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2013 Story of the Year: Proposed Fire Code Changes Alarm Industry, Spark Debate About Fire Mitigation Strategies
Citing concerns over the size of exterior pallet fires, officials with the International Code Council developed strict new exterior storage requirements for pallets, but the industry worked to get the rules dropped for now as more study and collaboration goes into figuring out how to mitigate fire risk.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 1/1/2014

                What looked like a formidable challenge to the pallet industry has been avoided for the time being as the International Code Council (ICC) members voted this fall not to adopt proposed rules for exterior pallet storage. Had the proposals been adopted they would have been published with the new codes set to be released in 2014 for consideration by municipal and state authorities.

                The National Wooden Pallet & Container (NWPCA) led the effort to oppose the proposed rules because they were seen as too strict and would not necessarily solve the problems they were intended to address. While pallet fires are a serious concern for the industry, the NWPCA among others argued that more studies need to be done to address how best to solve the issue. Also, the NWPCA stated it had not been included in the initial drafting of the policies even though its members stood the most to lose by the code changes.

                The NWPCA commented, “This is not the end, but the beginning of an ongoing effort by NWPCA with the ICC to develop safety practices that our industry can support and implement. The NWPCA Standards Committee will be given the lead with this project. We also will be inviting a broad coalition of technical staff from the wood products industry to lend their expertise to this effort.”

                This was certainly a tough fight because the proposal had gone through the ICC committee process and had reached the final hearing before a vote by the ICC members. The NWPCA was clear to point out that it looks forward to working with the ICC to develop meaningful, reasonable rules as warranted by the facts on the ground not anecdotal evidence.

                The associations credited strong support and testimony from members as making a significant impact on the process. Joining the NWPCA in opposing the code changes was the staff of the American Wood Council and a consultant with Fire Protection Engineers.

                One of the reasons for the code changes is that existing rules do not address exterior storage of pallets. At the same time news reports of fires connected to the outdoor storage of pallets continue to be too common. The ICC draft changes included requirements that pallet stacks not exceed 18 ft. tall and that stacks be stored at least 8 ft. from a property line or the stack height if taller than 8 ft. Also, the changes called for pallets to be stored in a grid layout to allow fire breaks and access roads as well as a limitation on the number of pallets that can be stored in a particular area. Pallet recyclers feared that the proposals would force the loss of 40-60% of their capacity due to new stacking patterns.

                The proposed changes are now off the table until the next code cycle in 2015. But the industry needs to be aware because the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) could take up similar concerns as it updates its code in the coming year. NFPA and ICC are two different standards organizations although they often mirror actions taken by each other.

                Specifically, the NWPCA opposed the proposals due to concerns over the storage patterns, distances to property lines, and the size of fire lanes required between stacks of pallets and other concerns. Also, the NWPCA claimed that more collaborative effort would help to develop code changes that will help solve the problem without putting undue burdens on pallet companies.

                Although the issue is far from over, it appears the industry dodged a serious bullet, and is now in line to be part of the discussion going forward.

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