As we learned from the Chicago Fire Department's Pete Van Dorpe and James Dolton, who presented at FRI this summer, lightweight construction is rapidly changing. Add to the mix the hotter- and faster-burning fuel loads, and the dangers that these structures present to firefighters is only increasing.
The introduction of lightweight construction materials should have changed the way you operate on the fireground
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This changing playing field requires a different approach to fire attack. Dolton and Van Dorpe advocated a transitional fire attack, one that shifts between offensive and defensive. We asked our readers how their interior attack tactics have changed in the face of lightweight construction. Here's what they had to say.
"It alters it because you now will have falling debris and objects from above that could injure a member of the crew." — Robert Cooley
"Water being applied faster and on 'hot smoke' improves survivability for victims and firefighters. Better search techniques and horizontal ventilation have improved and been effective. Lastly, knowing your districts and the building construction in them is the best way to start deciding fireground strategies and tactics." — Fredrick Hageman
"Simple, surround and drown." — Dean Speerbrecher
"The stability of the structures have become weaker to make the material more lightweight and less expensive. This in result, makes structural firefighting more hazardous than ever. We have less of a time table from 10 to 20 years ago." — John Scott
"Everyone knows an average lightweight dwelling takes 6 to 8 minutes to become fully involved. Get in there, hit it quick, and get out. Avoid falling studs. ?— Jake Haldeman
"Lightweight construction has changed firefighting forever. The old style of get in, put the fire out, and go home is now possibly a death sentence. With structural integrity in question even in preliminary stages of a fire, the initial attack must be pre-planned and executed with precision. I'm in favor of the big brass emblems being installed on the front of the home or building warning firefighters as they are doing their size up to the fact they will be dealing with a lightweight constructed structure and set up an attack accordingly." — Brian Oppelt
"Well, this is an old but serious topic. If you go past 5 to 10 feet, shame on the fire officer." — Bruce Dash
"It is well known (or at least it should be) that today's lightweight wood-frame structure burns faster and fails sooner than traditional wood-frame structures built in years past that used solid dimension lumber. The vast majority of homes and apartments, fast-food restaurants, hotels and commercial buildings constructed in the past 20 years are built of lightweight wood frame. Structural failure times of four to six minutes are well documented. Now add to this, synthetic fuel loads common to these occupancies and you have the recipe for disaster to unknowing firefighters still using 20th century tactics on a 21st century fire risk. The bottom line is that you'd better have a compelling reason, such as a savable life, before allowing firefighters on or under this type of construction once the fire has involved floor and attic void space." — Gary Bowker
"It's simply accelerated the life cycle of a working fire ground." — Scott Prchal
"Exterior offensive CAF attack on arrival, and continue with interior attack and overhaul if the structure is still sound. If there is known or suspected entrapment, exterior CAF attack combined with vent-enter-search tactics through windows." — Michael Tremblay
"If you get in and make a quick attack then it really doesn't matter if it's lightweight construction or cardboard. If there are signs of structural collapse once you make entry then you can worry." — Brad Latz
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Robert WinstonMonday, October 15, 2012 5:29:28 PMOaky. We know that light-weight building construction is cheaper to build and allows contractors to earn a larger profit. At the same time, allowable and cheaper building construction codes have also shown that the lives of residents in newer homes and customers-workers in newer commercial buildings have been cheapened, too. So, where were the building safety code committee members at the NFPA, IAFC, ICC, OSHA and the NVFC when these new construction codes were debated and passed? They all should be accountable and culpable to have allowed the cheapening of building codes/construction along with the cheapening of the lives of Firefighters and civillians alike. Shame on all of those committee members and the organizations that put us all at risk, knowingly!
Robert M. Robert Winston
Boston (MA) District Fire Chief, retired.
Former Pickens County (GA) Fire Chief.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 4:19:33 AMThis is all great factual information about "lightweight" construction and has been in the limelight for awhile now. I am guessing the fire service as a whole is slow to change our thinking as I still see"Old School" tactics in play and total disregard to the lightweight construction issues. What baffles me is it is still presented as a relatively new issue. I have been in the construction business as either a carpenter or contractor since 1972. I can tell you that I personally installed lightweight roof trusses and yes, TJI floor joists in 1973. That was 40 years ago! This is NOT anything new. It keeps coming up as a new danger we face and we need to address this issue with a "Where have you been?" discussion for those that think this is new stuff. Newer engineered building materials have come along over time but even most of the Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) has been around for at least 30 years. Let's get off the "New" issue and shame ourselves into not already knowing about this issue for many years now.
Gary BowkerTuesday, October 16, 2012 1:17:43 PMYou are correct. Residentally speaking, LWC has been around since the late 60's and early 70's. However, the percentage of LWC being built then was realitively low compared to today, probably 90%. Add to that, the expanded use of LWC for commerical occupancies, sythetic fire loading, and we continue to see a very real life safety risk for firefighters, especially those who "dont get it" Just my thoughts...