85 Percent Believe Stricter Building Codes Would Improve Fire Safety

Wed March 12, 2003 - National Edition

The horrifying images of last month’s fire at a Rhode Island nightclub have heightened Americans’ concerns about fire safety, based on the results of a new national survey of 1,000 American adults commissioned by the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA).

More than six in 10 (61 percent) Americans say they are more worried about fire in public and commercial buildings because of what they’ve heard and read about recent fires. Only 28 percent say recent fires haven’t made them either more or less worried.

"Recent fire tragedies have raised a very serious red flag about how well buildings are designed, constructed, operated and maintained to protect the lives of occupants," said Gene Corley, PhD., senior vice president of Construction Technology Laboratories, and head of the team that analyzed the design implications, damage and mechanics of the collapse of the World Trade Center.

What do Americans believe can be done to make buildings safer? An overwhelming majority of Americans (85 percent) believe that stricter building codes for public and commercial buildings would improve fire safety.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that nearly half of Americans (47 percent) identified building code and fire code officials as the people most responsible for making sure buildings are constructed to prevent fires and to help save lives when fire strikes. Owners ranked second at 26 percent, followed by designers and builders.

Most notably, Americans are willing to pay more for fire safety. Most Americans (79 percent) want safer, less combustible materials used in buildings, even if it means increased construction costs and higher prices passed on to consumers.

Balanced Design Can Stop Spread of Fires

To provide the best protection for occupants and the greatest opportunity to escape, NCMA recommends that codes for buildings require a balanced design made up of three key elements: fire detection, fire suppression and fire containment.

"Fire detection includes the installation of smoke detectors and fire alarms, active fire suppression includes the use of sprinkler systems, and the third element, fire containment, includes fire barriers, fire walls and exterior walls built of noncombustible fire resistant materials such as concrete masonry," said Corley.

Non-combustible concrete masonry construction can reduce or eliminate the spread of fire and provides precious additional protection and time for occupants to exit, and for fire and emergency medical personnel to conduct rescue operations, according to Corley.

"Unfortunately, today’s new model of building codes and fire codes has strayed significantly from the balanced design approach to fire safety," said Corley.

Corley encourages code officials across the nation to participate in making building codes more fire safe and recognize the importance of using noncombustible fire containment construction such as concrete masonry as a strong foundation for a balanced design approach to fire safe buildings.

Consumers can write to their congressman to express concern via email at http://www.ncma.org/fire .

Survey results are based on responses of 1,000 adult Americans who participated in a national telephone survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation from February 28 to March 3.

The National Concrete Masonry Association, headquartered in Herndon, VA represents the interests of manufacturers of concrete masonry products and companies that supply products and services to producers. The association promotes the concept of balanced design and has been a strong proponent of fire protection measures in the development and revision of building codes and standards meetings.