The Baltimore County Fire Department (BCoFD) Office of the Fire Marshal enforces the Baltimore County Fire Prevention Code, which closely parallels the Maryland Fire Prevention Code but is tailored to the needs of the County. Enforcement of the Fire Code is essential to BCoFD's ability to prevent fires and protect lives and property.
Local codes may be more stringent than the Maryland Fire Prevention Code; they cannot be less restrictive than the state code. Both local and state fire codes are amendments to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes.
The Baltimore County Fire Prevention Code protects lives and property by regulating the hazards of fire and explosion.
The County fire code closely parallels the Maryland Fire Prevention Code but is tailored to the specific needs of Baltimore County and its residents. The code regulates the storage, handling and use of various substances, materials and devices, including fireworks, barbeque grills, commercial cooking equipment and machinery. It sets standards for fire protection systems including automatic sprinkler systems, residential rural water supplies for fire suppression and smoke detectors in day care homes. It also regulates conditions related to the occupancy various types of buildings, including proper egress and requirements for fire drills. It includes specific physical and operational requirements for new and existing occupancies based on the type of use for each occupancy.
The main documents that are included as part of the County Fire Code are the NFPA 1 Fire Code, 2012 edition, and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, 2012 edition.
The Fire Code contains amendments, deletions and additions to the NFPA documents. To have a complete understanding of the code, please review it in conjunction with the NFPA documents.
Fire prevention involves making sure that places where large numbers of people assemble do not exceed their occupancy load. The Fire Marshal's Office determines occupancy capacities and issues an official certificate specifying this capacity.
This certificate must be at least 5 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches and must be permanently posted in a conspicuous place near the main entrance. This rule applies to new and existing occupancies (Chapter 20 of the Fire Code). If you need a replacement certificate, contact the Fire Marshal's Office at 410-887-4880.
Places of Assembly
Fire codes define an assembly occupancy as one used for:
- A gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation or similar uses
- An area used as a special amusement building, regardless of occupant load. This includes bars, nightclubs, arcades, convention centers, sports arenas, etc.
The maximum number of occupants is governed by NFPA Standard 101-2006 and may not be exceeded. The Fire Marshal may, at the written request of the owner or occupant of the establishment, post a smaller occupancy load than required by the NFPA standard.
Crowd Manager Program
The Fire Code requires Crowd Manager Training for all establishments that handle 50 or more people. The program teaches establishments how to get people safely out of a building in case of fire or emergency.
Fire Prevention Regulations
Smoke alarms are required in the sleeping areas of most residential occupancies. The Fire Code requires smoke alarms in many other uses, including hotels and motels, family day care homes, and day care centers.
As of January 1, 2018, Maryland Law requires all Maryland residents to have 10-year smoke alarms with sealed batteries and a "hush" feature (to silence the alarm temporarily during cooking) on every level of the home. Find information about legal requirements involving smoke alarms in Maryland.
Laws involving carbon monoxide alarms are enforced by the Office of the Fire Marshal and the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.
Fire codes prohibit the use and storage of all types of grills and heating devices on the balcony of, or within 15 feet of, multifamily dwellings such as apartments and condominiums. This includes gas- and propane-fueled grills, charcoal grills, hibachi, electric grills and deep fryers.
Chapter 10 of the Fire Code prohibits wood-burning devices such as chimineas and fire pits at multifamily dwellings. Violations are enforced by County fire marshals. The use of grills and heating devices at multifamily dwellings poses a serious fire risk to residents of the entire building.
State and local fire codes place no restrictions on grills at one- and two-family homes, including town homes. However, fire officials strongly recommend that grills be kept at least 15 feet away from the home. Chimineas and fire pits also are allowed at one- and two-family homes, and the same 15-foot clearance recommendation applies.
Grill and Chiminea Safety
Find information about open burning regulations and permits, including leaf burning, bonfires, agricultural burning, fire pits and small cooking fires.
Aerial fireworks are prohibited in Maryland unless part of a public display licensed by the state Fire Marshal. Many hand-held and ground-based sparkling devices are allowed in the County. Safety precautions are essential when handling sparklers of any type.
Chapter 11 of the Fire Code prohibits the use of portable kerosene heaters in multifamily dwellings, including apartments and condominiums.
Kerosene heaters also are prohibited in the following:
- Places of assembly that handle 50 or more people
- Day care centers
- Educational facilities
- Health care facilities
- Hotels and motels
- Ignitable buildings containing flammable liquids, vapors, explosives or dust
- Buildings more than three stories high
Other Kerosene Regulations
- Only kerosene heaters bearing the mark of Underwriters Laboratories 647 may be sold.
