The Roundtable: Lightweight Wood-Frame Mixed Occupancies, Part 2

What Are Your SOPs and Lessons Learned?

(Christopher Naum photo)

Bobby Halton and Bill Carey

Across America we have been witnessing the construction of lightweight wood frame multiple family mixed occupancy buildings. The first floors are fire resistive or noncombustible and have offices, business, and parking garages or some combination of the sort. Fires have occurred under construction and after completion. These events tax the resources and capabilities of the agencies responding. What SOP’s guidelines, preparations or experiences and lessons learned can you share regarding these structures?

Lightweight Wood-Frame Mixed Occupancies: What Are Your SOPs and Lessons Learned?

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Click Here to Read: Part 1 Replies

Jason Houck

Currently our department does not have any formal operating guidelines for fires involving lightweight wood-frame mixed occupancies either completed or under construction.  We have been fortunate not to have experienced any major incidents involving these properties.  Our township has seen a major push over the past few years to build these types of properties, with one currently underway, and at least two more major projects under plan review.  

Our fire marshal’s office participates in the plan review process to ensure adequate apparatus access and when possible to push for full sprinkler systems in place of R13 systems.  They also require all projects to complete the water distribution system and to conduct a documented hydrant flow test prior to any wood frame construction starting.  We assign a company to witness the flow test giving our members a chance to pre-plan the site prior to construction.  With the current projects in the plan review process and the recent trend for major loss fires in buildings under construction across the country our department will be looking at what other departments are doing to help develop operating guidelines.

Frank Ricci

While New Haven does not have a specific SOP for lightweight wood frames under constructions our operations would be the same as any other conflagration. Don’t get sucked into where the fire is, you have to plan for where the fire is going. Exposures are generally going to be the first priority unless a life hazard is evident. First arriving companies should position at the most exposed exposure. Do not forget about kids that may have entered the sight or security personnel that may have gotten themselves in trouble.

Water supply and positioning is key. We want to ensure the corners of the buildings are left for tower apparatus or the front if they can position far enough away to avoid melting the paint and be out of the collapse zone. Engine companies will reverse out to ensure big water and command officers should check the water grid to ensure companies are not robbing water from each other. For example if there is a lager main a block away the IC can have a second-alarm company establish water supply to that main.

Don’t forget the rear of the structure and be sure to evaluate construction road access. Also how often our your pre-plans updated with the construction of these match stick, match boxes. Drone operations can also help command get a birds eye view. These incidents will be long duration so plan accordingly.  

Christopher Naum

The normalization of Podium or Raised Platform Construction and their mixed-use occupancies (MUO) have quickly evolved into a hybrid building and occupancy type that continues to challenge fire departments in ways that are highly predictable in terms of performance under fire and demand increased knowledge, skill sets and adaptive operational considerations; both pre-incident and during fluid incident operations. The Built Environment is Developing Faster with Greater Complexity w Greater Hazards & Risks to FF than Tactical Models Provide for. Implementing conventional tactics, deploying inadequate resources and staffing, delayed or faulted engagement and lack of building and occupancy knowledge, pre-incident planning will not only not work, they very well may lead to adverse, challenging and overwhelming incident conditions and risk to personnel and occupants.

(Christopher Naum photo)

Emerging Influencing Trends & Factors include; Rapid Changing Building Materials & Methods of Construction, Building footprint, Size, Volume and Complexity, Integration of Engineered Structural Systems (ESS), Influence of overall Fire Load Packages and Occupancy loads on fire suppression and operations, the adverse influence of voids and concealed spaces and building and compartment susceptibility to compromise and collapse. The most prevailing influence on organizations is the lack of building construction knowledge and literacy and the need for timely and ample resources (apparatus and personnel) to be present in the earliest stages of an evolving incident with judicious and deliberate tactical engagement and decisive and adaptive fireground management and command.

(Christopher Naum photo)

These building and occupancy types have increased risk factors that are defined by their construction systems and footprint and require proactive fire department engagement during the various phases of construction, pre-occupancy and then throughout their life-spans. Pre-Incident planning during the various construction phases with response and box-alarms cards updated for the changing risks as construction proceeds, conducting building walk-throughs and familiarization tours, demanding fixed suppression systems (standpipe or partial suppression during construction phases), Robust and strong first-alarms assignments that reflect the building and occupancy risk when occupied for ALL types of responses.

(Christopher Naum photo)

Development of tactical protocols for the variations present in the actual building, property and occupancy; adaptive fireground management of incident demands, conservative-bias in decision-making, robust deployment models, and the development of tactics that align with the FD or region’s response resources, training and skill set capabilities and intrusive pre-incident planning, robust passive and active building protective systems and a respect for the unique building and occupancy characteristics, the building’s predictability of performance and requirements for adaptive fireground management at the strategic, tactical and task level will provide the necessary Tactical Edge Podium or Construction and their mixed-use occupancies demand.

“If you’re going to command or tactically engage at a structure fire: you better understand the building-there is limited margin for error on today’s evolving fireground”……Errors and Omissions are Unforgiving

Mike Ciampo

In our lightweight structure guide, it makes mention that when operating in a known building with pre-fabricated lightweight I-beams or trusses (thin metal gusset plates) to use caution operating.  If the hose line proceeds to the room on fire, hit it from the hallway and door frame where there should be more support and proceed cautiously into the room for final extinguishment and wash down.  

Limit members entering to overhaul the room to complete the search until it is deemed structurally safe.   We’ve encounter members searching/operating in the room above and the floor sank due to the beams below being compromised.  Luckily, the carpet stretched and remained attached to the nail tack strips so the member didn’t fall through the floor.  

Note: Responses are solely the opinion and views of the individual and have only been edited for grammatical reasons.

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