Re: Fire Safety Regulations: Good or Bad?

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Wed Jul 04 2001 - 11:29:18 MDT

Steve Davies wrote:
> >
> Mike Lorrey wrote
> >
> >> Without fire safety regs, large dense cities frequently had a huge
> >> devastating fire every few years or decades. One fire would cause untold
> >> deaths and the loss of thousands of homes and businesses. Today, each
> >> individual fire that occurs is generally contained within its building
> >> or within a small part of a building due to the required use of fire
> >> retardant matnerials, and deaths would be minor due to required
> >> installation of fire safety equipment (like extinguishers, fire escapes,
> >> smoke alarms, and public education).
> Daniel Unst replied
> >I would hazard to guess -- but confess ignorance here:) -- that, in the
> >past, most fires, too were small and contained. It wasn't like London
> >burned done once a decade. You make it sound as if it did.
> >
> >What we would need to do is find out if government fire codes have had the
> >impact you believe they have.
> When towns were built mainly of wood large fires were common (ie up to the
> 17th century). They became much less frequent as other materials were more
> widely used. However this didn't require government fire regulation codes,
> the same effect was achieved by insurers and by the use of restrictive
> covenants in building leases which stipulated that materials such as brick
> or stone be used in any construction. (The insurers also had their own fire
> engine sevices, interestingly). So this was achieved by voluntary agreement,
> as you say.

However, there is far more to building codes than just fire prevention:
earthquake, flood, hurricane, as well as simple accident prevention. The
building and fire codes that your local governments institute are not
conjured out of thin air. In fact, the original fire codes were, in
fact, instituted by insurance company fire chiefs and building
inspectors. Today, non governmental groups like the ICBO (International
Conference of Building Officials), BOCA, etc meet regularly to refine
their codes, which are called 'model codes': they have no weight of law,
but insurance companies rely on them, and most all state, county, and
local governments base their own building and fire codes on these model
codes, revising their own codes every 4-12 years as the groups issue new
versions with changes that have been debated and voted on by the members
from all over the country and the world.

These codes are not instituted by fiat, they are not promulgated out of
thin air. They are typically studied with detailed scientific
experiments, with reports issued and significant peer review done before
conclusions are drawn and proposed code changes are written based upon
the newest research.

I suggest that those interested in this attend an ICBO meeting (or one
of any other building code group). Subscribe to their publications,
which are as detailed as any scholarly journal.

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