Fire Prevention & Protection

Toothpick Towers: A Fire Officer’s Guide to Operating in Lightweight Wood-Frame Multiple Dwellings

Issue 4 and Volume 171.

By Glenn P. Corbett The years immediately following World War II led to one of the biggest housing booms in American history. The need for quickly built homes led to a legacy that we still live with today: the introduction of “lightweight” engineered wood beams in the form of trusses and “I-beams.” These new lightweight trusses using small-sized pieces of lumber were developed in South Florida. In 1954, Arthur Carol Sanford patented the “Gri-P-Late,” a toothed plate with associated “stitching” nails to hold the plate in place. The following year, John Calvin Jureit developed the toothed “Gang-Nail” plate, one that did not require the additional nails needed in Sanford’s design. The lightweight truss’s cousin, the wooden I-beam, was introduced by the Trus Joist Corporation in 1969. (1) The hidden voids within the floor and attic trusses as well as wall cavities allow fire to spread rapidly and out of sight—time…

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