Oakland Fire Code Discussion

At the December 15, 2022 BPAC meeting, Commissioner Alex Frank facilitated a discussion on a series of policy recommendations that aim to balance safe street designs with fire safety for Oakland residents. The discussion will include a summary of the City’s Fire Code Appendix D (minimum clear lane requirements), its relationship to roadway design, and bicyclist, pedestrian, and motorist safety. The discussion notes are below.


  • Current Fire Code was adopted in January 2020.
  • This includes our main focus of discussion, Appendix D, which currently the city council has moved to Safety Committee for discussion.
  • Tonight’s discussion will focus on sub sections measure, D105.2, which defines road widths for structures over 30 feet.
    • D105.2 Width. “Aerial fire apparatus access roads shall have a minimum unobstructed width of 26 feet (7925 mm), exclusive of shoulders, in the immediate vicinity of the building or portion thereof.”
  • Standard road measure allow for 10-foot wide lanes.
  • City Public Safety Committee is set to review and make recommendation to City Council.

Points of discussion

  • Street Safety — Wide streets contribute to faster traffic
  • This code is specific for denser areas, with taller buildings
    • Currently TOD focused areas are also set to have few vehicles and more walking and active transportation by design
  • Speed is the number 1 factor in vehicular death and serious injury—particularly for walkers and bikers.
  • Can we find a compromise that does not risk the emergency response but balances overall public and particularly pedestrian and cyclist safety?

Summary of discussion

  • In introducing the item, Commissioner Frank shared two personal experiences with fires: as a high school student fleeing the Oakland Hills Fire through flames on both sides of the street, and as a resident of New York City watching the building catch fire that was opposite his home and being awed by the firefighters’ heroic response.
  • Commissioner Frank went on to describe how wider roads facilitate higher speeds and how the BPAC frequently hears strong concerns from residents on the threat of speeding drivers. This point was underscored by how the speed of drivers has a direct relationship to a pedestrian’s chances of surviving a car crash. Even small changes in speed—like 30 mph to 20 mph—greatly increase the chance of survival.
  • There was a comparison of the number of people killed in fires versus the number killed in traffic crashes. The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 killed 25 people. The Ghost Ship warehouse fire of 2016 killed 36 people. In recent years around thirty people have died annually in traffic crashes in Oakland.
  • Oakland Fire Chief Freeman noted that OFD is willing to take a softer stance on the 26-foot roadway clearance requirement if the Oakland public is willing accept some risk for that compromise.
  • Oakland has older buildings that do not have sprinkler systems. It is critical that the Fire Department have ladder access to these buildings in the event of fire to get people out of those buildings safely.
  • The safety of bicyclists and pedestrians is critically important, as is keeping residents safe from fire.
  • The Oakland Fire Department is an outstanding fire department, being one of the few in the nation to be ISO certified.
  • There is an opportunity to eliminate the mandatory 26’ clear requirement and take a more a tailored approach based on the needs at particular locations.
  • As a long-term strategy, it will be beneficial to explore and pursue fire apparatus that can operate in smaller spaces.
  • Consider the case of protected bike lanes, where the travel lanes may be narrowed but the overall roadway width does not change. Explore design approaches that provide operational width for the Fire Department but simultaneously narrow the roadway for the motoring public.
  • OFD is involved in peer-to-peer learning with the fire departments of other Bay Area cities. The departments meet regularly, although to-date street design has not been a prominent discussion topic.
  • The Fire Code is rigid, but there may be more flexibility in the field at actual locations. Pursue location-specific solutions.
  • Fire apparatus are substantial vehicles that may be more resilient to curbs than are passenger cars. Investigate how curbs could be designed to support fire apparatus but deter passenger vehicles.
  • The Oakland Fire Department does not “short jack”. In Washington DC, trucks have flipped over due to short jacking. Short jacking is against OFD policy to ensure the safety of its operations.
  • A suggestion was made to create a BPAC committee to continue the discussion and meet with OFD and OakDOT to promote more consistent dialog.
  • The 14th St project in downtown was a turning point – OFD and OakDOT needed to have better communication. The challenging discussion over 14th St was a catalyst in bringing the two departments together for more collaborative work.
  • OakDOT and OFD are now meeting regularly to review projects and tackle these issues.
  • Using smaller fire trucks is not an easy path forward. There is not a significantly smaller truck that meets national specifications and is available for purchase. Fire apparatus are expensive and there’s been a backlog of needs that OFD is working to overcome.
  • There is one electric fire truck in operation in the United States—in Los Angeles. There are significant additional costs for this vehicle, both for the vehicle itself and for the necessary charging infrastructure.
  • For older buildings, renovations of a certain magnitude trigger coming into compliance with the current Fire Code. There is no policy for applying current code to older buildings that are not being renovated. The Fire Department does have records on which buildings have sprinklers and which do not.
  • As an out-of-the-box idea, a street improvement project could secure funds to retrofit older buildings with sprinkler systems. However, these retrofits are extremely expensive.
  • Bike East Bay has been in discussion with the Oakland Fire Department and seeks to promote and support the collaboration with OakDOT.
  • International Blvd is the location of roughly 25% of all recent pedestrian fatalities, due in part to drivers swerving in and out of the bus lanes. A small curb could help, and an innovative design might meet the needs of fire apparatus.
  • Looking to other countries can provide examples of smaller fire apparatus. But the equipment used by European firefighters, for example, is very different. It is challenging to take one piece of equipment out of the context for which it was designed. In other words, each piece of equipment works as part of the system it is designed for.
  • OFD is seeking to pursue electric fire apparatus and welcomes the BPAC’s support for the resources needed to make this happen.
  • A suggestion was made to OFD and OakDOT to conduct field testing to check turn radii with the various types of fire apparatus, and to evaluate in this context different types of vertical elements that are used for protected bikeways.
  • A motion recommending that City Council not adopt Section 105.2 of Appendix D of the California Fire Code which defines the 26-foot roadway clearance requirement at buildings over 30’ in height, giving discretion to OFD in consultation with OakDOT to develop context-specific designs, and to promote OFD and OakDOT collaboration in developing shared solutions to fire and street safety was made (Frank), seconded (Ralston) and approved by roll call vote with the following Commissioners voting in favor: Campbell, Frank, Gardner, Lok, Mangrum, Ralston, Schader, Whipps, and Yee (unanimously).

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