Re: Fire Safety Regulations: Good or Bad?

From: Mike Lorrey (
Date: Thu Jul 05 2001 - 07:03:33 MDT

Technotranscendence wrote:
> On Wednesday, July 04, 2001 10:19 AM Mike Lorrey wrote:
> >> I think there's a big difference between the two -- between "government
> >> fiat" and "insurance requirements." The latter is voluntary, the former
> >> mandatory.
> >
> > Yes, but the difference is irrelevant to this particular debate.
> I don't think so. John M. Cobin's point is that government mandated codes
> have a different effect than privately evolved ones. In particular, he
> brings up two theories of why this might be is so:
> 1. "Regulation is a public choice phenomenon that primarily serves special
> interests."

In my direct personal experience, the only special interests in the
building code process that gain do so by resisting new codes, and those
are the owners and developers groups.

Product manufacturers do benefit when new codes mandate their products,
this is true, however building code professionals generally disregard
the studies done by businesses which present their products in the best
light, waiting for independent scientists to issue rulings. In fact,
they will rely on the indedpendent science EVEN when that science can be
shown to be faulty, rather than to rely upon business generated science.

> 2. "Regulation is unlikely to increase safety efficiently, and perhaps not
> effectively, because it is always constrained by inadequate local
> knowledge."
> (See, the section "Theories
> about safety regulation.")

I would strenuously disagree with this. Local building and fire
officials are the ones directly involved in the code promulgation
process at the model, state, and local levels. Architects and engineers
are required by their state licensing boards to take continuing
education classes that deal with new building code changes and additions
to maintain their licenses.
While some local officials choose to interpret regs in their own
fashion, such rulings can be easily appealed to higher levels for more
accurate interpretations.

> >> But Cobin does go over just this point in the third section of the essay
> >> ( when discussing Santiago's
> >> building code: "The legislation was designed to establish compulsory
> >> construction norms for minimum and maximum building height and the
> selection
> >> of building materials, plus a means to retard the propagation of
> fires..."
> >> This code was put into place in 1929, "after a disastrous earthquake
> struck
> >> Talca [another Chilean city] in 1928..."
> >
> > Yes, but the fact that he bases his initial premise so faultily condemns
> > the whole exercise.
> Wrong! You are making two assumptions here. One is that you can dismiss a
> whole essay based on the abstract. This leads me to ask, did you even
> bother to read it?

I read part of it and gave up because it was framed on so faulty a

> The other is that Cobin's abstract actually contradicts your belief about
> "fire safety regs" being made to "The purpose is to reduce the overall
> damage and death toll of each individual fire." I don't see how this
> contradicts his abstract. In fact, that he focuses on structural fires
> throughout the essay, kind of tells me that he kind of has this in mind.
> Are you just looking for a way to disagree here?

No. The problem is that Cobin considers the standard fire of today to be
the standard fire of yesterday. 100+ years ago, if fires were not
immediately tended to with citizen bucket brigades, they quickly
expanded to entire city blocks, completely unmanagable by fire companies
when they finally arrived on the scene. Even as far back as the Roman
era, Crassus, for example, became the largest landholder in Rome
specifically because the fire companies he maintained to support his
construction teams outsourced on a freelance basis: when fires started
elsewhere, he would send his brigades to the scene, kick everyone else
out of the area at sword point, then extort huge fees from the owner as
the fire burned before starting to fight the fire. Those who refused
lost their burned out land when they had to sell their property to pay
irate neighbors who also suffered fire damage due to their dawdling with
Crassus' men over the terms.

> >> 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.
> >
> > Perhaps not the whole city, but large chunks of it did, in fact. Tell
> > me: how many wooden structures remain in London proper that are more
> > than 250 years old? Very few. How about Chicago? Very few.
> But what would this prove? Even if massive fires did not take out wooden
> structures, eventually, just piecemeal burning of them over a long enough
> period might take them out. Also, wood structures don't last long even
> without fires anyhow. How many many hundreds years old wooden structures
> are there worldwide? Outside of Scandanavia, I bet very few. Finally, we
> would need to separate out technological, economic, and regulatory changes.
> Large office buildings today, tend to be glass and steel. (Yet they burn.)

Yes they do, however the rule in development is that a burned out
demolished lot is far easier and cheaper to work with than having to
take a building down by hand to build a new one. Additionally, there are
fires just as frequently, even more frequently due to the expansion of
use of electricity in buildings, as well as the devolution to low trust
societies resulting from moral relativism increasing the incidence of
insurance fraud and financial arson. The worst fires today occur in
buildings storing highly flammable materials and with the worst records
of obeying fire codes.

> > A proper study would chart out the percent of individual cities killed,
> > injured, and left homeless from fire every year before and after the
> > institution of fire codes in those cities.
> Granted. We would also have to try to estimate the number of people made
> homeless and the lower amount of social wealth that is caused by either
> costly regulation or uneven regulation. (This brings to mind something that
> happened to a merchant I knew several years ago. When he became critical of
> the mayor in his town, his store was visited by the fire inspector --
> someone he'd never even met before that -- and visited often.)

Sure. One should always expect to see the IRS when one has thumbed his
nose at the Feds.

> >> What we would need to do is find out if government fire codes have had
> the
> >> impact you believe they have.
> >
> > Groups like the ICBO, BOCA, etc. have done numerous studies in the past
> > on this subject illustrating just my point.
> I'd have to study the studies before passing judgment here.

Please do.

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