Be on the lookout for roof collapse

The added weight of water and firefighters can push a building's roof beyond its designed capacity

Editor’s Note:

Editor's Note: Chief Adam K. Thiel looks at the dangers of roof collapse.

Several recent roof collapses around the United States once again spotlight the importance of thorough, ongoing size-up and special attention to building construction during fires and other emergencies.

While we generally expect the potential for roof collapse in structure fires, we don't always think about the additional loads from unusual environmental conditions or the possibility that unrelated construction work could affect the integrity of the building's overall support system.

I remember having a great deal of concern, during the East Coast blizzards of 2010/2011 (also known as "Snowpocalypse" or "Snowmageddon"), about roof collapse at all kinds of structures from the extreme weight of tons — yes, tons — of drifted snow and densely packed ice.

It's also critical to remember that water — 8.33 pounds per gallon adds up quickly — from firefighting efforts, and firefighters themselves become part of the roof load and might take the system beyond it's design capacity to the point of collapse.

As the late Francis Brannigan, fire service building construction guru, used to say about roof systems, "Beware the connections."

Take the time to get out and become familiar with the buildings in your area, both old and new, as well as taking advantage of the many excellent books and training programs out there on the topic.

Understanding building construction may save your life one day.

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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