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3 Things Developers Can Do To Expedite FDNY Approvals

A fire escape outside of a multifamily building

The most densely populated city in the U.S. is also one of the strictest when it comes to fire safety.

Developers require the approval of the Fire Department of the City of New York for everything from site plan and chemical storage approvals to fire alarm installations and rooftop variances. Understanding the local process and relevant codes can make a big difference in completing a project on time and under budget.

Bohler Engineering Fire Prevention Specialist John McDonald works with CRE teams to help their projects meet Fire and Building Code requirements. Among other things, McDonald was a former Director of Fire and Life Safety for Merrill Lynch at the World Financial Center. Clients depend on his knowledge to assist with navigating agency approval processes, as well as identify problems and solutions throughout development.

A lack of insight into the process is often the root cause of project delays.

“If developers want their buildings to be occupied by a certain date, they need to understand the approval process and work with people who have experience navigating local codes,” McDonald said. 

McDonald identified three steps CRE teams can take regarding the FDNY approval process while ensuring the safety of building occupants.

1. Plan ahead

A ceiling-mounted sprinkler

Developers should become familiar with both NYC Construction and Fire Codes to use as a reference throughout the duration of the project. Early conversations with engineers and architects should identify potential conflicts ahead of time, and developers should ensure all the right people are in constant communication.

“If something comes up early in the design phase, you can find a solution by leveraging the knowledge of your experienced consultant and identifying the right filing strategy,” McDonald said.

An early understanding of approval deadlines can also help developers map out a timeline for when approvals are needed, rather than rushing at the end of a project. McDonald handled a case in which a developer wanted to add solar panels to the roof but because the client was not familiar with the FDNY requirements or related code sections ahead of time, the developer did not know FDNY would need both access and landing areas on the roof.

The developer had to either readjust the plan or apply for and obtain a variance from the FDNY. McDonald said this can take weeks, and since variance acceptance is not a guarantee, developers may be forced to retroactively solve the problem, costing them significant time and money.

2. Understand how the fire department operates

FDNY firetruck with firehouse in background

The FDNY spans all five boroughs and has multiple units within the Bureau of Fire Prevention. Submissions for fire alarms, rooftop access and fire protection plans are reviewed and approved by different units. 

“I’ve been on projects where people have said, ‘I don’t know who this needs to be submitted to and how to get approval,’” McDonald said.

Depending on the scope of work, a submittal to the FDNY may need to go to the Fire Alarm Plan Examination Unit, the Rooftop Access Unit, the Construction, Demolition and Abatement Unit or another unit. Inspections, when required, have different prerequisites depending on the scope of work.

“It behooves a team to thoroughly understand procedures and know the code,” McDonald said. “The department appreciates that effort because it demonstrates the desire to comply with Life Safety requirements.”

3. Work with a professional


Whether a new building or a redevelopment of an existing structure, having someone with McDonald's level of expertise on-site at the beginning of a project allows CRE teams to gain valuable feedback and informed direction before submitting plans. An expert can also keep the development team up-to-date on evolving standards.

Between Bohler’s local engineering and permitting departments, the company’s approach ensures projects can progress efficiently. 

“Having a professional who knows how to quarterback this process from start to finish is crucial for intended milestones to be met,” McDonald said. "Bringing experts on at project inception is the best way to prevent what could be a very expensive future problem.” 

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