- Kerosene heaters may be used during hunting or camping activities.
- Kerosene heaters may be used in agricultural buildings and outbuildings.
- Kerosene heaters may be used in buildings under construction and in commercial establishments (other than the prohibited uses listed above) as long as they do not block exits.
Chapter 13 of the Fire Code regulates Fire Department access to fire protection systems and the design of fire protection systems. It sets requirements for fire protection systems (specifically, automatic sprinklers) in certain types of buildings. It regulates the use and sale of fire extinguishers.
Sprinklers In High-Rise Buildings
Chapter 13 requires that all existing high-rise buildings be protected by approved automatic sprinkler systems.
Residential buildings (condominiums) are exempt from this requirement if 75 percent of the residents sign a petition agreeing to waive the fire protection requirement. Buildings containing a mix of residential and commercial or office uses do not qualify for the exemption.
Access to and Design of Fire Protection Systems
- Fire Department connections must be free of obstructions within 15 feet of the connection.
- Where required, buildings must have standpipes in accordance with local building and fire codes.
- Design of automatic sprinkler systems, standpipe systems and fire pumps must be prepared by registered professional engineer with expertise in fire protection engineering and automatic sprinkler system design, or by a certified engineering technician with a Level III or higher certification in automatic sprinkler system layout from the National Institute of Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET).
Portable Fire Extinguishers
- The code requires extinguishers in the hazardous areas of garden apartment buildings.
- It requires all extinguishers offered for sale to bear the approval of the Underwriter's Laboratories Inc. or other approved testing laboratory.
- It prohibits certain liquids in any extinguisher.
- It requires anyone servicing, repairing, refilling or recharging portable fire extinguishers to obtain a license from the county Department of Permits and Development Management.
Chapter 18 of the Fire Code regulates use of fire lanes, hydrants and rural water supplies.
Access Roads and Fire Lanes
The Office of the Fire Marshal has authority to require access roads and fire lanes for buildings when deemed necessary for firefighting operations. Property owners are responsible for the cost of fire lane signs.
The Fire Marshal has the authority over the location pattern of fire hydrants.
Specific provisions include:
- Hydrants must be at least 40 feet from buildings. If not feasible, fire officials may permit a lesser distance provided the location minimizes the possibility of injury through falling walls, smoke or heat.
- Fences or other obstructions may not be placed within 15 feet of hydrants.
- Free access from the street to hydrants must be maintained at all times.
- Private fire hydrants are painted red; public hydrants are painted orange.
- Use of public fire hydrants is prohibited without a permit from Baltimore County government.
Rural Water Supply
All developments of 10 or more lots not served by a municipal water supply must have a year-round water supply capable of providing 400 gallons per minute for 30 minutes for firefighting operations.
Suitable water sources must be approved by the Fire Marshal and may include ponds or streams, cisterns, underground tanks and dry hydrants.
Fresh-cut and live Christmas trees and candles pose a fire threat when used in buildings. State and local fire codes regulate the use of trees and candles in public occupancies.
The Maryland Fire Prevention Code prohibits fresh or live-cut trees in nursing homes, hospitals, limited care facilities, detention and correctional facilities, educational facilities, child care centers (except family day care centers) and most residential boarding facilities. Fire retardant trees are allowed in these facilities.
The code sets requirements for the tagging of fresh-cut trees and for the placement and maintenance of trees.
View the appropriate section of the Maryland Fire Prevention Code for additional details.
Chapter 10 of the Fire Code prohibits the use of open flame, burning candles in any public occupancy without permission of the Fire Chief.
Exception: Candles are permitted in places of worship if used in a manner that does not create a fire hazard.
Installation of fire alarm systems must comply with state and local fire codes; they require permits from the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.
Installation of sprinkler systems must comply with state and local fire codes and the manufacturer's installation instructions. A permit is required from the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections. Sprinkler laws are enforced by the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections' Fire and Building Code Plans Review Office.
Under Maryland law, all new single-family homes and duplexes must be equipped with automatic sprinkler systems.
The regulation, approved in 2011, is part of the latest edition of the International Residential Code (IRC), adopted by the Baltimore County Council as part of the Building Code of Baltimore County. The IRC regulates construction requirements for one- and two-family dwellings. The code has required sprinklers in town homes and multi-family dwellings since the early 1990s.