Top Fire Code Violations

Five fire code infractions facility managers need to look out for

Building managers and owners are subject to local fire codes through operational permits and business license inspections. These inspections are typically carried out by local fire marshals and other code officials and inspectors representing the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

Fire codes have over fifty different types of operational permit requirements, such as those for facilities that have flammable or combustible materials, high-piled storage, or hazardous materials. Many cities also have business licenses for assembly, lodging, mercantile, and storage occupancies that require annual fire and life safety inspections. But regardless of any local permit or license – or perceived inspection schedule – a fire marshal or fire inspector has the authority to enter any building with just cause.

The International Fire Code (IFC) or NFPA 1: Fire Code are the two model fire codes that are adopted in various forms by state and local governments in the US. These codes have numerous rules on maintaining buildings and fire protection systems, providing mechanisms to enforce the provisions in NFPA 25: Standard for Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems and NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems.

Here are five infractions that are frequently-cited by local inspectors – issues that every building owner or manager should look out for:

Snow Blocking a Fire Department Connection

Take care not to pile up snow against the fire department connection or the path to it during winter. Source: Fire Protection Deficiencies

1. Blocked fire department connections and valves

Fire department response must be fast to be effective. And quickly connecting to the fire protection system via the fire department connection (FDC) and rapidly operating exterior valves are critical aspects of response time. Boulders, trees, berms, pallets, vehicles, tractor trailers, and other items in the way of the FDC or other access points are violations of local fire code that increase firefighter injuries, allow fires to increase in size, and slow down the rescue of occupants.

Maintain a clear path from the point where the fire department will stage operations to the fire hydrants, the valves (post- and wall-valves), and the FDC:

From the 2018 Edition of International Fire Code (IFC)

912.2 Location. With respect to hydrants, driveways, buildings and landscaping, fire department connections shall be so located that fire apparatus and hose connected to supply the system will not obstruct access to the buildings for other fire apparatus. The location of fire department connections shall be approved by the fire code official.

912.4 Access. Immediate access to fire department connections shall be maintained at all times and without obstruction by fences, bushes, trees, walls or any other fixed or moveable object. Access to fire department connections shall be approved by the fire code official.

Trees blocking an FDC

Trees, shrubs and bushes cannot block the FDC or the way to it. Source: National Fire Sprinkler Association

2. Improper storage in the fire pump and riser rooms

Fire pump and riser rooms are dedicated spaces for fire protection equipment. Storage of non-fire-protection equipment such as file cabinets, shelving, buckets, and cleaning supplies is not permitted under codes and standards. These extra items not only clutter the room, they often prohibit or slow down accessing valves during an emergency. When fire protection equipment such as a fire pump is in operation, the room must be occupied by emergency personnel that need the space to work.

From the 2018 Edition of International Fire Code (IFC)

509.2 Equipment access. Approved access shall be provided and maintained for all fire protection equipment to permit immediate safe operation and maintenance of such equipment. Storage, trash and other materials or objects shall not be placed or kept in such a manner that would prevent such equipment from being readily accessible.

901.4.6 Pump and riser room size. Where provided, fire pump rooms and automatic sprinkler system riser rooms shall be designed with adequate space for all equipment necessary for the installation, as defined by the manufacturer, with sufficient working space around the stationary equipment. Clearances around equipment to elements of permanent construction, including other installed equipment and appliances, shall be sufficient to allow inspection, service, repair or replacement without removing such elements of permanent construction or disabling the function of a required fire-resistance-rated assembly. Fire pump and automatic sprinkler system riser rooms shall be provided with doors and unobstructed passageways large enough to allow removal of the largest piece of equipment.

Storage blocking fire sprinkler riser

Storage in the riser room – in this case, completely blocking the riser – is prohibited by fire codes. Source: National Fire Sprinkler Association

Cleaning supplies blocking fire protection riser.

More storage blocking the fire protection riser. Source: National Fire Sprinkler Association

3. An incorrect fire sprinkler system

Existing fire sprinkler systems were designed for the hazard or specific storage commodity of the building at the time of construction. When structures are sold and the use of them changes or the type of product (commodity) stored changes, the fire sprinkler system often needs to be updated to accommodate the new hazard.

Real estate sales of existing buildings are not regulated by fire codes and building owners who update their processes or change storage commodities often fail to update their fire protection system. As a result, local code enforcers often are the ones who wind up advising an unsuspecting owner of the necessary upgrades.

