Title 24 & The California Fire Code
Written by: Virginia McCormick, NES, Inc.
While building and fire safety standards were being solidified in the early 1900s, many California business owners initially resisted the changes due to increased costs.
This article is part of a special dedicated series that covers California CUPAs and the Unified Program. For a complete overview, see the June 2019 NES article California CUPA Overview: Enforcing the CalEPA Unified Program.
Title 24 History: The California Building Standards Code
In the early 1900s, major California cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles began adopting building codes in order to enhance the safety and stability of buildings constructed within the cities’ jurisdictions. However, these localized codes were entirely independent from one another and often led to inconsistencies across the major cities in the State.
An effort to standardize California’s building codes began in 1927 with the publication of the Uniform Building Code (UBC) by the International Conference of Building Officials. However, the UBC was met with strong resistance, as standardization of the building code often came with stricter and more expensive construction requirements. It would not be until the late 1980s when California’s building code became unified under the California Building Standards Code – otherwise known as Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations.
Maintained by the California Building Standards Commission, Title 24 began publication in 1989. Subsequent editions of Title 24 were published every three years following 1989 in a triennial cycle. The most recent edition of Title 24 was published on July 1, 2019, with an effective date of January 1, 2020. The changes made are based on proposals from various California state agencies, including the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the Office of the State Fire Marshal (CAL FIRE).
The California Building Standards Commission has maintained Title 24, the California Building Standards Code, since 1989.
Title 24 is essentially a compilation of building standards from three different origins: adopted standards from national model codes without changes, adopted standards from national codes with changes, and standards not covered by national codes that are either created or amended to address California-specific concerns. Title 24 is divided into 12 parts:
- Part 1: California Administrative Code
- Part 2: California Building Code (including California Residential Code)
- Part 3: California Electrical Code
- Part 4: California Mechanical Code
- Part 5: California Plumbing Code
- Part 6: California Energy Code
- Part 7: Currently vacant, formerly California Elevator Safety Construction Code
- Part 8: California Historical Building Code
- Part 9: California Fire Code
- Part 10: California Existing Building Code
- Part 11: California Green Building Standards Code
- Part 12: California Reference Standards Code
The California Fire Code maintains specific regulations regarding the inspection, storage, and handling of hazardous materials.
The California Fire Code: Fire Safety in the Golden State
Part 9 of Title 24 is known as the California Fire Code. By establishing minimum requirements, the code, “safeguards the public health, safety and general welfare from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions, […] and provides safety and assistance to fire fighters and emergency responders.”
Fire safety is no minor concern for modern-day Californians. Six of the ten most destructive fires in California’s history occurred within the last decade, and the Camp Fire in late November of 2018 cost the State a reported $16.5 billion. However, much like the standardization of building codes, fire safety in California was not always a high priority. When asked about fire safety attitudes in the 1920s, Percy Bugbee, former President of the National Fire Protection Agency, responded;
“… Very few people thought much about [fire safety] except to accept the fact that fire was some kind of an act of God, that you couldn’t really do anything to prevent fires. And that the fire departments hadn’t even dreamed of preventing fires, but just to sit there and come out and put water on them after they started. The idea of fire prevention was not around at that time.” – Percy Bugbee, interviewed by Robert W. Grant for Fire Away: Interviews with Fire Protection Leaders
These days, the general attitude towards fire prevention has shifted, and California has some of the most stringent fire safety building codes in the world. Additionally, regulation of hazardous materials in California has helped ensure that first responders can properly and effectively respond to fire emergencies. Two sections regarding hazardous materials in the California Fire Code are included in the Unified Program: Hazardous Materials Management Plans and Hazardous Materials Inventory Statements.
Implementation of the California Fire Code hazardous materials regulations is ensured by CAL FIRE and enforced through the Unified Program.
The Unified Program & Enforcement of the California Fire Code
A Hazardous Materials Management Plan (HMMP) is required in order to apply for a permit to store hazardous materials. The HMMP requires general business information, a site map, employee training, inspections and recordkeeping, emergency response procedures, and hazardous materials handling methods.
A Hazardous Materials Inventory Statement (HMIS) is provided for each building and/or exterior facility in which hazardous materials are stored. The HMIS lists all hazardous materials stored at a facility and associated important details such as hazard class, common name, storage conditions, and material composition.
CAL FIRE is responsible for ensuring the implementation of the California Fire Code HMMP and HMIS. The HMMP/HMIS regulations were developed during the 1980s around the same time as the Cal OES Hazardous Materials Business Plan (HMBP) Program. Enforcement of the HMMP/HMIS requirements and the HMBP Program are handled by Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) and/or Participating Agencies (PAs) using the Unified Program.
As stated by CAL FIRE, “the HMMP and the HMIS both provide vital facility chemical and emergency response information to regulators, first responders, and the public with respect to community-right-to-know laws and emergency response preparedness.” This is similar in nature to the HMBP Program, which is also intended to prevent or minimize the damage to public health and safety and the environment from hazardous materials. Under the Unified Program, both the HMMP/HMIS and the HMBP Program require qualifying facilities that handle hazardous materials to maintain certain documents that help to achieve these goals.
For more information about Hazardous Materials Business Plans and the HMBP Program, see the July 2019 NES article The Cal OES HMBP Program.
While the HMMP/HMIS and the HMBP Program elements of the Unified Program are similar and are often applied congruently, there are some important differences.
According to CAL FIRE, the HMMP/HMIS element is distinct from the HMBP Program in that it specifically enhances, “coordination and communication among the Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPA), participating agencies (PA), fire agencies, and business stakeholders.” In contrast to the HMBP Program, the following items are added to the California Fire Code HMMP/HMIS requirements:
- A fire chief may require additional information about the facility in order to meet the California Fire Code HMMP/HMIS requirements. This information can vary, so it is recommended that business owners contact the local CUPA/PA for details.
- A fire chief may also require submission of the HMMP/HMIS even if the facility is below the State Business Plan reporting threshold quantity limits for building occupancy type and fire code permits.
As the stipulations of these Unified Program elements are very similar to each other, the HMMP/HMIS requirement is often lumped together with the HMBP Program. However, due to the fact that hazardous materials are commonly flammable in nature, business owners must understand the additional California Fire Code HMMP/HMIS requirements if they intend to operate lawfully within the State.
While adherence to the State’s safety and training requirements may come at a financial cost, there is no excuse for being out of compliance in California, especially with the 2019 fire season already making headlines. For this reason, CUPAs/PAs strive to make their services available to steer business owners in the right direction, both for the betterment of the environment and for the safety of the public.
NES Environmental Consulting
NES has been providing environmental consulting and training services for the past 30 years. NES regularly provides Hazardous Materials Business Plan / CERS training on behalf of CUPAs and public and private businesses throughout California. NES also assists with the preparation and submittal of businesses’ Hazardous Materials Business Plans. For more information, please contact NES at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-353-2360 / 1-800-NES-ADVISE.
Cal EPA: Unified Program