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International Fire Code

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

International Fire Code emergency exit

The International Fire Code (IFC) provides fire prevention and safety standards for existing buildings. It covers:

  • Preventing fires and eliminating fire hazards
  • Fire alarm systems
  • Emergency planning
  • Fire department access
  • Water supplies
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Maintenance of fire protection equipment

Although it is called the "International Fire Code,” these standards are only adopted in the U.S., where they were established. The International Fire Code is not a federally mandated set of codes that apply universally across the U.S. Nor is it a law that the federal government requires local governments to adopt. The IFC may be adopted voluntarily and individually by local, territorial, and state jurisdictions. However, the IFC is written using legal language such that it can be adopted "as is" and be a legally binding law.

The International Fire Code states that its purpose "is to establish the minimum requirements consistent with nationally recognized good practice for providing a reasonable level of life safety and property protection from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions in new and existing buildings, structures and premises, and to provide safety to firefighters and emergency responders during emergency operations."

The International Fire Code covers:

  • The hazard of fire and explosion arising from the storage, handling or use of structures, materials or devices.
  • Conditions hazardous to life, property or public welfare in the occupancy of structures or premises.
  • Fire hazards in the structure or on the premises from occupancy or operation.
  • Matters related to the construction, extension, repair, alteration or removal of fire suppression or alarm systems.
  • Conditions affecting the safety of firefighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.

A separate code, called the International Building Code, covers the design and construction of new structures. However, the International Fire Code includes some construction and design provisions that apply to:

  1. Structures, facilities and conditions arising after the adoption of this code.
  2. Existing structures, facilities, and conditions not legally in existence at the time of the adoption of the International Fire Code by the jurisdiction where the building is located.
  3. Existing structures, facilities and conditions. The intent is to provide a minimum degree of fire and life safety to persons occupying existing buildings by providing for alterations to such buildings that do not comply with the minimum requirements of the International Building Code.
  4. Existing structures, facilities, and conditions which, in the opinion of the fire code official, constitute a distinct hazard to life or property.

International Fire Code - What about Historic Buildings?

Historic buildings, by their nature, generally do not comply with all fire codes. Bringing those buildings into compliance with all fire codes may be impossible without destroying the historic nature of the building. The International Fire Code recognizes this situation. When a structure is classified by a governing authority as a historic building, then the provisions of the IFC do not apply, except in those areas in which there is a distinct hazard to life or property.

International Fire Code - Required Signs

The International Fire Code requires a minimum level of signage in buildings. These include:

  • Fire Protection Equipment (IFC 509.1): The location and type of fire protection equipment must be identified by signs designed for the use of the responding fire department. In addition, rooms containing controls for sprinkler risers and valves, air-conditioning systems, or other fire detection, suppression or control elements must be identified.

  • Fire Department Connections (IFC 912.4):  These connections are to be identified by signs using wording such as: "AUTOMATIC SPRINKLERS" or "STANDPIPES" or "TEST CONNECTION.  A metal sign with raised letters must be mounted on all building fire department connections.

  • Fire Doors (IFC 703.2.1): Fire doors are to be identified with signs that say: "FIRE DOOR-DO NOT BLOCK" or "FIRE DOOR-KEEP CLOSED."  A sign must be permanently displayed on or near each fire door. The text on these signs is to be in letters not less than one inch high.

  • Electrical Control (IFC 605.3.1): Rooms containing electrical controls must be identified with plainly visible and legible signs saying: "ELECTRICAL ROOM."  In addition, the entrance doors for electrical control panel rooms must also be marked with signs.

  • Hazard Identification (IFC 2397.5): Signs using the NFPA color-coded "fire diamond" much be used to identify hazardous materials. These signs show the risk of hazardous materials, as specified in NFPA 704, through the four sections of the NFPA diamond:

    • Blue (left): health risk
    • Red (top): Flammability
    • Yellow (right): Reactivity
    • White (bottom): Special notice

  • No Smoking (IFC 310.3): "NO SMOKING" signs are to be posted in conspicuous locations in each structure or location in which smoking is prohibited. The content, lettering, size, color and location of "No Smoking" must meet the requirements for a prohibition sign.

There are two additional sections of the International Fire Code that cover signs.

Section 109.2.4 of the IFC states that "signs, tags or seals posted or affixed by the fire code official are not be mutilated, destroyed or tampered with or removed without authorization from the fire code official."

Section 2703.6 of the IFC states that signs and markings are not be obscured or removed, shall be in English as a primary language or in symbols allowed by this code, shall be durable, and the size, color, and lettering shall be approved.

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