“Proper knowledge of NFPA 13 [which covers installation] is as essential as NFPA 25 [which governs inspection] for anyone responsible for these systems,” said Rick Boisvert, Fire Marshal of the Brighton (MI) Area Fire Authority.

That said, NFPA 25 does advise owners that they need to make these changes in Section 4.1.6.

From the 2018 Edition of International Fire Code (IFC)

901.4 Installation. Fire protection systems shall be maintained in accordance with the original installation standards for that system. Required systems shall be extended, altered or augmented as necessary to maintain and continue protection where the building is altered, remodeled or added to. Alterations to fire protection systems shall be done in accordance with applicable standards.

From the 2017 Edition of NFPA 25

4.1.6* Changes in Occupancy, Use, Process, or Materials. The property owner or designated representative shall not make changes in the occupancy, the use or process, or the materials used or stored in the building without evaluation of the fire protection system(s) for its capability to protect the new occupancy, use, or materials.

Do Not Hang from Sprinklers Sticker

Need to issue a warning? QRFS can help with that.

4. Hanging items from fire sprinklers and piping

You may have noticed a sticker below the sprinklers in a hotel room that prohibits hanging any item. This stems from hotel occupants using the sprinkler as a convenient hanger for clothing, especially things like long coats and wedding dresses. Many a bride-to-be or business professional has accidentally activated sprinklers, causing large messes, ruined days, and big expenses.

Specific rules prohibit hanging or supporting anything on exposed sprinkler piping such as signs not related to the sprinkler system, lighting, and even wiring. Lightweight items may seem insignificant but they are simply not a part of the fire protection system – and may cause surprising issues due to chemical incompatibility with plastic piping, electrical shorts, or spurring vibration in the system.

From the 2017 edition of NFPA 25 Sprinkler piping shall not be subjected to external loads by materials either resting on the pipe or hung from the pipe.

From the 2016 edition of NPFA 13* Sprinkler piping or hangers shall not be used to support non-system components.

Decorations hanging from fire sprinkler

'Tis the season … for a fire code violation. Regardless of the holiday, hanging decorations from sprinkler piping can obstruct flow and cause delays in operation. Source: National Fire Sprinkler Association

5. Insufficient fire sprinkler clearance

Fire sprinklers throw water from six to ten feet on all sides when they deploy. In order to develop this spray and pattern, the first 18 inches from a pendent or upright sprinkler need to remain clear. And in certain storage occupancies, the first 36 inches are critical for spray and pattern development. The fire code (NFPA 1 and IFC) and fire sprinkler installation standard (NFPA 13) require these clearances to be maintained at all times. Nevertheless, fire inspectors often find storage rooms and high-piled storage areas where personnel have stacked materials within 18 or 36 inches.

From the 2018 Edition of International Fire Code (IFC)

315.3.1 Ceiling clearance. Storage shall be maintained 2 feet (610 mm) or more below the ceiling in nonsprinklered areas of buildings or not less than 18 inches (457 mm) below sprinkler head deflectors in sprinklered areas of buildings.


1. The 2-foot (610 mm) ceiling clearance is not required for storage along walls in nonsprinklered areas of buildings.

2. The 18-inch (457 mm) ceiling clearance is not required for storage along walls in areas of buildings equipped with an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Section 903.3.1.1, 903.3.1.2 or 903.3.1.3

Diagram of fire sprinkler spray pattern and clearance

Maintaining the 18-inch clearance allows the fire sprinkler spray pattern to develop. Source: Archtoolbox


Box blocking sprinkler clearance

This box is blocking the fire sprinkler head’s spray pattern. Source:

Keep your fire protection system compliant

Staying up to date on these five items can avoid fines and, in some cases, even-costlier repairs. For more information on the top fire safety violations – this time, from the perspective of a national inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) contractor – check out our previous series:

The 10 Most Common Fire Safety System Compliance Issues and How to Avoid Them, Part 1

The 10 Most Common Fire Safety System Compliance Issues and How to Avoid Them, Part 2

Need to buy parts for your system? Check out QRFS’ selection of commercial fire sprinkler heads, cover plates, escutcheons, and other parts and tools, or just use the search bar at the top of the page.

If you have any questions about commercial fire safety systems or need help finding a part, give us a call at 888.361.6662, comment below, or fill out our contact form and we’d be happy help.