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Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems Added to 2015 ICC International Fire Code Under Appendix L

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FARSCodeImagine what it would be like battling a blaze in a high-rise building or other complex structure without a standpipe system. How much time and personnel would be wasted dragging hose? How many more large-scale tragedies would there have been? The adoption of standpipe systems into the International Fire Code was a game changer for the fire service. We probably take for granted the progress we have made over the years, as these and other fire protection systems become part of our standard operating procedures.

 

As much progress as has been made, it is still estimated that for every one firefighter battling high-rise fires, two are required to move equipment during the operation. At its 2013 Annual Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the International Code Council (ICC) presented the fire service another potential game changer with the adoption of Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems (FARS) into Appendix L of the 2015 International Fire Code (IFC).  The FARS offers an opportunity for increased operational efficiency as well as greater firefighter and occupant safety.

 

Adolph Zubia, Chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Fire and Life Safety Section, representing the ICC Fire Code Action Committee, was the proponent of the appendix. Adoption came after a rigorous 2-year vetting process. Nearly all of the major professional associations and life safety organizations within the fire service supported the FARS appendix, including the IAFC, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) and many more.

 

The mechanics of the FARS are relatively simple, using technology and equipment already in use within the fire service:  SCBA, a mobile air unit and a fill station. Integrated into the building’s infrastructure, FARS has been described as a “standpipe for air.”  The six principal components consist of an exterior mobile air connection (EMAC) air storage system, interior air fill station, air monitoring system, piping distribution system and system isolation valves.   Appendix L was adopted after the IFC recognized the need for standardized installation criteria. However, the code allows some variation by jurisdiction. For example, jurisdictions may specify the type of buildings that can be required to include FARS, and can choose between two types of systems, an Emergency Fill System or a Rupture Containment System.

 

The EMAC enables the fire department mobile air unit to attach to the FARS.  The mobile air unit can provide breathing air directly into the FARS or supplement its air storage system. The piping distribution system safely delivers breathing air to all FARS components. It is cross-connected and equipped with system isolation values that ensure the FARS are sustained even if the building is damaged. The system isolation valves can be operated manually at each fill point or remotely from the buildings Fire Command Center.

 

The air monitoring system provides 24/7 real time monitoring of air pressure, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, moisture and hydrocarbon levels of the FARS. It also transmits a supervisory signal should any of the levels are detected.

 

If moisture or carbon dioxide levels exceed minimum expected levels the FARS shows red flashing lights. The signal is also transmitted to the fire command center or an independent monitoring station. Should the system become over-pressurized, the FARS acts as a pressure relief valve.

 

Two variations of the interior air fill station provide fire departments with the option of refilling bottles in Rupture Containment Stations or at Emergency Air Fill Panels that utilize the SCBA’s Rapid Intervention Crew/Company Universal Air Connection (RIC/UAC) fitting. Rupture Containment Stations are strategically located in secure areas on predetermined floors. SCBA cylinders are filled and rotated in the traditional manner. The Emergency Air Fill Panels are typically located in or adjacent to stair towers, on every other floor. This process allows for at least two SCBA cylinders to be refilled simultaneously while firefighters remain under full respiration thus allowing for refilling to be performed in contaminated atmospheres.

 

Ronny J. Coleman, California State Fire Marshal (Ret.) and an early advocate of FARS technology, explains, “There are two things that every fire-fighter needs when confronting a deeply seeded structural fire, an adequate water supply to overcome the flames and an adequate built in air supply to protect them from harmful products of combustion.” Alan Brunacini, Phoenix Fire Chief (Ret.) agrees that “an uninterrupted system of self-contained breathing apparatus air” is of such logistical importance that “if you can’t solve it, you can’t do anything else.” FARS helps eliminate this problem, freeing resources for search and rescue, fire attack, ventilation and evacuation operations.

 

The First Interstate Bank fire in Los Angeles (1988) and the One Meridian Plaza fire in Philadelphia (1991) illustrate this point. At both incidents, large portions of support operations were dedicated to the refilling and shuttling of air cylinders. Tragically, three firefighters perished at One Meridian Plaza when they became disoriented and exhausted their air supply on the 28th floor. Another eight firefighters narrowly escaped death on the 38th floor while trying to exit to the roof. In similar scenarios, a readily available supply of air within close proximity to the fire would result in more efficient fire ground operations and increased firefighter and occupant safety.

 

Prior to the ICC’s adoption of Appendix L into the IFC, FARS had been installed in more than 300 buildings throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Oregon. But the local adoption processes varied and the individual codes differed. According to Coleman, the IFC appendices are “best management practices.” They “provide a tool for communities that have specialized fire risks” and “offer opportunities for local adoption.” Appendix L now provides uniformity in a consistent guideline for installation in all jurisdictions that choose to adopt it.

 

We tend to lose sight of the fact that high-rise fires are not exclusive to metropolitan areas with large fire departments that have a seamlessly unlimited supply of resources to overcome almost any obstacle. While Appendix L has clear value in cities with numerous mid- and high-rises, it also provides a solution to smaller jurisdictions staffed by paid departments or volunteer services with limited resources and staff. Bringing an air supply closer to the work area will facilitate fire operations for fire departments that lack the luxury of large staffs or access to support services.

 

Coleman says, “We are really pleased to have this appendix available now because it allows fire departments who engage in risk reduction the use of this important technology.” And it is very likely that we will see the FARS technology in more than just high-rises. It is already being integrated into tunnel systems and large horizontal structures.  The practical application of the FARS makes it a likely candidate for installation in mega-structures such as stadiums and malls, underground structures such as tunnels and mines, and maritime applications such as naval and cruise ships.

 

 

More information on the FARS and the IFC’s Appendix L can be found at www.iccsafe.org http://shop.iccsafe.org/codes/2015-international-codes-and-references/2015-international-fire-coder.html

 

Significant Changes to the International Fire Code®, 2015 Edition Fulton R. Cochran, CBO, CFCO and Kevin H. Scott  http://shop.iccsafe.org/significant-changes-to-the-international-fire-coder-2015-edition-42244.html

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