A Preview of the 2015 Codes

Before I begin my regular column, I would like to spend a moment in remembrance of the horrific tragedy that occurred in the town of West, Texas on April 17. As I write this article, a memorial service is taking place to honor the ten emergency responders who selflessly gave their lives in the service of their community when they responded to a fire at a fertilizer depot in the heart of town.

As a member of the fire service for many years, I give frequent thought to a program called “Everyone Goes Home,” which is led by the National Fallen Firefi ghters Foundation. The program includes 16 underlying safety initiatives designed to ensure that, at the end of each shift, emergency responders are safely returned to civilian life until their next shift begins. Tragically, on April 17, everyone did not go home.

There are many families of these fallen heroes who are now left to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to find a path forward. NFFF, which is a wellestablished non-profi t charity, provides a variety of resources to assist in that process. Perhaps you’ve been wondering, after seeing the news stories on this event, what you can do to help the families of those who didn’t make it home. Making a donation to the “West, Texas Firefighter and EMS Fallen Hero Fund” through the NFFF was my method of choice. In fact, at the ICC code development hearing this week, firefighter boots were placed near the conference hall to allow all participants to contribute via a single pooled donation.

If you would like to make a contribution, there’s a link at www.fi rehero.org.

At this point, there has been much speculation as to the root cause and contributing factors in the West, Texas, incident, and some have mentioned or pointed to anhydrous ammonia as playing a role. Perhaps we’ll know more when the incident investigation has been completed, but given the devastation of the scene, I would not be surprised to find out that we’ll never conclusively know the full story. Nevertheless, initial media reports mentioning anhydrous ammonia as having played a part were irresponsibly speculative given the lack of any evidence to support such claims. On the contrary, an event of this nature is certainly not characteristic of anhydrous ammonia, either historically or scientifically.

With news reports and social media naming anhydrous ammonia as possibly having played a part in the West incident, it is incumbent on those of us in the ammonia refrigeration industry to be familiar with a few basic facts as we face inquiries from concerned citizens and, or regulators about the safety of anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant.

These include:

  1.  Although anhydrous ammonia was kept at the site of the West incident, no evidence has been presented to link anhydrous ammonia to what occurred.
  2. Anhydrous ammonia is not known, either historically or scientifically, to produce an explosion of the type that occurred in West. Other chemicals stored on the site known to have a higher probability of being the source of this type of blast are being scrutinized.
  3. Anhydrous ammonia in refrigeration systems is much more stringently regulated than anhydrous ammonia in agricultural applications. The ammonia refrigeration industry is a passionate advocate for regulations and facility and personnel safety programs that help to ensure the safe use of ammonia in refrigeration systems. Speaking of safety regulations for ammonia, I’ll now return to our regularly scheduled program…


The past week continued IIAR’s successful path of promoting the safe and efficient use of ammonia refrigeration through reasonable and appropriate code regulations. At the International Code Council code development hearing in Dallas, Texas, we presented several proposals to the International Fire Code for the 2015 edition, all of which were accepted by ICC’s Fire Code Development Committee. They include:

  • Completing our initiative to permit the use of tamper-resistant covers, such as plastic cover boxes, in lieu of break-glass style covers for ventilation system and equipment shutdown emergency controls located outside of machinery rooms. Break-glass style enclosures have the associated risk of broken glass when operated and the challenge of maintaining a “striker” at the box to ensure that the pane can be broken in an emergency.
  • Clarifying the emergency pressure control systems (EPCS) are only required for permanently installed refrigeration systems. The current code text implies that EPCS might be required for portable or temporary systems, as well as permanent, and that was never the intent of the provisions. EPCS, which provide a redundant means to intercept an otherwise uncontrolled overpressure event, were created as a basis for replacing outdated code requirements for Fire Department “Dump” boxes, and those boxes were never required for portable or temporary refrigeration systems.
  • Rewriting provisions for termination of overpressure relief piping to make it clear that it is permissible to internally vent overpressure from one part of a system to another, rather than discharging to a treatment system or atmosphere, if the system is designed for this.
  • Proving an adoption-by-reference for IIAR-2 in the Internationa Fire Code. Given that the IFC has construction regulations related to such topics as vent termination, emergency pressure control systems and refrigerant leak alarms, it is appropriate for the IFC to reference and, to the greatest extent possible, coordinate with IIAR-2.
  • Place “discharge to atmosphere” on a par with other permissible methods of emergency pressure relief venting, such as venting to water tanks or other treatment systems, which have previously been the “default” requirement for relief vent discharge. In restructuring the IFC provisions, it will be clear that venting to atmosphere is an option, not an exception, under the base requirements. The limitations remain that, in order to vent to atmosphere, the designer must demonstrate in plan submittal that atmospheric discharge will not cause a health, environmental or fire risk and gain approval by the local fire official, but these hurdles can be overcome in many cases using scenario analysis and modeling of release scenarios with one or more software programs.

All of the foregoing recommendations to accept these proposals will be subject to further review and public comment before they become final. Final consideration of any recommended changes will occur at the ICC final action hearing, which will take place in Atlantic City, NJ in October 2013.

IIAR also has a number of proposals that have been introduced to the Uniform Mechanical Code for the 2015 edition of that document. In addition to technical changes, the 2015 UMC will most likely have a significantly different “feel” from prior editions based on a major effort by the publisher to do an editorial overhaul of the document. Specific changes proposed by IIAR (which have not yet been acted on) include:

  • Adding an allowance to install refrigeration equipment outdoors. Technically, the UMC currently requires all major equipment to be installed indoors in a refrigeration machinery room.
  • Modifying the provisions for the refrigerant detection alarms such that they are not tied to the power and supervision requirements that apply to fire alarm systems.
  • Clarifying the requirements for emergency control of ventilation systems, which have led to many questions and confusion regarding intended application.

Development of model codes and standards is an ongoing activity that involves many dedicated IIAR member volunteers serving on the IIAR Code Committee and IIAR Standards Committee. Individuals who serve on these committees as representatives of the membership help to identify and respond to issues of concern to the industry and play a key role in directing future changes, such as those described above, many or all of which can be expected to appear in the 2015 International and Uniform codes.