Prevention FAQ

 

General

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  • When is an automatic fire sprinkler system required?

    Approved automatic fire sprinkler systems shall be installed in all new structures. For the purpose of fire sprinkler systems, buildings separated by less than 10 feet from adjacent buildings shall be considered one building. In regards to existing structures; an automatic fire sprinkler system may be required to be installed throughout the structure in the event of an addition, or additions, with a total area in excess of 50% of the existing building area, or when the altered building will exceed fire flow requirements as based on Appendix B of the County Fire Code or the standard published by the Insurance Services Office, “Guide for Determination of Required Fire Flow.” More information on automatic fire sprinkler system can be found at homefiresprinkler.org.

  • What is the rationale behind the requirements for an automatic fire sprinkler system?

    The primary purpose of an interior fire sprinkler system is life safety; these systems are designed to control the fire and allow the occupants to get out safely. Most people don't realize that 8 out of 10 fire deaths occur in the home, in large part because fires usually happen at night when you and your family are asleep. Fires can go from a tiny flame to total destruction in as little as three minutes; as a result fires in residences have taken a high toll of life and property. In 2014, there were 367,500 residential building fires, 3,275 civilian fire deaths, 15,775 civilian fire injuries, and $6.8 billion in property loss in home fires (Source: NFPA). Fire sprinklers can suppress and often extinguish a fire before the fire department arrives, giving your family time to escape.

  • Who can design and install an automatic fire sprinkler system?

    All residential and commercial automatic fire sprinkler systems must be designed and installed by a licensed contractor with a C-16 (Fire Protection Contractor) specialty license classification.

  • What type of fire extinguisher should I buy for my home?

    Homeowners should buy an extinguisher rated for class A-B-C fires, one designed to extinguish the types of fires that usually occur in a home; wood, paper, flammable liquids and electrical.

  • Where should I install smoke alarms in my home and what is the recommended maintenance?

    Smoke alarms shall be installed as follows: in each bedroom or room that could be used for sleeping purposes, in the hallway/area accessing each sleeping area and on each floor/level including basements. Alarms at new construction shall be permanently wired with battery back-up; if permanent wiring of alarms at existing construction is not feasible, then battery operated is acceptable. All alarms shall be audible in all sleeping areas. Smoke alarms should be tested every month, the battery should be replaced every six months, and the smoke alarm itself should be replaced every 10 years.

  • What about the new requirements for carbon monoxide alarms?

    Per California Senate Bill 183, as of July 1, 2011, all existing single family homes are required to have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. As of January 1, 2013, all other types of residences (apartments, condominiums, etc.) are required to have carbon monoxide alarms as well.

    The new requirements apply if ANY of the following are present within a home:

    • attached garage
    • natural gas or propane furnace and/or water heater
    • any natural gas or propane appliance; range and/or oven and clothes dryer
    • natural gas, propane, or wood-burning fireplace or other similar heating appliance.

    If required, they are to be installed in the hallway/area accessing each sleeping area and on each floor/level including basements. The California Building Code has similar requirements for all new homes and forexisting homes undergoing alterations and repairs requiring building permits. Alarms at new construction shall be permanently wired with battery back-up; if permanent wiring of alarms at existing construction is not feasible, then battery operated is acceptable.

    In addition, California Residential Code Section R315 applies to the installation of carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in: new manufactured homes, new and used multifamily manufactured homes containing only two dwelling units, existing manufactured homes in inventory or on dealer lots, and used manufactured homes and mobilehomes, if all such units contain fuel-burning appliances or are designed for an attached garage (effective date is July 1, 2012).

    For new and used multifamily manufactured homes that contain more than two dwelling units; California Building Code Section 420.4 is the required standard with the effective date for new units being July 1, 2012, and January 1, 2013 for existing and used units. Battery operated or plug-in with battery back-up devices are acceptable at existing units unless an alteration or conversion is performed which requires removal of the interior and ceiling finish material that would facilitate hard-wiring and interconnection of the devices.

