Life and Fire Safety – Let’s Get Serious

The Life Safety Code is an American set of standards involving hazards to human life.

Governed and published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Life Safety Code is also known as NFPA101.

Revised every four years, the Life Safety Code is a set of standards, mostly with regard to fire safety.


The Life Safety Code was originated in 1913 by the Committee on Safety to Life (one of the NFPA’s more than 200 committees). As noted in the 1991 Life Safety Code Handbook; “…the Committee devoted its attention to a study of notable fires involving loss of life and to analyzing the causes of that loss of life. This work led to the preparation of standards for the construction of stairways, fire escapes, and similar structures; for fire drills in various occupancies and for the construction and arrangement of exit facilities for factories, schools and other occupancies, which form the basis of the present Code.”[1] This study became the basis for two early NFPA publications, “Outside Stairs for Fire Exits” (1916) and “Safeguarding Factory Workers from Fire” (1918).

In 1921 the Committee on Safety to Life expanded and the publication they generated in 1927 became known as the Building Exits Code. New editions were published in 1929, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1942 and 1946.

After a disastrous series of fires between 1942 and 1946, including the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire in Boston, which claimed the lives of 492 people and the Winecoff hotel in Atlanta which claimed 119 lives, the Building Exits Code began to be utilized as potential legal legislation. The verbiage of the code, however, was intended for building contractors and not legal statues, so the NFPA decided to re-edit the Code and some revisions appeared in the 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1952 publications. The editions published in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1963 refined the verbiage and presentation even further.

In 1955 the NPFA101 was broken into three separate documents, NFPA101B (covering nursing homes) and NFPA101C (covering interior finishes). NFPA101C was revised once in 1956 before both publications were withdrawn and pertinent passages re-incorporated back into the main body.

The Committee on Safety to Life was restructured in 1963 and the first publication in 1966 was a complete revision. The title was changed from Building Exits Code to Code for Safety to Life from Fire in Buildings and Structures. The final revision to all “code language” (legalese) was made and it was decided that the Code would be revised and republished on a three-year schedule. New editions were subsequently published in 1967, 1970, 1973 and 1976.

The Committee was reorganized again in 1977 and the 1981 edition of the Code featured major editorial and structural changes that reflect the organization of the modern Code.

Current Code

The Life Safety Code is unique among most codes in that it applies to existing structures as well as new structures. When a Code revision is adopted into local law, existing structures have a grace period before they must comply, but all structures must comply with code.

All or part of a code may be adopted as regulations in a jurisdiction and enforced by an inspector, zoning board, fire marshal, or other officials. In particular, the Life Safety Code deals with hazards in buildings, public conveyances and occupations, and are coordinated with other codes and standards such as electrical, fuel-gas, mechanical, plumbing, energy, and residential. Regardless of official adoption as regulations, life safety code provides a valuable source for determination of liability in accidents, and many codes and related standards are sponsored by insurance companies.

Although life safety codes deal mainly with hazards in buildings, they also cover other emergencies that are similar to fire and are applied to vehicles, vessels and other transports since these objects are treated as buildings for life safety purposes.

The Life safety Code is coordinated with other building codes and standards such as electrical (National Electric Code NFPA70), fuel-gas, mechanical, plumbing, energy, and residential.

Normally, the Life Safety Code is used by architects and designers of vehicles and vessels. Since the Life Safety Code is a valuable source for determining liability in accidents, it is also used by insurance companies to evaluate risks and set rates.

In the United States, the words Life Safety Code are a registered trademark of NFPA. All or part of the NFPA’s Life Safety Code are adopted as local regulations throughout the country. The compliance with the Code is enforced by inspectors from local zoning boards, fire departments, or other bodies having jurisdiction.

Sample Sections

This listing of chapters from the 1991 edition shows the scope of the Code.

  1. Administration
  2. Fundamental Requirements
  3. Definitions
  4. Classification of Occupancy and Hazard of Contents
  5. Means of Egress
  6. Features of Fire Protection
  7. Building Service and Fire Protection Equipment
  8. New Assembly Occupancies
  9. Existing Assembly Occupancies
  10. New Educational Occupancies
  11. Existing Educational Occupancies
  12. New Health Care Occupancies
  13. Existing Health Care Occupancies
  14. New Detention and Correctional Occupancies
  15. Existing Detention and Correctional Occupancies
  16. New Hotels and Dormitories
  17. Existing Hotels and Dormitories
  18. New Apartment Buildings
  19. Existing Apartment Buildings
  20. Lodging or Rooming Houses
  21. One- and Two-Family Dwellings
  22. New Residential Board and Care Occupancies
  23. Existing Residential Board and Care Occupancies
  24. New Mercantile Occupancies
  25. Existing Mercantile Occupancies
  26. New Business Occupancies
  27. Existing Business Occupancies
  28. Industrial Occupancies
  29. Storage Occupancies
  30. Special Structures and High Rise Buildings
  31. Operating Features
  32. References

The Code also includes several supplemental publications including:

Case Histories: Fires Influencing the Life Safety Code Fire Alarm Systems Sprinkler Systems Fire Tests

See also


  • Life Safety Code Handbook, National Fire Protection Association, 1991. Lathrop, James K. Ed. NFPA

External links