proper amount of exiting for people to get out,” he says. “[Egress is] always such a large part of what a fire marshal does, whether at the state or local level.”
The NASFM Model Codes Committee reviews code revision proposals and decides whether to support, oppose or monitor individual proposals as they move through the code cycle, with “monitor” being the most common action, Narva says.
“Through the Model Codes Committee, we will put out [voting] recommendations and observations to all members of the association, which we then hope they share throughout their state,” he says.
Narva says that neither of the two code revision proposals TRD submitted this year raised red flags from a safety perspective. One TRD proposal addressed flame propagation and labeling. This proposal passed at the ICC Committee Action Hearing (CAH) in April, and unless it received comments during the public comment period, it will be part of the consensus document that will be up for a vote following the Public Comment Hearing (PCH) in October. The second TRD proposal addressed wind and anchoring requirements. This proposal, which would replace the structural engineering requirements in the 2018 Model Code with a table that sets minimum wind loads and documentation requirements based on a variety of factors, was disapproved at the CAH. However, it could be brought back through public comments or revised and reintroduced in a future code cycle.
On both the code revision level and the local enforcement level, fire marshals are looking for communication, industry information and clear installation documentation from tent professionals, Narva says.
“It’s important that the marshals have a clear understanding of what they can expect when they get a request to set up a tent,” he says. “That’s true whether it’s a 1,000-square-foot tent or a 5,000-square-foot tent. It’s not something we deal with on a daily basis. So any guidance and assistance from the tent industry is greatly appreciated, and we value the industry input as we are working through codes.”