What do you know about Building Construction?
Regardless of your rank or time in your organization or company; what do YOU know about building construction? It's a loaded question to say the least, since the characteristic replies run the gamete of what one thinks they know versus what they actually know. I had the opportunity to lecture in different regions around the country over the past four weeks doing a series of programs on building construction, command risk management and firefighter safety. I say this to frame into context the following. When discussing strategic and tactical operational issues related to combat structural fire operations in the built environment, the majority of personnel, when asked "what type of formal training or instruction have they received in the areas of building construction?"; the majority of replies was typical- NONE, or in varied instanced; a seminar, maybe a weekend field class, or what they received in recruit school. There were some who indicated they had completed a college level course or some more comprehensive single course delivery.
At the minimum, as a company or command officer you must have a soild and fundamental understanding of building construction in order for you to safely and effectively do your job. It's that simple, it's that clear, it's that important.
This common theme is distressing on a number of levels. First and foremost, do you think that, we as firefighters when tasked with the distinctive job of fighting fires in buildings and occupancies; that we should know intimately how a building is constructed, it's materials and methods of construction, what systems and assemblies hold it in place. How fire loading, dynamics, behavior, intensity and travel and will affect a structure in terms of impingement, propagation, compromise, integrity and collapse. A solid and well versed knowledge base on building construction is an essential and fundamental element in all operational assignments at fires involving a structure and occupancy. Do you think it is anything less?
Knowledge and proficiencies related to building construction are formulative to all strategic, tactical and task level assignments. Without understanding the building-occupancy relationships and integrating; construction, occupancies, fire dynamics and fire behavior, risk, analysis, the art and science of firefighting, safety conscious work environment concepts and effective and well-informed incident command management, company level supervision and task level competencies; You are derelict and negligent and "not "everyone may be going home".
Take a look at local, regional or national level training offerings and opportunities. Check out on-line offerings and select from the many seminar programs being offered related to building construction, risk management , structural systems, fire dynamics and fire behavior that integrate construction , strategies, tactics, safety, and operational relevant to today's fireground risks and operational parameters.
Remember, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.
Understanding Buildings, Performance & Fire Operations-Random Thoughts
• There is an acute corollary of technical knowledge and inter reliance on occupancies, construction, strategy, tactics, risk, safety, physics, engineering and fire suppression theory…FACT!
• There are Fundamental Domains that can be applied
• The Rules of Combat Structural Firefighting have changed; Didn't anyone tell you?
• What about; Structures, Occupancy Types, Construction, Systems, Materials, Size, Height, Dimensions, Volumes, Vintage, Square footage, Resistance, Combustibility, Fire Loadings, Hazards, Occupancy Loads, Compartments, Barriers, Defenses, Protective's, Inherent, Style, Design, Features, Appearance, Form, Façade, Deceptions, Assumptions, Distance, Proximity, Exposure, Access, Restrictive, Limiting, Vulnerable, Risk, Value, Operations and Safety. What do these mean to you?
• Do you equate the true limitations of time related to occupancy, structure and fire dynamics and fire load? Or is it just stretching the line and getting in…?
• Do you truly integrate occupancy risk with operational deployment and task assignments?
• Does your Incident action plan (IAP) reflect dynamic risk assessment related to the structure and occupancy?
• Modern building construction is no longer predicable; Do you an appreciation of what impact this has on your strategic or tactical operations?
• Command & company officer technical knowledge may be diminished or deficient in the areas of building construction; Does your organization have gaps in this area? If so, what can you do to close those gaps and reduce the risk?
• Technological Advancements in construction and materials have exceeded conventional fire suppression practices, yet we still advocate, train and practice antiquated firefighting principles.
• Some fire suppression tactics are faulted or inappropriate, requiring innovative models and methods.
• Fire Dynamics and Fire Behavior is not considered during fireground size-up and assessment
• Risk Management related to building structure and occupancy is either not practiced or willfully ignored during most incident operations
• Nothing is going to happen to me (us); "we've been fighting fires the same way for the past thirty years and we've done OK. We don't need any of this stuff". Sound familiar; what do you think?
This is an excellent article, with all valid points. Just today, the NIOSH report came out on the fire that killed 4 Houston Firefighters. They were killed when the commercial structure they were in (a hotel occupancy) collapsed on them. They were in a building that had been well involved in fire conditions many minutes before they arrived, and before they went in to attack the fire, while looking for possible victims. How is it that there is not some kind of mechanism in place that would enable a hotel to account for it's employees (let alone their customers) during an emergency like a fire. they would be able to tell the IC if everyone is accounted for or not, so there isn't a need to send crews in to make guess based search.This is a tremendous blow to the families of the fallen firefighters and the HFD too. It also seems that there was a large communications system problem on the fire ground, adding to the mayhem on scene. It is unbelievable to me, that in the year 2014, we are still having these kinds of primary life safety issues in the fire service. I have been on countless number of responses where my radio gave me every indication that it was ready for service, quit on me after just a few transmissions. How is it that everything that I own , that relies on battery power, has a charge level indicator and my life safety device does not? We should not put up with this any longer in the fire service! For any department to buy a communication system that does not have charge indicators on the hand held radios, is an act of complete disregard for their firefighters lives and well being.
I have had formal training in building construction for the fire service, using Brannigan's text. This information serves as a base only, as modern building construction continues to change rapidly. The changes come in the form of light weight construction materials, all of which are very strong when under designed conditions, but under fire conditions, they fail very quickly. Initial arriving crews have cascaded into basements of homes and buildings as the floor joists reach their fail points just as they begin their interior operations. The whole notion of ventilation, as I was taught it in standards class, is completely incorrect due to the nature of the new building materials, and how they react in fore conditions. Thank God for the FDNY and Chicago FD research with NIST into wind driven fires and the idea of anti-ventilation techniques to help defeat fire and keep our fire crews safe. I could go on for much longer, but will close here saying that it is indeed incumbent upon every single fire service member to get all the training and education you can, as the world is a rapidly changing, dynamic place, especially in the area of building construction. It is what will allow you to actually "Go Home" at the end of your shift!