Firestop Special Inspection - Where Required

This post provided by Sharron Halpert at Halpert Life Safety Consulting

This requirement for third party special inspection is not going to mean that EVERY project needs this level of scrutiny. The building code clearly relegates this to three types of buildings. 1) High-rise structures 2) Risk Category III 3) Risk Category IV. Don’t go break out your code book here. I promised to save you from that, so let’s break this down a bit.  Lest we risk being called out for plagiarism, please know we give credit to the IBC for items in underlined bold italics. 

First, the term high-rise conjures up a mental image for most people, but let’s be clear about what the term actually means. A high-rise structure is defined by the code as a building with an occupied floor located more than 75 feet above the lowest level of the fire department vehicle access. This means that you can take the same building and put it in a different jurisdiction and based on the fire fighting equipment, it will be considered a high-rise structure in one jurisdiction but not in another.
Next, let’s discuss risk category III and IV. Before we start however, please understand the building code defines occupant load as the number of persons for which a means of egress of a building or portion of a building is designed. This is important, because it is part of what can land a project in the risk category III. So, let’s start there. Risk Category III is defined by the code as structures that represent a substantial hazard to human life in the event of a failure. This means that, because they are buildings that are important to the community, they should be protected with an extra level or scrutiny that is provided by this requirement for special inspection of firestop. Risk Category III structures are including but not limited to the following:
  • Public assembly building with a occupancy load over 300
  • Elementary or secondary school or day care what occupancy over 250
  • Adult education with occupancy over 500
  • Groups I-2 with occupancy over 50 (without surgery or emergency)
Medical, surgical, psychiatric, nursing or custodial care on a 24-hour basis of more than five persons who are not capable of self-preservation. Including but not limited to hospitals, nursing homes, mental hospitals and detoxification facilities
  • Group I-3 (penitentiary, jail or prison)
  • A building with occupancy over 5000
  • Power generating station, water treatment, waste water facility and any other public utility facility not included in risk category IV
  • Buildings or structures not included in risk category IV containing quantities of toxic works flows of materials that exceed certain thresholds and would be hazardous to the public if released
The occupancy load will vary based on the use of the building, but also because of the familiarity and agility of the occupants. For example, people who may be in a public assembly building are less likely to be familiar with the various ways to enter and exit the building, as compared to the people who might be in a building for adult education. And while the occupants of an Elementary or secondary school are likely to be very familiar with the building they are less likely to be expected to exit the building safely an emergency. Additionally occupants of Group I-2 (hospital) are likely going to need assistance to evacuate a building and it’s very likely you don’t want occupants of I-3 (jail) structures being able to freely evacuate a building. If there is a fire in any of these types of buildings you can see that there is a substantial hazard to human life in the event of a failure.
The difference between Risk Category III and IV is that IV buildings are considered essential to the community in which they serve. Schools in a community are essential to that community but in the event of a fire the children can still be educated in a different setting until the school is repaired. However if that same school were designated as an emergency shelter then it would fall into risk category IV because now it is considered essential to the community.
Now, let’s look at other buildings that would fall into risk category IV. “Buildings and other structures designated as essential facilities including but not limited to” the following:
  • Group I-2 with surgery and/or emergency treatment
  • Fire, rescue, ambulance, police stations and emergency vehicle garages
  • Designated earthquake, hurricane or other emergency shelters
  • Designated emergency preparedness, communications and operations centers
  • Power generating stations and other public utility needed for emergency backup for risk category IV
  • Aviation control tower, air traffic control center and emergency aircraft hangers
  • Buildings and other structures having critical national defense function
  • Water storage or pump for fire suppression
  • Buildings and other structures containing the quantities of highly toxic materials that exceed certain thresholds and pose a threat to public released
That covers where third-party special inspection is mandated by the building code. That said however, a jurisdiction can require a third-party special inspection of fire stop on any project where they may feel they have a shortfall in either manpower or expertise. This can even be required by a jurisdiction still on one of the earlier codes (2009 or earlier as this requirement first came about in the 2012 code body).
A jurisdiction could even require special inspection of a specific construction element if they wish to. One example could be requiring a third party inspection for grease duct wrap on kitchen exhaust ducts. Though it is not required in the codes, it could still be a jurisdictional requirement should it be deemed necessary in a particular jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have required this even prior to the creation of the ASTM standards for inspection of firestop; in fact to date there is no similar standard for the inspection of grease duct wrap.  

