Fire District and Douglas County fire codes differ

East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini

East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini

The East Fork Fire Protection District is an NRS 474 Fire District. The law is very clear that the district “shall” adopt regulations related to fire protection and prevention. The district has the responsibility to establish and maintain regulations for fire protection and prevention including life safety.

Douglas County Code, Title 20 adopts primarily the same codes and code amendments that the Fire District regulations are bringing forward, with some exceptions and options.

These exceptions and options are necessary as the result of the County Commission action which repealed the fire sprinkler requirement. With the adoption of the codes in 2019, including the residential fire sprinkler system requirement, the Fire District was required to conduct a review of all residential construction projects for the first time. The review was termed “sprinkler audit” but in reality, it became a “fire protection audit.” The review looked at three items which included access, water supply, and the need for a residential sprinkler system. In 90 percent (926) of the reviews, a sprinkler system was not required over the three years the requirement existed. While the repeal of the County ordinance did remove the requirement for homes under 5,000 square feet, it left the Fire District to review and amend requirements to address the availability of water for fire suppression as required in all existing codes. When the sprinkler requirement was in place, the district was using the installation of the sprinkler systems to address the fire flow and on-site water storage requirement. Depending on which code applies, the amount of water required could be as much as 60,000 gallons (IFC). Following the Wildland Urban Interface Code as adopted by the State of Nevada, the amount can be reduced to 30,000 gallons.

The East Fork Fire Protection District, as a fire response agency and as professionals in this business, must advocate for residential fire sprinkler systems in areas where geography and a lack of recognized water supplies are not our friends. Residential systems do work, they do save lives, they reduce property loss, help prevent the extension of fire to a neighbor’s house or the wildland areas and make the job of our firefighters safer. The proposed regulations will allow for the application of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1142. This standard uses a formula to determine the total amount of water needed to suppress a fire if the entire structure is fully involved. This is contrary to the International Fire Code (IFC) requirement of 60,000 or the Wildland Urban Interface Code (WUI) requirement of 30,000 gallons.

Under the NFPA 1142 Standard, the water supply requirement can be at a minimum of 2000 gallons up to and estimated 20,835 gallons, before you hit the 5000 square foot mandatory requirement for fire sprinklers, which is a current Douglas County requirement and part of the District proposed regulations.

Under the proposed regulation, once the on-site water requirement is determined, there are several options available to meet the requirement.

The preferred option would still be the installation of a fire sprinkler system. The systems can be self- contained, limited to a maximum of 450-gallon discharge, and are working 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

The second option would be to provide the necessary onsite water supply with a monitored fire alarm system installed in the residence for early detection. The tank size would be based on the NFPA 1142 calculations. On site water supplies would need to be installed in accordance with the NFPA 1142 requirements. On site water supplies are not as simple as dropping a big plastic tank on the ground and filling it up. There are several requirements governing installation that would have to be met and can be just as costly as a fire sprinkler system in some cases.

The third option would be to pay into a one- time Rural Water Delivery Fee program which would allow the District to maintain and more importantly, enhance its rural water delivery program. The amount would vary based on the same NFPA 1142 calculation but would eliminate the need for the installation of on-site water supplies or the use of a fire sprinkler system. A monitored fire alarm system would also need to be installed in the residence for early detection.

The proposed regulations have been reviewed by the Nevada State Fire Marshal and have received a nod of approval. Contrary to public comments made at the last District Board’s last board meeting, we have actively engaged Douglas County’s Community Development Department with our current effort. We have invited, and they have attended, no less than four meetings.

We have worked hand in hand with the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District as well, who are posed to adopt almost identical regulations. The proposed regulations actually mirror those of the current County Code, plus offering options to meet the water storage and flow requirements which are already vested in both County Code and State Law.

The district will be holding two informational outreach sessions open to the public, but focused more towards developers, contractors, designers, architects, engineers, realtors, property insurance agents, and owner/builders. As part of the actual adoption process, the district will also hold a public hearing at their December board meeting. The District’s Fire Prevention Staff is also making itself available for meetings with individuals upon appointment.

As we all have seen, and some of our constituents sadly have experienced, the threat of wildland fire is real and an annual probability. We have seen on several occasions, a fire in a single- family home grow so large only to spread into the wildland area.

We understand the economics of construction, especially when we are seeing inflation at record levels, interest rates rocketing to the moon, and supply chains that are still broken. We also know that the designers, engineers, architects, and contractors are required by State Law to follow the various codes that govern their work. They have a legal obligation and just as much of a binding responsibility as the Fire District. The Fire District cannot turn our head nor “negotiate” an alternative to code compliance, as was suggested at a recent meeting regardless of what other agencies may or may not be doing. The Fire District is responding to 7,000 calls a year now with a limited number of resources covering 675 square miles. We have a very dedicated staff of both career and volunteer personnel who work hard each and every day to meet the needs of the community.

The East Fork Fire Protection District is one of the few regional Fire Districts that has not adopted its own fire regulations. The proposed regulations are primarily about establishing regulations as mandated under the NRS Statutes which realistically address a code compliance issue in a sensible way and offer options. It is time to move forward and provide the most reasonable and safe regulations to meet the district’s needs.


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