Lightweight construction: misleading description?

Issue 11 and Volume 163.

One of the most recent additions to the lexicon of fire professionals is the term “lightweight construction.” It has become synonymous with truss-joist I-beams, laminated wood, and other engineered construction products. I feel, however, that this term is inaccurate and misleading. I would instead prefer to see the term “low-mass construction.” Both of these terms are intended to alert firefighters to the fact that structural elements have less resistance to heat and fire and live loading than traditional dimensional lumber elements. Fire resistance is critical in terms of structural stability, flashover times, ventilation tactics, and so on—in fact, the whole strategy of offensive firefighting. The late Frank Brannigan’s Building Construction for the Fire Service provides detailed explanations of why this is. Every firefighter, company officer, and chief officer should study this text thoroughly. In it, Brannigan stated: “In recent years, the economics of using geometry (e.g., truss shapes) over mass…

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