    For additional information on requirements for manufactured homes and mobilehomes, please contact State of California Department of Housing and Community Development, Division of Codes and Standards at (916) 445-3338.

  • What factors are taken into consideration when a building project is proposed?

    The primary considerations are: access, water supply, construction type and defensible space.

  • What are the general considerations regarding access for a proposed building project?

    Fire apparatus access roads, including residential driveways, shall be required for every building constructed when any portion of an exterior wall of the first story is located more than 150 feet from the closest point of fire department vehicle access. Fire apparatus access roads shall be designed and maintained to support the imposed loads of fire apparatus (not less than 75,000 lbs., unless authorized by the fire code official) and shall be provided with an approved paving surface so as to provide all-weather driving capabilities.  Paving and sub-base shall be installed to the standards specified in the County of San Diego Parking Design Manual. Fire department access roads shall have an unobstructed improved width of not less than 24 feet, except for single-family residential driveways serving no more than two single-family dwellings, which shall have a minimum of 16 feet of unobstructed improved width. All fire department access roads shall have an unobstructed vertical clearance of not less than 13 feet 6 inches with a maximum slope/grade not to exceed 20%. The minimum surfacing materials required or fire apparatus access roads shall vary with the slope of the roadway as follows: 0 – 14% Slope – Minimum Surface: 2” Asphaltic Concrete, 15 – 20% Slope – Minimum Surface: 3” Asphaltic Concrete OR 3-1/2” Portland Concrete with deep broom finish perpendicular to the path of travel. EXCEPTION: The fire code official may allow a surfacing material of 4” of decomposed granite on fire apparatus roads with a slope not to exceed 10% in areas allowed by the San Diego County Standards for Private Roads. Please note that all pervious and semi-pervious paving materials must be designed to support the imposed loads of fire apparatus (not less than 75,000 lbs). Certification from the product manufacturer as proof of compliance with this requirement is required for verification and approval purposes.

  • What are the general considerations regarding water supply for a proposed building project?

    Water supply may consist of reservoirs, pressure tanks, elevated tanks, water mains for other fixed systems, as approved by the fire code official, capable of providing the required fire flow in a reliable manner. Water tanks, when authorized by the fire code official, shall comply with the following:

    • Building Area up to 1,500 square feet = Tank Capacity of 5,000 gallons (250 gallons per minute for 20 minutes)
    • Building Area over 1,500 square feet = Tank Capacity of 10,000 gallons (250 gallons per minute for 40 minutes).

    Please see: PDS #600 (Water Tank Requirements) for additional information.

  • What are the general considerations regarding construction type for a proposed building project?

    Proposed development on parcels determined to be located within a Fire Hazard Severity Zone in the Wildland Urban Interface, must comply with the requirements of Chapter 7A (Materials and Construction Methods for Exterior Wildfire Exposure) of the 2013 California Building Code. Please see PDS #664 (County Fire and Building Code Requirements) for additional information.

  • What are the general considerations regarding defensible space for a proposed building project?

    General Fire Setbacks - For properties located within a fire hazard severity zone in the Wildland Urban Interface, new buildings and structures shall be set back a minimum of 30 feet from property lines and open space easements unless the County Zoning Ordinance requires a greater minimum. When both the Building Official and the FAHJ determine otherwise, the Building Official may allow the setback to be less than 30 feet when allowed by the Zoning Ordinance.

    Fuel Modification - A fuel modification zone shall be required around every building that is designed primarily for human habitation or use, or a building designed specifically to house farm animals. When a building or structure in a hazardous fire area is located 100 feet or more from the property line, the person owning or occupying the building or structure shall maintain a fuel modification zone within 100 feet of the building or structure. The area within 50 feet of a building or structure shall be cleared of vegetation that is not fire resistant and re-planted with fire-resistant plants. In the area between 50 to 100 feet from a building, all dead and dying vegetation shall be removed. In those instances when a building or structure in a hazardous fire area is setback less than 100 feet from the property line, the person owning or occupying the building or structure shall meet these requirements to the extent possible in the area between the building or structure and the property line.