How to Conduct a CRA

Chapter 5 of NFPA 1730 outlines the requirements for the conduct of a community risk assessment (CRA). The CRA is the tool that is used to determine the priorities and strategies of a the fire prevention organization.  The CRA can be conducted in 3 steps.

  1. Gather Information
  2. Analyze Data
  3. Develop Strategy

Gather Information. NFPA 1730 describes seven content areas that should be assessed. These areas are:

1.)  Demographics - describes the composition of the communities population
2.)  Geographic overview - describes the physical features of the community
3.)  Building stock - describes occupancy types within the community
4.)  Fire experience -  describes the communities past fire experience(s)
5.)  Responses -  describes the types of calls for service
6.)  Hazards - describes the different types of hazards within a community
7.)  Economic profile - describes facilities and activities vital to the communities financial sustainability

Analyze Data.  After the above information has been gathered, the data must be analyzed and evaluated. This analysis should be applied to identify specific risks the community is exposed to. NFPA 1730 recommends the use of a risk assessment matrix.  The matrix is a visual representation that classifies hazards based on probability and impact.  

Another type of risk assessment matrix prefer presents hazards and risk level in a numerical format. I have written extensively on, and utilized, this numerical assessment matrix format. Read more about this method at, Fire Risk FAQ and Conducting the 3 Step Risk Assessment. You can also take my free on-line course, Risk Assessment Workshop.

Develop Strategy.  After you have defined your community needs, and identified risks and hazards, a strategy for prevention and mitigation can be developed. This strategy is referred to as a community risk reduction (CRR) plan. The CRR outlines the programs and strategies that will be utilized to reduce, mitigate, or eliminate the risks posed to the community.  The CRR will be different for every community common elements include, existing building inspections, plan review, origin and cause investigations, and public education. 

It is essential that a CRA be conducted. It is only through this analysis that fire prevention organizations can be effective.  A valuable tool for assisting departments with the CRA is the on-line Community Risk Assessment Guide, created by Vision 20/20. This guide can be accessed at

Fire Prevention Week 2016

The week of October 9-15 will be nationally recognized as Fire Prevention Week. The theme this year is “Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years”. Research conducted by the National Fire ProtectionAssociation (NFPA) has shown that a large majority of the population are not aware of the need to know the age of smoke alarms or that they must be replaced every 10 years.

Fire Prevention Week has been observed every October (always the week of the 9th) since 1922. The NFPA established this week to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This fire, rumored to have been started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, claimed more than 250 lives, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.

For more Fire Prevention Week information and resources visit,

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The Commissioning Agenda

Commissioning is a "process that will ensure fire protection and life safety systems perform in conformity with the design intent". NFPA 3, Recommended Practice for the Commissioning of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, creates a 4-phase plan to commission new structures.  Each phase has several items that must be completed in order to move on to the next phase.  Annex A of NFPA 3 provides a workflow diagram of what must take place in each phase of the project.  This is helpful to the commissioning team to ensure that all items are completed. 

For an introduction to commissioning read, Commissioning New Occupancies.

If you are new to commissioning, or a building owner that is thinking about commissioning, what can you expect?  What does the commissioning look like? What is involved in each phase? The below layout provides a proposed commissioning schedule and agenda to help understand the time commitment and team involvement that will be required.

For an overview of the documents listed here read, The 5 Documents Commissioning Requires.

Planning Phase

  • Planning meeting to establish OPR (owners project requirements)
  • Cx team meeting to assemble, establish, and introduce team members
  • Commissioning plan is developed and reviewed

Design Phase
  • Develop the BOD (basis of design)
  • Operation and maintenance manuals provided and reviewed
  • Training program content, duration, and objectives are developed

Construction Phase
  • Pre-construction meetings
  • Rough-in inspections
  • Final/finish inspections
  • Acceptance testing/completions
  • Owner training
  • Closeout documents delivered

Occupancy Phase
  • Deferred testing completed
  • Inspection, testing, maintenance is conducted
  • Training of occupants and managers

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