“The Code, Just Another Tool in Your Toolbox

By Fire Marshal, Paul L. Dove


I read an interesting article titled “How to get around a code book” written by Mike O’Brian on the Inspector 911 web site (If you subscribe to the Inspector's Report this is an article you will receive).  After reading this article and agreeing with it’s content, I felt somewhat compelled to comment and expand on its main premise.


The code, regardless of which discipline you work in isICC very important to understand and one must gain a certain level of comfort citing it. In addition you must have a certain ability to provide good customer service by being able to explain why the code requires what is being cited to achieve successful enforcement.  Taking this into account lets explore using the code as just another tool in your enforcement toolbox.  This box we will call “How to survive as an Inspector Box”.


Yes, it’s important to be familiar with all of the codes and standards referenced by the code you are responsible in enforcing and you should be able to maneuver through them to find corresponding information also.  I also believe an important part is having the ability to be familiar with the concepts housed in the administrative sections of the code and using them as a tool in gaining compliance.  The administrative sections in codes usually give an Inspector some limited freedom to accept alternatives in design and gaining compliance for existing situations found in the field. 

NEC2008All too often Inspectors run into situations of a political, financial, egotistical or just plain impossible nature to strictly enforce the code as written.  In these difficult situations the Inspector should be willing to accept an alternative solution to provide as reasonable degree of safety to the situation encountered.  The code can give you this ability in the administrative sections. Let’s face it, there are times such as these where economic times are hard, the boss is being pressured by political means or the customer is being difficult and gaining compliance runs into that proverbial brick wall or your time limit to correct the deficiency expires.  Where do you go then?  Most of us would turn the matter over to an Appeals Board and take our chances with others making the decision for us.


This is what the code also tells us to do in the administrative sections but we should ask ourselves, do we really gain anything using this tactic?  Possibly a certain level of deflection or peace of mind can be gained but did the matter correct itself or was the deficiency really averted?  My experience has show me that using this tactic has left dangerous situations out there and also left me with a feeling of defeat.  Being a former athlete I do not do well with defeat. 


I had to learn very quickly in my career in code enforcement how to gain compliance using the administrative section of the code and by realizingInspectors are cool that there were alternatives to addressing non-compliant issues.  Please do not interpret this as giving up or giving in.  Accepted alternatives must meet a design standard or engineered practice and must provide a reasonable degree of safety to the building’s occupants in order to mitigate the strict letter of the code. This is the concept of using the code as a tool and not your enforcement hammer.


In code enforcement we should be familiar with the concept of “trade offs” and “compromise” and that there are other ways to achieve compliance, now we should be able to accept the tool concept by putting it into future use.


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Fire Marshal Dove has served twenty-one years in the professional fire service.  He is the past president of the Michigan Fire Inspector’s Society and served as Code Committee Chairmen for ten years.  He is a former principle member of the NFPA Life Safety Code and Building Code Technical Committee on Fire Protection Features and former member of the NFPA North Central Fire Code Development Committee.  He holds and maintains thirteen national and multi-state professional certifications as Fire Officer, Inspector, Plan Reviewer and Investigator.