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.