    Please see PDS #800(Vegetation Clearing Fact Sheet) for additional information.


Defensible Space

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  • What is defensible space?
    Defensible space is an area either natural or man-made, where material capable of allowing a fire to spread unchecked has been treated, cleared, or modified to slow the rate and intensity of an advancing wildfire and to create an area for fire suppression operations to occur.
  • What is combustible vegetation?
    Combustible vegetation is material that in its natural state will readily ignite, burn, and transmit fire from native or landscape plants to any structure or other vegetation. Combustible vegetation includes dry grass, brush, weeds, litter, or other flammable vegetation that creates a fire hazard.
  • What are dead, dying or diseased trees?
    Dead, dying or diseased trees include pest or pathogen infested trees, abandoned or neglected groves or other trees which are in a dying condition or no longer living.
  • What is improvement?
    Improvement means any building or structure, permanent or temporary, erected for the support, shelter, or enclosure of persons, animals, chattels, or property of any kind located in the unincorporated area of the County of San Diego subject to this chapter and shall include agricultural crops. For purposes of this chapter, the term "improvement" shall not include decks, sheds, gazebos, freestanding open-sided shade structures and similar accessory structures less than 250 square feet and 30 feet or more from a dwelling, and fences more than 5 feet from a dwelling.
  • What is a parcel?
    The responsible party includes, but is not limited to, any person, firm, partnership or incorporation owning, renting, leasing, or otherwise controlling any parcel located in the unincorporated area of the County of San Diego subject to this chapter.
  • Who is the responsible party?
    The responsible party includes, but is not limited to, any person, firm, partnership or incorporation owning, renting, leasing, or otherwise controlling any parcel located in the unincorporated area of the County of San Diego subject to this chapter.

Plans Review

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  • When do I need to submit plans to the County Fire Authority?

    The County Fire Authority provides building plan check and building-related fire prevention systems (fire sprinklers, commercial hood and duct system, etc.) plan check and inspection services to the following jurisdictional areas: Borrego Springs FPD, Ramona MWD, Julian-Cuyamaca FPD, Lakeside FPD, San Diego Rural FPD, Mootamai MWD, Pauma Valley MWD, Yuima MWD, the County Service Areas; Elfin Forest (CSA 107), and Mt. Laguna, Palomar Mt., Boulevard, Campo, San Pasqual, CSA 115/Pepper Drive and the other communities within CSA 135. If your project is not within one of these areas, you will need to submit your plans to the appropriate FAHJ (Fire Authority Having Jurisdiction).

  • What type of building projects are subject to fire review?

    New construction of enclosed structures 300 square feet in area and larger, additions to existing structures of 300 square feet in area and larger, major remodels including roof re-structures, conversion of use (i.e. garage conversion to habitable space) of 300 square feet in area and larger, and commercial tenant improvement projects. Also subject to review are vehicular access gates on private roads and driveway gates that have an electrical power source; as well as all commercial fuel tank installations; i.e. propane, diesel, gasoline, etc.

  • Where do I submit my plans?

    All building and grading plans for CFA review are submitted in person at the offices of Planning and Development Services (PDS) located at the County Operations Center, address: 5510 Overland Avenue, Suite 101. All building related fire suppression and alarm system plans are submitted directly to our offices located in the same building at Suite 250.

  • What is an over the counter plan review?

    An over the counter plan review is one that may be performed “while you wait.” Only certain projects qualify for this review; the determination will be made when you route your plans through the PDS ‘Building Plan Pre-Review’ (BPPR) process.

  • How long does it take to review plans?

    Projects that are submitted to the PDS Building Division are routed internally to all applicable specialties so initial plan check turn around time could take 4 to 6 weeks. Subsequent review time will vary dependent upon the extent of the items needing correction. Plans for fire suppression and alarm systems are submitted under separate cover directly to our offices, even if associated with a building permit application; i.e. a fire sprinkler system for a structure or a hood suppression system for a restaurant, etc. Plan check turnaround time for these submittals typically is a week to a week and a half.

