Frequently Asked Code Questions

  1. How do I know in what fire district my project is located?
  2. What codes and standards does my project have to be in compliance with?
  3. I’m constructing a new building. Does my building need to be equipped with sprinklers?
  4. I’m moving my offices into a currently empty tenant space within a two-story office building? Does my space need a fire alarm system?
  5. I’ve heard fire districts use the terms “fire alarm system” and “sprinkler monitoring alarm system.” What is the difference?
  6. I’ve heard fire districts use the term “common-use” area. What is the definition of a common-use area?
  7. I’ve heard that thumb-turn style door locks are illegal. Is this true? If so, what kinds of locks can I provide on my doors in order to be in compliance with the code but at the same time provide an acceptable level of protection from burglars and theft?
  8. I’ve heard fire districts use the term “fire flow” when referring to fire hydrant requirements associated with a new project? What does the term “fire flow” really mean?
  9. How far from the road and from existing buildings can my building be?
  10. Are duct smoke detectors required for my building? If so, do they need to be connected to the building’s alarm system?
  11. I want to burn some scrap vegetation that I’ve accumulated on my property over time. Can I get a burn permit?
  12. I own a business and I’ve hired a new employee. I need to make room for her, and so I need to put up some new walls. Do I need a building permit or a permit from the fire district? If so, why?
  13. What can really happen to me if I refuse to comply with the fire code?
  14. I am a fire sprinkler contractor working on a very small tenant finish job involving a few sprinkler additions and relocations. Do I have to wait for my plan to be reviewed before I can get a permit?
  15. Does the Fire Prevention Division accept payment by credit card?
  16. What will my permit and plan review fees be and when do they need to be paid to the fire district?
  17. I’ve heard fire districts use the term “turnaround time.” What does that mean, how it is determined, and what is the turnaround time of plans submitted to the Fire Prevention Division for review?
  18. Why does the fire district require that the exterior horn/strobe on my sprinklered building sound on all alarms as opposed to just waterflow?
  19. My project is unique and cannot be effectively built using the prescriptive requirements set forth within the code. What can I do?
  20. I’ve heard building departments and fire districts use the term “variance request.” What exactly is a “variance request”?
  21. I am a fire protection contractor who has been in the business for over 20 years. I had an inspection of my work recently, and your inspector told me to correct some things that I’ve been doing the same way for years and that which other fire districts have never made me correct. Why do I have to change the way I’ve been doing things just for your jurisdiction?

How do I know in what fire district my project is located?

If you are not sure which fire district serves your project location, please contact us and we’ll tell you if your property is in the jurisdiction of North Metro Fire Rescue District. If it is not, we may even be able to help you figure out which jurisdiction it is in.

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What codes and standards does my project have to be in compliance with?

A very good question, and the starting point for all projects. The answer depends on the city and/or county in which your project is located. North Metro Fire Rescue District serves all of the City of Northglenn, the City and County of Broomfield and portions of unincorporated Adams, Boulder, Jefferson and Weld Counties. Each entity may adopt different building and fire codes and may adopt local amendments to those codes. Furthermore, adopted codes and amendments tend to change every few years as newer codes are developed. It is best to confirm the design codes of record for a project with a member of the Fire Prevention Division before assuming the use of a particular code or standard.

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I’m constructing a new building. Does my building need to be equipped with sprinklers?

Always a good question to ask up front to avoid surprises later down the road in the development process. Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer. Whether or not your building will require an automatic fire sprinkler system depends on the city or county in which it is located, the size of the building, the number of stories,  construction type, the occupancy classification, and use(s) or operation(s) to take place within the building, the configuration of fire department vehicular access to and around the building, and the water supply available for firefighting purposes.

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I’m moving my offices into a currently empty tenant space within a two-story office building? Does my space need a fire alarm system?

Most likely you will not be required by the fire code to provide a fire alarm system for your space. However, more information about the building and your space is needed in order for the fire district to give a correct answer. What is your occupancy load? What is your occupancy classification? What will you be doing in your space? Does the rest of the building have a fire alarm system? Is the building provided with an automatic sprinkler system? Does the owner, property manager or the owner’s insurance company require that all tenants furnish a fire alarm system that interfaces with the building’s master fire alarm control panel? Questions like these, and maybe some others, will need to be answered before the fire district can determine alarm system requirements for your new space.

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I’ve heard fire districts use the terms “fire alarm system” and “sprinkler monitoring alarm system.” What is the difference?

