Fire Service Concerns of Tall Timber Buildings

Timber Building

Recently an article, Construction Concerns: IBC 2021 Heavy Timber Proposal[1] , appeared in Fire Engineering that raised concerns regarding the now newly passed “Tall Mass Timber” code additions to the International Building Code (IBC) 2021 Edition. The article briefly outlined some of the central code changes that will permit tall mass timber buildings.

A brief examination of all the Tall Mass Timber (TMT) code provisions that will be included in the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) will demonstrate that the fire safety protection required by the new code changes provides for the life safety of occupants and firefighters that will respond to emergencies in these buildings.

Why These Codes Were Necessary

Portland, Oregon, has an eight-story condominium building, Carbon 12, made of mass timber (photo 3). It is the tallest modern wooden timber building in the country. Minneapolis’ T3 Building (photos 1, 4) is a seven-story mass timber office building. Two new tall mass timber buildings have been proposed by New Land Enterprises in Milwaukee, one an office building the other residential.[2] Others are being proposed in Cleveland, Newark, and other cities.

Building officials needed well-crafted code provisions to guide their plans review and approval process. The International Code Council (ICC) was asked to create a committee to study the science of tall wood buildings, assess their feasibility, and, if feasible, draft code provisions that would protect the occupants and first responders. The result of the three years of committee work and fire testing produced the 14-code provision that will be included into the IBC in 2021.

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