  • Who do I contact with questions about my project?

    If you have received a plan check correction list for your project and you have questions regarding the correction items; please contact the plan reviewer who reviewed your plans, their phone number is on the correction list. If you have questions not related to a specific project, and the parcel is within one of the areas under CFA responsibility, please call the Fire Authority at 858-974-5999. For questions regarding parcels outside of CFA responsibility, please contact the appropriate FAHJ. Please see: FA 1 (Fire Authority Contact List for Building Plan and Planning Case Processing) for additional contact information.

  • How much will a plan review cost?

    Please view the Fee Schedule for costs.

  • How can I get a copy of the fire code?

    The California Fire Code is a copyrighted document that may be purchased at a technical bookstore or at ww.iccsafe.org (phone: 800-786-4452) or viewed at California Building Standards Commission.


Construction

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  • What is the rationale behind the requirements for ignition resistant construction?

    The wildfires of 2003 and 2007 were the largest in California history, and had a huge impact on lives in San Diego County. The fires demonstrated, again, how vulnerable and powerless we are in the face of wildfire. Some examples of the problems that have been identified from prior fires are: vulnerable building construction, structures ignited by native and landscape vegetation, poor access and escape routes, inadequate water supplies and limited fire fighting resources. For decades, the County has worked with fire agencies, planners, environmental experts and the building industry to craft codes that are responsive to the wildfire challenge. Since the 1980's, the County's fire codes have been strengthened in successive code adoption cycles with the primary goal of protecting the safety of our citizens and enhancing your home’s ability to survive wildfire.

  • Why do new construction and replacement windows need to have a minimum of one tempered pane?

    Research has shown that glass is the most vulnerable part of a window. A window with a single pane of tempered glass breaks at a radiant exposure that is approximately two times as great as a window constructed of two panes of annealed (non-tempered glass) in a dual pane insulated glass unit, and more than four times as great as a window with a single pane of annealed (non-tempered) glass. The greater resistance to radiant exposure translates into valuable time that can potentially save lives and property.

  • Why do vinyl window frames need to have metal reinforcing and welded corners?

    A research project by the National Institute of Standards and Technology published in June 1998 entitled ‘Window Breakage Induced by Exterior Fires’ investigated the effect of radiant heat on the glass itself as well as on the window frames. The research concluded that: “Vinyl-frame windows did not perform well under the exposure of imposed heat fluxes. The vinyl frames and sashes of these windows lost strength, distorted and sagged, permitting openings to develop. Consequently, vinyl-frame windows would not be suitable for use with fire resistant glazing materials”. As a result, vinyl window frames are now required to have welded corners and metal reinforcement in the interlock area with the frame certified and labeled to ANSI/AAMA/NWWDA 101/I.S. 2-97; which is the voluntary performance specification for aluminum, vinyl and wood-framed windows and glass doors. It provides standards for air leakage, water penetration, structural strength and forced-entry resistance.

  • Do all composite decking materials meet the requirement for ignition resistant construction?

    No. For a product to be approved by the County of San Diego Planning Development Services Building Division for construction in a fire hazard severity zone, the manufacturer must submit test reports for review to determine compliance with County Building Code Section 92.1.704A.4.1.4 ‘Testing of Alternative Decking Materials’. The County Building Code requires that all decking materials passing the performance requirement of the code be identified with a grading stamp or label at a minimum of six feet along the length of the decking board. For additional information on compliant/accepted composite decking material, please contact: County of San Diego Planning and Development Services Building Division at (858) 565-5920 (local) or (888) 336-7553 (toll free).

  • Is there a topical application for lumber that would meet the requirement for ignition resistant construction?

    No. There are two fire-retardant pressure-treated lumber products that have been approved by the County of San Diego, and both are pressure-treated in the factory. The two products are: FRX Exterior Fire-Retardant Treated Wood (Listing: ICC-ES ER-5851) and Exterior Fire-X by Hoover (Listing: UL.BPVV.R7002).