Tents and Membrane Structures

General Information


The Midlothian Fire Department uses the 2015 International Fire Code (IFC) and the 2015 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code© as the guideline for this document and inspections.

All tents and membrane structures greater than 400 SF and canopies over 700 square feet and open on all sides shall not be erected, operated or maintained for any purpose without first obtaining a permit and approval from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (City of Midlothian and Midlothian Fire Department).

Exception: Tents and canopies open on all sides having a maximum size of 700 SF and a minimum clearance of 12 feet to structures and other tents are exempted from permitting.  Also, the aggregate area of multiple tents placed side by side without a fire break clearance of 12 feet shall not exceed 700 SF.



1. Tent – Any temporary structure, the covering of which is made of a pliable material that achieves its support by mechanical means such as beams, columns, poles, or arches, or by rope or cables, or both.

2.  Membrane StructureAn air-inflated, air-supported, cable or frame-covered structure as defined by the International Building Code and not otherwise defined as a tent.


3. Noncombustible Material – A material that, in the form in which it is used and under the conditions anticipated will not ignite, burn, support combustion, or release flammable vapors when subjected to fire or heat.

4. Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) – The organization, office or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code, standard, or approving equipment, materials, an installation or procedure (City of Midlothian and Midlothian Fire Department).



Tents and membrane structure designed to meet all of the requirements in IFC Chapter 31 and approved by the AHJ shall be permitted to be used as a temporary structure.  Reference IFC 2015 Chapter 31 – Tents and other membrane structures.

The entire tent, canopy or membrane structure shall be inspected by the AHJ prior to being occupied.

Flame propagation performance treatment. Before a permit is granted, the owner or agent shall file with the fire code official a certificate executed by an approved testing laboratory certifying that the tents and membrane structures and their appurtenances; sidewalls, drops and tarpaulins; floor coverings, bunting and combustible decorative materials and effects, including sawdust where used on floors or passageways, are composed of material meeting the flame propagation performance criteria of Test Method 1 or Test Method 2, as appropriate, of NFPA 701 or shall be treated with a flame retardant in an approved manner and meet the flame propagation performance criteria of Test Method 1 or Test Method 2, as appropriate, of NFPA 701, and that such flame propagation performance criteria are effective for the period specified by the permit. 

Label. Membrane structures or tents shall have a permanently affixed label bearing the identification of size and fabric or material type. 

Certification. An affidavit or affirmation shall be submitted to the AHJ and a copy retained on the premises on which the tent or air supported structure is located.  It shall attest to: the names and address of the owners of the tent or air supported structure, the date the fabric was last treated with flame retardant solution, the trade name or kind of chemical used in treatment, the name of the person or firm treating the material, and the name of the testing agency and test standard by which the fabric was tested.

• Membrane structures shall be limited to one story in height. However, height shall not be limited in number of feet unless otherwise ruled by the AHJ.

• Tents or membrane structures and their appurtenances shall be adequately roped, braced, and anchored to withstand the elements of weather and prevent collapsing.

• The applicant/users will be responsible for restitution of any damage resulting from the erection/use of tents or membrane structures.

• Exits shall be spaced at approximately equal intervals around the perimeter of the tent of membrane structure, and shall be located such that all points are 100 feet or less from an exit.

• Exit doors shall swing in the direction of travel.

• Illuminated exit signs and emergency egress lighting shall be provided for an occupant load over 49.

• Fire and emergency vehicle access roads shall be provided and maintained at all times.  An unobstructed fire break passageway or fire road not less than 12 feet wide and free from guy ropes or other obstructions shall be maintained on all sides of all tents and membrane structures unless otherwise approved by the AHJ. 

• The placement of tents relative to other structures shall be at the discretion of the AHJ with consideration given to occupancy, use, opening, exposure, hazards and other similar factors.  Tents shall not be located within 20 feet of lot lines, buildings, other tents or membrane structures, parked vehicles or internal combustion engines.

• Tents, membrane structures or canopies, cord, cables, etc., may not obstruct sidewalks, drive lanes, fire lanes or pedestrian walkways.

Combustible Materials.  Hay, straw, shavings or similar combustible materials shall not be located within any tent or membrane structure containing an assembly occupancy, except for the materials necessary for the daily feeding and care of animals.  Sawdust and shavings utilized for a public performance or exhibit shall not be prohibited provided the sawdust and shavings are kept damp.  Combustible material shall not be permitted under stands or seats at any time.

• All tents greater than 400 square feet shall have at least one five pound, multipurpose (ABC) fire extinguisher on site.  Additional fire extinguishers may be required.

• Open flame or other devices emitting flame, fire, or heat or any flammable or combustible liquids, gas, charcoal or other cooking device, or any other unapproved devices shall not be permitted inside or located within 20 feet of the tent or membrane structures while open to the public unless approved by the AHJ.

• Propane tanks shall be located outside and at least ten (10) feet away from the tent. Tanks shall be secured to a stationary object or staked to prevent the tank from tipping over.

• Propane gas or electric heating devices intended to be used inside tents or membrane structures shall be listed on the permit application and approved by the AHJ.

• Cooking equipment used in tents shall comply with NFPA 96, unless all or part of the installation is exempted by the AHJ.

• All cooking equipment shall be attended at all times. Hot coals shall be doused and/or properly disposed of in specially designated coal dumpsters to prevent fires.

• Operations such as warming of foods and similar operations that use solid flammables, butane or other similar devices which do not pose an ignition hazard are approved.

• Fires built on the ground and open fire pit devices are prohibited.

• Open flames approved by the AHJ such as from candles, lanterns, kerosene heaters and gas-fired heaters shall not be located on or near decorative material or similar combustible materials.

• The finished ground level enclosed by any tent, and the finished ground level for a reasonable distance, but for not less than 10 feet outside of such a tent, shall be cleared of all flammable or combustible material or vegetation that is not used for necessary support equipment. The clearing work shall be completed to the approval of the AHJ and prior to the erection of such a tent. The premises shall be kept free from such flammable or combustible materials during the period for which the premises are used by the public.

• Combustible waste shall be stored in approved containers and be removed from the premises at least once a day during the period the structure is occupied by the public.

• Smoking shall not be permitted inside any tent or membrane structure.

• “No Smoking” signs shall be provided and conspicuously located inside and on the tent or membrane structure.

• Generators and other internal combustion power sources shall be separated from tents or membrane structures by a minimum of 20 feet. Generators shall be separated from contact with the public by fencing, enclosure, distance, or other approved means.

• The electrical system and any equipment shall be isolated from the public by proper elevation or guarding, and all electrical fuses and switches shall be enclosed in the approved enclosures. Cables on the ground in areas traversed by the public shall be placed in trenches or protected by approved covers. NFPA Standard 102-10.1 All wiring shall comply with NFPA 70, National Electric Code.

It shall be the responsibility of the permit holder to ensure compliance with Chapter 31 – Tents and Membrane Structures in the 2015 International Fire Code as amended and 2015 NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code prior to occupying any tent or membrane structure.