ICC Members: The individuals behind codes and safety — Robert Morton
Code professionals ensure building safety today, for a stronger tomorrow. As the individuals behind modern codes and standards, these professionals are responsible for ensuring the safety and compliance of codes and standards, shaping the safety of the world around us, and serve as the safety foundation for our buildings. They don’t just ensure that buildings are constructed to withstand the stress of everyday use, they are behind the security and stability of every building. They specialize in preventative measures to help communities weather unforeseen natural disasters and ensure that first responders have less to worry about and can do their jobs safely. Code professionals are an essential piece in the building and construction puzzle and are engaged in the building process from the initial building plan to the finished product.
The International Code Council is a member-focused association with over 64,000 members dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. They protect the public through their commitment to building safety; enforce code compliance to empower and educate stakeholders across the built environment to embrace and integrate safety standards in their work; support economic development by making our buildings sturdier, and therefore longer lasting. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities impact every building, in every community.
The Code Council recognizes the importance of continuing to grow awareness of the important work that code professionals do and the impact they have, in the hopes of encouraging aspiring building safety professionals to join in on the building safety movement. In this exclusive feature for the Building Safety Journal, we asked Robert Morton to share his experience in the industry, highlights of his professional career, and any insights or advice he has concerning the industry and the future of building safety.
RCI of SC, Inc.
Pacolet, South Carolina, United States
International Code Council member for 40 years
BSJ: What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession in building safety?
Morton: I grew up across the street from a contractor’s shop. I did odd jobs there beginning at eight years of age. I started working for a custom home builder when I was fourteen years old and continued until I graduated from college. I had family members who were brick masons, electricians and carpenters. Two building inspectors in my hometown of Rock Hill, SC always spoke to me when they inspected our work. I began asking questions and they allowed me to observe their inspections. I had an idea this may be a profession for me.
BSJ: What three things do you need to be successful in this industry and in your profession?
Morton: You have to respect others. Everyone has an opinion and you can learn by listening more and talking less. Some of the best training I have ever received was listening to experienced inspectors, design professionals and industry representatives discuss code sections and proposed code changes. This allows a person to see the concerns and solutions from all perspectives of the building industry. These round table discussions have been instrumental in developing code changes and understanding.
You have to read and understand the background for code sections. The codes are always changing. This too often is the result of a catastrophe. I remember when the code had one page relating to fire-stopping and draft stopping. The deadly fire at the MGM Grand and the hotel in Puerto Rico spurred major changes in how we better protect lives and structures. New products were developed and became incorporated into the codes.
We have to understand all parts of the ICC jurisdictions have similar problems. We have gone from smaller regional legacy codes to a large umbrella organization. We have to look beyond our boundaries and do what is best for all jurisdictions.
BSJ: What role have mentors, advisors or your network played in your career?
Morton: I go back to my early mentors when I was a young construction worker. I probably would not be an inspector if these men did not take the time to answer my questions. I was able to remain in contact with these men well after their retirement. I eventually was hired as a Building Official for my hometown.
I have been fortunate to have worked for progressive jurisdictions. Classes and classes were encouraged. If we are to inspect work performed by licensed and qualified persons, we should have professional credentials. The BOASC tried to get legislation passed that required certification and continuing education. This took several years to become law. This now requires continuing education for inspectors as it does for contractors and design professionals. This has the effect of making all of us better at our jobs.
I still have several persons that I reach out to for assistance. These are people with code knowledge and years of experience. Their counsel is valuable in applying the code equally and in getting a different perspective.
BSJ: What led you to become an ICC member?
Morton: I attended my first SBCCI meeting in 1979. My jurisdiction was a governmental member. I joined as an individual member to take advantage of training and purchasing power. I saw how valuable networking is to an inspector. I received encouragement and was soon working on committees. The SBCCI was one of the legacy code organizations that became the ICC.
BSJ: Are you involved in any ICC committees or councils? Do you have any ICC certifications?
Morton: I am not currently serving on an ICC Committee. I served on committees for the legacy codes and the ICC for over twenty years. I have twenty-seven ICC certifications. I enjoy learning and participate in training as often as possible.
BSJ: How long have you been in the industry?
Morton: 56 years. Fourteen years of building and 42 years as an inspector.
BSJ: What major changes have you seen?
Morton: Better constructed buildings and better building mechanical systems have led to better life safety for occupants and first responders. Compartmentalization of buildings and early warning systems have saved many lives.
The work being done to build safer structures through better fire protection. We are seeing more homes with fire protection features than we were ten years ago. The work to make this an affordable option must continue.
Utilization of existing buildings adds character to our structural inventory The use of the existing Building Code has been another tool for our industry. In the 1960s and early 1970s, urban renewal led to the demolition of buildings with character. We are now trying to protect our history. This has also led to a new generation of craftsmen.
The use of computers. I remember when Bill Tangye urged all departments to get desktop computers. He told of the day when we would have plans at our disposal all the time, building codes on line, improved efficiency. That day is here.
BSJ: What excites you about the future of your industry?
Morton: Green Construction and better use of renewable resources excite me. I want my children and grandchildren to appreciate the innovations we are now seeing and more opportunities that are being searched now. Virtual inspections have been more prominent. This will lead to new skill requirements.
BSJ: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting out in the industry?
Morton: Participate in your chapter events. You will find mentors and have opportunities to learn why codes are applied.
BSJ: What do you see as most surprising about the work that you do?
Morton: People like to be engaged. I try to make everyone part of the desired outcome. I get better results when I follow the old formula of social, business, social. We are perceived as trying to find something wrong. I try to find a positive and help bring the project to the desired conclusion.
BSJ: What would you like to do next in your professional/personal life?
Morton: I have always liked history. I would like to volunteer as a resource for local history events.
BSJ: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Morton: My wife and live on a small family farm. This land has been in her family for about 130 years. We have some cows. I enjoy working on the farm with our children and grandchildren. We hope to pass this along for our future generations.
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title would be?
Morton: He Was Vaccinated With a Phonograph Needle
There’s a world of opportunity in being a member of the International Code Council. Membership provides the tools to get the most out of each workday: from discounts on essential International Codes and other publications to the best prices on top-quality training and ICC certification renewals, Code Council membership helps budgets go further. Exclusive member benefits include code advice from expert technical staff as well as access to member-exclusive news and articles at the Building Safety Journal news portal. Plus, only Code Council members vote in the ICC code development process. An online Career Center allows job postings and searches for new job opportunities — all at no additional charge.
The Code Council offers numerous councils, committees, and resources to help code professionals grow and network with colleagues. Six discipline-specific Membership Councils offer members a place to come together and be a more powerful force in shaping your association, your industry, your career, and your future. Code Development Committees are an instrumental part of the ICC code development process and are responsible for the review and evaluation of code change proposals submitted to the International Codes. Professional Development Committees serve to better align the ICC education programs and certification programs to ensure that quality training is available to meet the needs of all members, customers and certification holders. Finally, the Value of the Code Official toolkit helps members to heighten awareness of the importance of code officials to their communities and to highlight the code official’s role as a helpful advocate for community safety, health and welfare, and economic development.