Many building owners assume that the local fire marshal is the regulatory authority in charge when it comes to fire safety regulations. While this may be the case in some places, depending on the type of business and the location, there may be multiple authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs). This post will explore the role of an AHJ and explain why it is important to know who your AHJs are and how to work with them effectively to ensure your business is in compliance with all applicable regulations.
A Broadly-Defined Role Occupied by Many
The 2018 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety Code, in Chapter 3.2.2, defines the Authority Having Jurisdiction as:
"An organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure."
The Annex for this chapter elaborates on this definition, making it clear that the AHJ can be considered a collective of individual authorities all having some level of regulatory oversight to ensure your building is meeting all the required fire and life safety regulations:
"Where public safety is primary, the AHJ may be a federal, state, local, or other regional department or individual such as a fire chief; fire marshal; chief of a fire prevention bureau, labor department, or health department; building official; electrical inspector; or others having statutory authority."
The most common AHJ is the fire marshal but often includes labor departments, health departments, and building officials depending on the occupancy of a building and whether it is under construction or renovation.
While all establishments must follow local fire codes and regulations in their day-to-day operations, the occupancy of a building can introduce additional AHJs into the regulatory mix. For example, any business with employees would have to also follow federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements regarding fire safety whereas a hospital would have to consider not only OSHA requirements but also those established by the federal Centers of Medicare and Medicaid (CMS).
In addition to occupancy factors, the lifecycle of a building can introduce different AHJs. When a building is under construction or renovation, there are building codes and electrical codes pertaining to fire safety and regulation, and an AHJ such as building inspectors are responsible for ensuring they are followed. The most common AHJs to be consulted when constructing a new building or renovating an existing one include:
- Fire chiefs and/or fire marshals
- Building officials
- Electrical inspectors
Finally, private sector individuals or organizations may have some power to ensure your business is meeting certain regulations. For example, insurance companies can increase premiums if certain conditions are not met and can incentivize voluntary protection measures that go above and beyond current regulations. Property owners can also set additional standards for their properties when renting them to other businesses, making compliance a requirement of the lease. While these examples do not represent true AHJs in terms of their legal authority, insurance companies and property owners can require or incentivize different actions as long as those actions are consistent with existing regulations.
How to Work Effectively with Your AHJ
The only true AHJs are government entities -- those that have the force of law behind them. Fire marshals are the most common AHJ you will interact with when it comes to fire regulations. So, it is important to know who your local fire marshal is and understand the role of a fire marshal to work with him/her effectively.
Generally, fire marshals are charged with enforcing state and local fire codes, including building inspections and their fire protection systems, imposing fines for non-compliance, ordering fire watches when needed, and investigating the cause and origin of fires. They may also be responsible for approving the licenses for different types of contractors, for example, those that install fire protection systems.
Working effectively with a fire marshal requires viewing the position more as a service to your business than a regulatory authority. While it is true that enforcing regulations is the fundamental role of a fire marshal, your fire marshal can also serve as a valuable resource for your business if you adopt the right mindset in working with him/her. Remember that you, as a building owner or facility manager, have the same goals as the fire marshal -- to protect your business and its occupants from fire. Remember, too, that no matter which AHJ you are working with, they can only base their decisions on the information you provide. Therefore, it is to your benefit to respond in a timely manner to all requests for additional information and that any contractors or vendors you are working with do the same.
The Benefits of Working Proactively with the AHJ
Working with the fire marshal before you begin any new construction and renovations of existing structures can have many benefits. The fire marshal can help you ensure your building, and its systems meet all the applicable fire protection requirements. They are often involved in the plan review process, which can help you be certain before breaking ground or digging into a renovation that your building will be code-compliant when the work is done.
When you consider how complex fire regulations can be, contacting your local fire marshal with any questions can help avoid compliance issues and their associated fines. Remember that states and local governments can vary significantly in the time it takes to adopt the most current editions of NFPA fire codes. And, to make things even more confusing, local jurisdictions don't always adopt a new edition in its entirety and may modify certain regulations when adopting them.
Given that there can be multiple AHJs for a given situation, it can sometimes be difficult to know who to contact first. Here again, your local fire marshal can probably help. The local fire marshal will be your best resource for the most up-to-date regulations in your area and can also help you know if there are other AHJs you might need to consult for a given situation. Your local Koorsen Fire & Security branch can also help with local regulations regarding your fire protection systems. In fact, we help educate AHJs on the updates and changes to the fire codes and the latest fire protection systems and equipment.
While it is a good idea to contact your local AHJ any time you are planning new construction or a significant remodeling project, you should always notify your AHJ any time you find any deficiencies or impairments to your fire protection system. Then, contact Koorsen Fire and Security. Our certified experts have been installing, maintaining, and servicing fire protection systems for more than 70 years. If you find your system is in need of service or inspections, contact Koorsen for a prompt and reliable response.