That question can actually be expanded on to determine the difference between a manual fire alarm system, an automatic and manual fire alarm system, and an automatic sprinkler system water flow monitoring alarm system (often called a sprinkler monitoring alarm system). We will define all three here.

A manual fire alarm system is a building fire emergency notification system consisting minimally of audible and visual alarm notification appliances (i.e., horns and strobes) installed within all common-use areas of a building and manual alarm stations (i.e., pull stations) installed at every exit from every level. If the building is also provided with an automatic sprinkler system, the water flow devices and valve tamper switches are also connected to the fire alarm system. Activation of any manual pull station or water flow through the sprinkler system will activate all interior alarm notification appliances. Certain minimum fire alarm signal audibility levels, which are based on the average ambient sound levels within the building, are required to be met and are measured by the fire district during the acceptance test of the system.

An automatic and manual fire alarm system is a building fire emergency notification system consisting of audible and visual alarm notification appliances installed within all common-use areas of a building, manual alarm stations installed at every exit from every level, and automatic initiating devices (i.e., smoke detectors, heat detectors, or flame detectors) installed throughout all areas of the building. If the building is also provided with an automatic sprinkler system, the water flow devices and valve tamper switches are also connected to the fire alarm system. Activation of any manual pull station, initiating device, or water flow through the sprinkler system will activate all interior alarm notification appliances. Certain minimum fire alarm signal audibility levels, which are based on the average ambient sound levels within the building, are required to be met and are measured by the fire district during the acceptance test of the system.

An automatic sprinkler system water flow monitoring alarm system (often called a sprinkler monitoring alarm system for brevity) is an alarm system that can only be installed within a building equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system. Its purpose is to monitor water flow through the automatic sprinkler system and the position of any sprinkler system control valves. A sprinkler monitoring alarm system does not include notification appliances installed throughout all common-use areas, but rather only has one notification appliance (i.e., a horn/strobe) mounted in a normally occupied location within the building and one horn/strobe mounted on the exterior of the building above the fire department connection to the sprinkler system. Other than the water flow detector, the only initiating devices included with a sprinkler monitoring alarm system are typically one smoke detector over the control panel and one manual pull station for the purposes of initiating an alarm if the sprinkler system is out of service or if a fire is observed by a building occupant prior to activation of the sprinkler system. There are no specific minimum alarm signal audibility levels associated with a sprinkler monitoring alarm system or measured by the fire district at the time of final acceptance. The interior audible and visual alarm device merely has to be noticeable and audible above the normal ambient sound level within the portion of the building in which it is installed.

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I’ve heard fire districts use the term “common-use” area. What is the definition of a common-use area?

Common-use areas are defined in International Building Code as, “interior or exterior circulation paths, rooms, spaces, or elements that are not for public use and are made available for the shared use of two or more people.” Public-use areas are defined in International Building Code as, “interior or exterior rooms or spaces that are made available to the general public.” Employee work areas are defined in the International Building Code as, “all or any portion of a space used only by employees and only for work.”

Hallways, lobbies, restrooms and any other general usage areas, such as meeting and conference rooms, classrooms, cafeterias, employee break rooms, dressing rooms, examination rooms and similar spaces that are not used solely as individual employee work areas (i.e., individual offices) will be common-use areas or public-use areas depending on the facility. Employee work areas can be part of common-use areas or a private office. Mechanical rooms, electrical rooms, telephone equipment rooms, janitor closets and similar non-occupiable spaces are not considered common-use or public-use areas.

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I’ve heard that thumb-turn style door locks are illegal. Is this true? If so, what kinds of locks can I provide on my doors in order to be in compliance with the code but at the same time provide an acceptable level of protection from burglars and theft?

Thumb-turn style locks are only allowed on exit doors if thumb-turn lever is large enough to allow operation without using fingers (which is to say that pinching or grasping is not required to operate the mechanism) and the thumb-turn lever rotates no more than approximately 90 degrees.

There are several types of door-locking hardware that can be installed on exit doors that will provide an increased level of security while at the same time meeting the exiting requirements of the building and fire code. It is recommended that you contact the Fire Prevention Division before changing any existing approved hardware or before installing additional locking hardware to any exit doors. The Fire Prevention Division will be happy to assist you in determining an appropriate configuration for your specific situation.

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I’ve heard fire districts use the term “fire flow” when referring to fire hydrant requirements associated with a new project? What does the term “fire flow” really mean?

