Engineer Succeeds in Prompting Historic Change in Safety Codes
David W. Frable was a big part of history in the making last year. He had put his name first on proposals to include, for the first time anywhere in the world, occupant evacuation elevators in building codes. Historically, firefighters take over elevators during an emergency and occupants must use stairs to exit.
In late September, the proposal was approved by the International Code Council for the 2009 edition of the International Building Code. The provision is also part of the National Fire Protection Association’s 2009 building and life safety codes.
Frable, senior fire protection engineer with the U.S. General Services Administration Public Buildings Service, Washington, D.C., demurs at the accomplishment, saying his work was part of a team effort also involving the National Institute of Standards & Technology and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Others acknowledge the team effort, but still credit Frable for his contribution. “By engaging this concept and developing a code change that pushes the industry forward, Dave has provided an invaluable service not only to his own constituents but to anyone that may be affected by high-rise safety questions,” says David S. Collins, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based code consultant to the American Institute of Architects.
The code provision allows all elevators in a new building to be designed to certain standards to evacuate occupants. It does not mandate them and there is no height threshold or mandatory occupancy. “You don’t have to do it,” says Frable. But if an owner elects to, the code will prescribe how it’s to be done.
Frable succeeded in his effort to get building and fire officials to include occupant evacuation elevators in the model codes.
The proposal, entered with Gerald H. Jones, led to a second historic code provision that applies only to buildings taller than 420 ft. The provision, proposed by ICC’s Code Technology Committee, will allow occupancy evacuation elevators also for all elevator banks instead of a third stairwell. The third-stairwell provision, also new to the 2009 IBC, was controversial. Many groups, including but not limited to AIA and the Building Owners and Managers Association International, oppose the third stairwell. They say no case was presented to prove a need for it.
Frable says the evacuation elevator proposal grew out of $800,000 in NIST research, sponsored by GSA, on various aspects of building evacuation, including fire service access elevators, data collection of building evacuations and elevator enclosure issues. The initiative, in collaboration in ASME and others, also supported another new model code provision for fire service access elevators. That provision requires all buildings with an occupied floor more than 120 ft above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access to have a minimum of one fire service access elevator.
Frable names Richard W. Bukowski, senior research engineer in NIST’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory, as his closest partner in elevator research. The four-year program was inspired by the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. “9/11 basically questioned our evacuation strategies for tall buildings,” says Frable, who has been with GSA for 28 years.
ASME will develop specifics of how evacuation elevators, which empty a building in a half hour, will function. “They are so efficient that it won’t be necessary for anyone to use stairs if they don’t want to,” says Bukowski.
Pending funding, future research will consider egress capacities of exit stairs in buildings with evacuation elevators, and other topics.