One of the most important responsibilities that engineers have is to provide for the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Throughout history, especially in the case of fires, the well-being of building occupants has not always been the most important topic or held to the highest standard. Unfortunately, the loss of human life has been the consequence of negligent plans to protect the welfare of the people.
The Triangle Shirtwaist and Cocoanut Grove fires are two well-documented examples of catastrophes that paved the way for the creation and implementation of fire and building safety codes. Combined, these two fires killed 638 people and proved what the deadly consequences are when no safety plans or proper building exits are implemented. Throughout the past century, and as a result of numerous other fires, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has developed and expanded their recommendations into what we know today as NFPA 101: Life Safety Code.
Today, NFPA 101 is one of the most widely utilized safety documents in the United States. The Code predominantly covers the safety and protection of occupants in both new and existing buildings. This is done by classifying a building’s occupancy and ensuring that the building meets the requirements identified in the Code for that specific occupancy type. Although NFPA does not specifically have the authority to enforce the recommendations provided in the code, many states and local governments have adopted them as law and implemented them as safety standards for buildings. These laws are then enforced by the appropriate building and fire inspectors within that government’s jurisdiction. As architects and engineers designing buildings and systems, it is our responsibility to ensure that what we design meets the requirements of the applicable safety codes that are adopted into law. If you have any questions about the life safety requirements for your building, or want to know if your building meets code, contact Director of Engineering Design Tom Gilmartin, PE, LEED AP, at (716) 592-3980 ext. 120 or [email protected].