Gypsum Board Ceiling Systems and Firefigher Safety

Gypsum Board Ceiling Systems and Firefigher Safety

Christopher J. Naum, SFPE and



The recent events in Los Angeles and the line of duty death of veteran LAFD Firefighter Glenn Allen who died Friday from injuries he sustained when a ceiling collapsed on him in a house fire late Wednesday night in the Hollywood Hills again gives us pause to reflect on the demands and hazards present at all fire suppression operations in buildings on fire. The past two months have borne consist reports of floor, roof, wall and ceiling collapses leading to firefighter injuries and line of duty deaths.  

The importance of maintaining heightened situational awareness, identifying and monitoring suspected or inherent building construction hazards coupled with inherent occupancy risk factors, and aligning those with strategic objectives, incident actions plans and tactical deployment operations. Building Knowledge equating to firefighter safety is still a driving principle that is formulative to all firefighting operations in buildings, occupancies and structures. Let’s take this opportunity to gain some insights into the material that compromises nearly all wall and ceiling membrane systems and assemblies in nearly all buildings, occupancies and structures; that is gypsum board components. I’ve included a number of video clips that center on our discussion, as the videos center on the operation parameters at this extremely large (floor area/square footage) residential occupancy. Most clips have good coverage of the structure and firefighting efforts. Take a few moments to review these clips before you proceed; 


Go to HERE for the complete article, videos, photos and graphics.

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Comment by Ben Waller on February 20, 2011 at 6:23pm
Chris, I'm not sure that the gypsum board is the real culprit here.

The pre-collapse photos showed several firefighters pulling ceilings from the center of a large, open room. That violates every rule I've ever been taught - start pulling ceilings from the adjacent doorway and work your way to the center.

The firefight videos showed roof ventilation over what appeared to be a fairly well-developed cockloft fire with long-span structural elements.

The post-collapse shots showed not only the gypsum board, but a significant amount of what appeared to be the structural elements piled up inside the top floor.

That makes me wonder if the weakened structure contributed at least as much to the collapse than the water and the gypsum board; and if different ceiling pull tactics would have kept the firefighters out from under the collapse when it occurred.

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