Myth: Fire Codes Only Govern in Emergencies

By Zoe Gaik,

Architectural Forensic Associate

RGA Design Forensics

NFPA 101 is a code many of you have probably heard of, being that it is a code commonly cited in premises liability and construction litigation lawsuits. NFPA stands for the National Fire Protection Association, which is comprised of a group of accredited professionals that have published numerous code books concerning the built environment (architecture, engineering, etc.). Many of these code books are adopted into State law every couple of years to aid in fire prevention. In 2020, the State of Florida adopted the 2018 version of NFPA 101 (FDS, Item 1). NFPA 101, the famous Life Safety Code, is a code that deals with life safety (evidently), laying out provisions dealing mainly with means of egress. Means of egress enable a person to get out of a building safely in the event of a fire. However, recent research has enlightened us to the knowledge that this may not be the only event in which NFPA applies.

We cite NFPA 101 in every case we can, because the beauty of it is that it governs 24/7—there is no grandfathering with this code. But the main opposing argument is that, "it only applies in the event of an emergency." In response to this, we explain that a compliant means of egress is not just a safety precaution in the event of an emergency, but it is, at its core, a building element. A means of egress is a tangible part of a building, used and traversed in many circumstances, emergency or not. No matter what circumstance was occurring during the incident, the facility still had the responsibility of keeping all means of egress in compliance with the NFPA 101 at all times.

While the latter is persuasive, we have discovered an even more concrete provision within the NFPA 101 that explains other uses for the code, besides just emergencies. The general purpose of the NFPA 101 is to, “provide minimum requirements, with due regard to function, for the design, operation, and maintenance of buildings and structures for safety to life from fire. Its provisions will also aid life safety in similar emergencies” (NFPA, §1.2*). But what we have discovered is a bit more difficult to find within the code, which is perhaps why it has taken us so long to discover it. Section 4.1.4* of the Life Safety Code states, “An additional goal is to provide for reasonably safe emergency crowd movement and, where required, reasonably safe

nonemergency crowd movement” (NFPA) [emphasis added]. Within the Annex, it states that assembly occupancies are an example of an occupancy that the prior provision would apply to, whereas detention/correctional facilities are not. Assembly occupancies include spaces or portions thereof that exist for the purpose of people gathering for “civic, social or religious functions; recreation, food or drink consumption or awaiting transportation” (ICC, §303.1). Many opposing experts may not now use the argument, "NFPA only applies in emergencies." The code also applies to “nonemergencies.”

While both arguments are true, that the means of egress is a physical portion of a building which must comply with NFPA, and that NFPA applies to more than just emergencies, we figured we would make our community of lawyers aware of our newfound knowledge. We hope that this will aid you in cases to come, knowing the true span of NFPA’s scope. If you have any questions or would like to talk about a case, you can give us a call at (813) 226-2220, or you can shoot me an email directly at Best regards!

Works Cited

Florida Department of State. (2020, December 31). 69A-60.004 : Standards of the National Fire Protection Association, NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code®, Florida 2018 Edition, Adopted. Retrieved from

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, 2018 Edition. National Fire Protection Association. Retrieved from

International Code Council. (2020, July). Chapter 3 - Use and Occupancy Classification. 2020 FLORIDA BUILDING CODE. Retrieved from