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VIEWPOINT: State’s fire code saves many lives

Minnesotans are safer every day at home, work and school  thanks to the Minnesota Fire Code, which turned 40 years old Saturday, Oct. 3.
Before the adoption of a statewide fire code in 1975, the frequency and severity of fires in Minnesota was much higher. The fire-death rate (per 100,000 people) has plummeted 62 percent since the late 1970s. In the same period, there has been a 38 percent decrease in the structure-fire rate (building fires per 10,000 people).
Number of fire deaths by decade:  
  • 1970s: 961 deaths
  • 1980s: 776 deaths
  • 1990s: 585 deaths
  • 2000s: 465 deaths
  • 2010s: 390 (estimate)
The fire code is a set of construction requirements that makes buildings safer from fire. Most of the fire-and-life safety requirements in the fire code are based on lessons learned from previous fires.
Effective fire code is not the only reason fire deaths dropped dramatically, but it has played a key role. Constantly improving fire protection systems — particularly smoke alarms and fire sprinklers — and better fire-and-life safety education have also contributed.Q. What is the code’s purpose?A. The purpose of a fire code is to create reasonable, uniform, enforceable fire-safety standards that are consistent with nationally recognized practices for safeguarding life and property from fires and explosions. The code addresses hazards that arise from dangerous conditions in buildings, and from the storage, handling and use of hazardous materials.
Q. Why is the code important to Minnesotans?A. When buildings are inspected and comply with the fire code, they tend to have fewer fires. The fires they do experience tend to do less damage. Fires discovered when they’re small, and prevented from spreading, pose less risk to people and property. The code ensures that the rules and guidelines are in place to help with prevention, detection and suppression. It saves lives.Minnesota, like other states, adopted a state fire code rather than leaving the matter to local jurisdictions. A statewide fire code prevents inconsistent local regulations and ordinances that may fail to be effective — and utterly frustrate architects, engineers and contractors.Q. What is the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division’s role?A. Since the first state fire code, the Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division has been responsible for recommending provisions that go into the code. SFMD inspectors enforce state fire code provisions in high-risk occupancies such as daycare facilities, hospitals, hotels, nursing homes and schools.
Q. How does Minnesota compare to other states?A. Minnesota’s fire rate is substantially lower than the national rate over the past three years and Minnesota experienced a fire death rate about 20 percent lower than the national rate in 2014.Bruce West serves as the Minnesota state fire marshal.