Safety First When it Comes to Rooftop Variances

By Frank Fortino

I’m often asked about the relationship of the DOB and the FDNY, and I try to explain this complex coexistence in very simple terms. The DOB’s mandate is to provide the foundation for us to build safe and secure buildings, that can still satisfy the aesthetic and technological demands and interests which make our City great. The FDNY’s mandate is to make sure these buildings – whether glass and steel corporate tower, or renovated cast iron relic – have the right safety mechanisms in place if things go wrong. Making sure that buildings are accessible during fires and emergencies sits at the heart of the FDNY’s relationship with the DOB.

Case in point is the guideline for submitting a TM-5 Application for Rooftop Access Variance/Plan Review.

FC504 established the requirements for rooftop access and obstructions. According to FC504, buildings under 100 feet in height needed six foot by six foot access points along the sides of the building. Furthermore, these buildings needed a a six foot path running front to back, as well as side to side. Building these paths would ensure the accessibility of fire fighting gear, if ever needed.

FC504 went into effect on July 1, 2008. It did not require older buildings to comply, unless they made any alterations to their existing roof. If so, the new work would trigger a need for compliance.

Retrofitting old roofs, as you can imagine, can be quite complicated. From the FDNY’s perspective, the best course of action is to alter the existing equipment and devices on the roof – to “move things around” and comply. But they also understand that this may be easier said than done.

For those cases, the building may file an application for variance. This application must include a rooftop plan, complete with design and installation documents, depicting the roof. In some cases the roof may be a shared space – with different entities responsible for different elements – in which case the the applicant must take the lead and responsibility for the whole group.

The key component to the application is the rooftop plan. Applicants should make the existing plan as clear as possible, with details on everything. They should also take a stab a creating a suggested plan for the FDNY to consider. Together, the existing plan and proposed plan should be submitted with the TM-5 Application.

Our City is full of buildings that range from brand new to hundreds of years old, and these types of issues will come up. When thinking about the steps of applying for a variance, keep in mind the FDNY’s ultimate goal – keeping your building, and people safe, if things go wrong.