Fire Safety and Green Products

The higher education community has fully embraced environmental stewardship and its commitment to sustaining the environment through a number of efforts on campuses around the country. We have all learned the requisite terms, such as reducing carbon emissions, recycling programs, and buy local; reduce transportation emissions; energy efficiency, carbon neutral, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) design guidelines.

Unintended Impact

Many facilities are now designed to meet LEED Gold or Platinum certification and, as such, require management of stormwater on site and reducing urban heat loads to obtain points to reach these highest levels of certification. Design teams are looking at products that reduce the need for large areas of concrete paving on site. This, in turn, has a direct impact on emergency vehicle access.

As your campus looks at replacing traditional concrete pavement with concrete pavers or reinforced grids that allow grass to grow through them, keep close attention to fire code requirements for your community. The International Fire Code does not require any specific product or method of construction for the surface of emergency vehicle access roads. However, Section 503.2.3 states the access roads must be designed and maintained to support the imposed loads of fire apparatus and shall be surfaced to provide all-weather driving capabilities. Design teams are free to choose any product that meets this requirement — but they will, of course, need to consult with the local fire department to obtain the fire apparatus point loads for vehicles in that community.

Check Codes and Specifications

For many communities, the design team will need to provide specifications of the products they want to consider and show how that product meets the fire code requirement. Submissions should include testing agency load specifications, detailed installation drawings, and site plans indicating locations the product will be used and how it can be identified as safe for emergency vehicle use. Be prepared for a rigorous review — this is a new technology and local authorities may be hesitant to accept it.

As a starting point, find products that are designed to handle AASHTO H-20 (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials) loading specifications. H-20 establishes a reference point for loading of 36,000 lbs. over several points. Specifications should also be provided showing water absorption rates and compressive strength of the paver. ASTM C 1319 can be used to supply these last two pieces of information.

One concern any fire department will have relates to being able to determine which pavers are safe to drive on. There are several ways to identify pavers. Using a specific color that is unique for emergency access roads is one solution; marking the route with traditional Fire Lane signs could be another.

Mapping the Way

Most campuses supply maps for all responding stations that identify access roads. Updating these maps and providing station tours will also help familiarize emergency crews with these locations. This information should also be provided to plowing crews so pavers are cleared during snow season. Training for plow drivers must include the policy that the full width of the pavers is cleared. The Fire Code requires a full 20 ft. of clear width be provided in summer and winter. Some method of marking the edge must be in place so plow drivers can determine that they have cleared the full width. This will also assist fire crews during the winter; they will be able to tell when outriggers on their apparatus have been deployed successfully on the paver surface.

Product Reviews Continue

The fire service is looking at many products that are now being introduced to the building component market. Understandably, reviewing products that look and perform differently from traditional materials will require time and a team approach. Start involving city engineers, building officials, fire officials, and inspection teams early in the design process. Determine if local agencies have local amendments that would prohibit pavers, or if they have incorporated local code modifications that allow these materials to be used.

Many communities are in the process of adopting green building codes. Review local ordinances and find out if your town or city has adopted a green code — this may make the process of proposing this type of installation a little easier. 

Mike Halligan
is the associate director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Utah and is responsible for Fire Prevention and Special Events Life Safety. He frequently speaks about performance-based code solutions for campus building projects, is recognized as an expert on residence hall fire safety programs, and conducts school fire prevention program audits/strategic planning. He can be reached at 801/585-9327 or at mike.halligan@ehs.utah.edu.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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