Using the following story as an example, our client would have paid much more for a fire protection solution had they not used our code consulting services.

What happened?

The existing building code limits travel distance to 250 ft without smoke and heat venting. Our client had a facility with an operational need for a 400 ft. exit travel distance. However, adding smoke and heat venting to this particular facility would compromise the effectiveness of the fire sprinkler system.

Our Solution

Our solution was to demonstrate by a performance-based engineering analysis that, due to the size and height of the building and the type of sprinklers installed, the building occupants could safely egress the building with the increased travel distance without the provision of smoke and heat venting. By demonstrating that the level of safety being provided was equivalent or better than that prescribed by the code, the decision to accept the increased travel distance rested with the Building Official. Because the code allows equivalent means and methods; this is different from a code variance, which would have had to be approved by Board of Appeals.

How the AHJ Fits Into the Fire Protection Solution Equation

Many, if not most of the projects Harrington Group work on require direct communication and/or negotiation with an AHJ.  Jurisdictions adopt various editions of Building Codes and Fire Codes and in many cases, these “standard” codes are modified through legislative action for a particular state or community.  Further, there are numerous requirements in the various codes that can be interpreted multiple ways and the final interpretation typically rests with the AHJ.

Unfortunately, everyone knows of situations in which code interpretation disagreements between the AHJ and the building owner, designer or contractor have resulted in lengthy delays in permitting or construction and expensive design/construction modifications to satisfy the AHJ’s requirements.  This can be particularly troublesome when the issue comes up during the late stages of construction.

The code consultants at Harrington Group believe it is essential to get in touch with the AHJ in the very early stages of a project to fully explain the proposed fire protection features, explain our interpretation of the various code requirements, work out any differences of opinions on interpretations, and to fully understand the appeals process in the event that agreements cannot be reached. From past experience, we have grown to know those issues that may become troublesome and we always ask ourselves “What will the AHJ need to make them comfortable with our position?”

Our Client’s AHJ Dilemma

In this case, the AHJ did not agree with our initial position that the Code allowed for the omission of smoke and heat venting while allowing for the increased exit travel distance because of the type of sprinklers being installed. We understood his position as the Code language could easily be interpreted different ways.

As a result, the AHJ’s initial position was that we would have to appear before the jurisdiction’s Board of Appeals and plead our case

If you would like to know how Harrington Group solved the AHJ dilemma, you can continue reading What If You Did Have A Fire Protection Engineer?

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.