Fire Prevention & Protection, Firefighter Training, Truck Company

Reading A Building – Size-Up Considerations For Fascia-Style Construction

By John W. Mittendorf

The last two articles examining fascias have covered entry, extension/overhaul, and construction. Here are four additional size-up considerations for fascia-style construction.

Overhang
Overhang is the distance a fascia extends from the building. As the distance increases, so should your concern about structural integrity whenever a fascia is exposed to fire. Interestingly, a truss can be cantilevered 1/3 of its length. So, a truss that has a span of 30′ can be cantilevered 10′ over an exterior wall. As the size of a fascia increases, so does its complexity and the materials used in its construction (which can easily be lightweight construction). The size of a fascia can have a direct effect on the area, path, and travel of fire. Fascias are usually open to the attic of a building. Unless proven otherwise, expect any fascia to lack firestopping, sprinklers, and be open to the attic. If a fascia is exposed to fire, expect it to collapse outward at least the distance of the overhang.

Height And Shape
The height and shape will affect structural stability, the quantity of building materials present, and the potential path of fire. Remember, a fascia is an external common attic that will easily conceal and spread the travel of fire around the exterior of a building. Keep such factors in mind during ladder operations. On buildings without fascias, the roof type (arch, sawtooth, and so on) can often be identified from the ground. This is helpful (and often necessary) when laddering the roof area. The style (curve) of a fascia and/or distance out from the building can also keep a ground ladder from reaching its top, further hindering access to a roof.

Supports
Some fascias are equipped with vertical supports that serve as a decorative addition to a fascia but also serve as an external support. Obviously, these supports can enhance the strength and safety of a fascia, but unfortunately they cost additional money and are limited in their use.

Height From The Roofline
Since fascias can conceal a roofline, ladder operations can present an additional challenge. When you ladder a fascia but you cannot see the roofline, the height of the fascia above the roof should be determined. If you don’t do this, an additional trip back to the ground for another ladder may be necessary. Additionally, personnel on a roof without a safe and easy means of egress to the top of a fascia are in trouble if the roof begins to collapse. If the distance from a roof to the top of a fascia or parapet wall exceeds 5′, a ladder from the roof to the top of the fascia/parapet wall is necessary. Consider the following when determining the roofline of a building:

  • Rafter tie plates: These indicate the location of the roof rafters which will designate the roofline.
  • Windows: Rooflines run between the top floor windows and the top of a fascia/parapet.
  • Equipment on the roof: Air conditioners and heating units that can be seen above a fascia indicate that the roof is in close proximity.
  • Attic vents: Rooflines are between the attic vent and top of the fascia/parapet.
  • Scuppers: A scupper is the actual level of a roof.
  • Perimeter: Fascias are normally constructed on the front and sides of a building. Normally they are not on the back of a building, or if present on the back (i.e., McDonalds, etc), will have an access opening for roof access/egress.

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).