The term “fire flow” means minimum volume of water that must be available per minute from the fire hydrants in the immediate area of the project. Fire flow is measured in gallons per minute (gpm) and must be provided at a minimum residual pressure of 20 pounds per square inch (psi) in order to be usable by the fire pumps on fire apparatus. The minimum fire flow required by the fire code for all commercial projects is 1,500 gpm provided by at least one fire hydrant. However, some cities require that the water distribution system serving a new project area be designed to deliver much more than that. Depending on the size of a building and its construction type, required fire flows can be as high as 4,000 gpm.

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How far from the road and from existing buildings can my building be?

This question really is a question for the city and/or county in which the project will be located. The fire code does not regulate setback distances for buildings. Setbacks may be regulated by the locally adopted building code and standards commonly enforced by the local community development, planning department or building department.

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Are duct smoke detectors required for my building? If so, do they need to be connected to the building’s alarm system?

The requirement for the installation of duct smoke detectors is a mechanical code requirement and a fire code requirement. Generally, the mechanical code requires that duct detectors be installed on the supply and return sides of HVAC units if the aggregate (cumulative) capacity of the system exceeds a capacity of 2,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm). Duct detectors, if present, are required by the fire code to be connected to the building’s alarm system. In buildings that are not required to be equipped with an alarm system, the fire code requires that the activation of a duct smoke detector activate a visible and audible signal in an approved location. Smoke detector trouble conditions shall activate a visible or audible signal in an approved location and shall be specifically identified as air duct detector trouble.

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I want to burn some scrap vegetation that I’ve accumulated on my property over time. Can I get a burn permit?

Please refer to the “Open Burning” section of the fire district’s website for information pertaining to open burning and under what circumstances permits can be obtained.

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I own a business and I’ve hired a new employee. I need to make room for her and so I need to put up some new walls. Do I need a building permit or a permit from the fire district? If so, why?

Most likely you will need a building permit to erect new walls, which will be issued by your city or county’s Building Department. If your building is equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, you may need to hire a fire sprinkler contractor to add and/or relocate sprinkler heads, in which case you would also need a permit from the fire district. If your building is equipped with a fire alarm system and any alterations occur to that system, you will also need a permit from the fire district for any alterations made to the fire alarm system.

Permits are required to ensure that the work being performed will be done in a safe manner, will not violate any requirements of the building or fire Codes, and will not prevent building systems from operating as intended.

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What can really happen to me if I refuse to comply with the fire code?

As much as practically possible, the fire district tries to work with individuals to achieve voluntary compliance in a reasonable time frame. However, for serious violations that pose a distinct threat to life safety as determined solely by the fire district, a business may be evacuated and ordered closed, or an operation may be ordered to cease until the violation is corrected. In some cases, a summons may be issued. Fire Prevention personnel also have the ability to call upon local law enforcement for immediate assistance.

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I am a fire sprinkler contractor working on a very small tenant finish job involving a few sprinkler additions and relocations. Do I have to wait for my plan to be reviewed before I can get a permit?

Most likely, no. In the spirit of customer service, the Fire Prevention Division has developed what are called “fast-track” permits for minor alterations to fire sprinkler and fire alarm systems. To qualify for a fast-track permit, work on an existing sprinkler system typically must be limited to 30 or fewer sprinkler heads. For existing fire alarm systems, work typically must be limited to 10 devices or less. In some cases, fast-track permits may even be completed while you wait depending on the availability of Fire Prevention Division personnel. However, generally speaking, fast-track permits do not take more than one to two days to process. Fast-track permit fees are based on the contractor’s valuation of the work to be performed and are calculated based on the adopted fee schedule within the fire code that is adopted by the city or county in which the work will take place. All fast-track permit fees must be paid prior to the permit being released by the fire district. The fire district accepts cash and checks, as well as Visa, Discover and MasterCard credit cards, as forms of payment for all assessed fees.

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Does the Fire Prevention Division accept payment by credit card?

Yes, in addition to cash and checks, the fire district now accepts payment by Visa, Discover and MasterCard for all assessed fees.

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What will my permit and plan review fees be, and when do they need to be paid to the fire district?

Permit and plan review fees are set forth in the adopted fire code and are, in most cases, based on the subcontractor’s valuation of the work to be performed under the permit. Below are some generalizations pertaining to how fees are assessed by the Fire Prevention Division. However, you may contact the Fire Prevention Division at (720) 887-8217  at any time during normal business hours to get the exact amounts for your plan review and permit fees.

