Proposal Would Require Sprinkler Systems in Furniture Stores

In response to a deadly fire last year, the American Home Furnishings Alliance and National Home Furnishings Association joined forces in March to propose a change in the commercial building code to improve fire safety for retail employees, customers and first responders.

On June 18, 2007, a fire at the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, S.C., killed nine firefighters when the roof of the one-story structure collapsed. The building had no sprinklers. Following the incident, AHFA and NHFA pledged to work together to get the International Building and Fire Codes amended to require new furniture stores and warehouses to have sprinklers. The organizations also are exploring measures such as tax incentives that would encourage existing stores to retrofit with sprinklers.

The proposal to require sprinklers for furniture stores containing significant amounts of upholstered furniture was approved by a committee of the International Code Council (ICC) during a Code Development Hearing in Palm Springs, Calif., Feb. 18-March 1. Final action on the proposed change is likely to occur during a Final Action Hearing by the ICC this September in Minneapolis.

Andy Counts, AHFA's chief executive officer, and Doug Kays, NHFA's 2008 president, testified in support of the proposed code change.

"There is no such thing as totally fire-safe upholstered furniture," Counts stated. "Materials and constructions touted as more fire resistant have not proven so to the satisfaction of fire authorities. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has tested furniture with combustion-modified polyurethane foam, such as that required in California and the United Kingdom, and found that such foam does not meaningfully improve fire performance when furniture is exposed to an open flame."

Other researchers have found that constructions employing the fire-blocking barriers now prevalent in mattresses do not reliably slow the progression of furniture fires, Counts continued. This is likely due to the variety of upholstery fabrics and seating configurations typical of furniture as compared to mattresses.

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