Plan review fees for fire protection systems and other plans requiring the issuance of a construction permit are now collected up-front by the Fire District at the time that the plans are submitted to the fire district for review. Failure to provide payment for the plan review fee at the time of submittal will prevent the fire district from accepting your plans. Permit fees are collected after plans have been approved and prior to the permit being released to the subcontractor by the fire district. If a set of plans is disapproved, the fire district retains the initially collected plan review fee for that review and assesses fees for subsequent reviews based on a fee schedule of $50.00 per hour for the amount of time it takes the Fire Prevention Division to complete the review. Those additional plan review fees would be required to be collected prior to the permit being released by the fire district.

Fees associated with the review of building construction or tenant finish construction plans submitted to the fire district are not collected upfront but rather are based on a fee schedule of $50.00 per hour for the amount of time it takes the Fire Prevention Division to complete the review. These fees will be invoiced to the applicant upon completion of the review.

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I’ve heard fire districts use the term “turnaround time.” What does that mean, how is it determined, and what is the turnaround time of plans submitted to the Fire Prevention Division for review?

Plans submitted for review are examined by fire safety engineers on a first-in, first-out basis. The term “turnaround time” refers to the time it takes for a fire safety engineer to complete a review (i.e. approve, disapprove or issue comments) on a set of plans submitted to the Fire Prevention Division. Turnaround time is not “fixed” and depends on several factors, the most critical of those factors being the amount of construction taking place in the jurisdiction at the time plans are submitted. Because turnaround time can be a significant time period, it is important that plans submitted for review are of the highest quality and are as accurate and as detailed as possible. Plans that are disapproved and have to be resubmitted to the Fire Prevention Division have to start at the end of the queue. Such delays can be costly and can cause serious problems with construction time lines.

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Why does the fire district require that the exterior horn/strobe on my sprinklered building sound on all alarms as opposed to just water flow?

The fire district requires that the exterior horn/strobe activates on all alarms, not just water flow, and that it activates until all alarms have been reset. Having the exterior horn/strobe activate on all alarms helps responding personnel quickly identify and locate the facility experiencing the alarm and can expedite any necessary emergency actions.

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My project is unique and cannot be effectively built using the prescriptive requirements set forth within the code. What can I do?

If your project does not fit within the confines of prescriptive code requirements, you may wish to consider a performance-based design or alternate method approach. With a performance-based design, performance criteria are established and agreed upon by all parties involved, often called “stakeholders.” Once the performance criteria are established, those criteria guide the design of the building. Reports explaining and detailing proposed designs to achieve the performance criteria are evaluated by the Fire Prevention Division and/or the Building Department using applicable and established principles of fire protection engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, human behavior, etc. Performance-based designs can be very complicated, so it is very important that all critical assumptions and limitations of the design are explicitly stated. Critical assumptions and limitations need to be organized into a report that must be maintained with the building so that the building can be operated and regularly inspected by Fire Prevention personnel for compliance with the intricacies of the specified design. This report is often called an “Operations and Maintenance Manual.”

Among other nationally and internationally recognized standards, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers’ Engineering Design Guide to Performance-Based Fire Protection Analysis and Design of Buildings is used by the Fire Prevention Division in evaluating performance-based designs. The guide outlines a process for using a performance-based approach in the design and assessment of building fire safety within both prescriptive and performance-based code systems.

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I’ve heard building departments and fire districts use the term “variance request.” What exactly is a “variance request”?

A “variance request” is an inquiry to deviate from a code requirement by providing compensatory measures that enable the design to provide an equivalent or greater level of safety than that which would have been minimally required by the code. A variance request should not be an inquiry to waive a code requirement. The fire district is not authorized to waive code requirements. Variance requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and may require extensive technical justification and/or additional review time.

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I am a fire protection contractor who has been in the business for over 20 years. I had an inspection of my work recently, and your inspector told me to correct some things that I’ve been doing the same way for years and that which other fire districts have never made me correct. Why do I have to change the way I’ve been doing things just for your jurisdiction?

The Fire Prevention Division of North Metro Fire Rescue District prides itself on being progressive and technically adept. To that end, please understand that fire safety engineers and inspectors are not singling out your work or you as an individual. Rather, they are just trying to do the best job that they can to ensure that the system is being designed and installed in compliance with the codes and standards under which the project was approved. It may be that there have been some significant changes to the standards of design for the fire protection or building system of which you may not be aware.

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