You Are Never Too Old To Learn

Building construction considerations for firefighters


By Mike Dugan

You are never too old to learn something new, that is for sure. Recently while in Pennsylvania speaking at the Keystone Fire Conference with Bobby Halton, we saw a building being built in King of Prussia. We saw this building from our hotel and decided to take a ride to see what they were building and how it was being constructed. We drove to the construction site and proceeded to look around. The building appeared to be a mixed-use occupancy with retail on the first floor and residential above.

The retail space appeared to be of concrete with wood trusses for areas to be built above. This also could be a fire-rated parking garage underneath the wooden truss building. It also appeared that there was going to be an entertainment site at this complex, such as a movie theater and maybe a restaurant or bar restaurant. You can see from the photos that there was a lot of construction going on a lot of materials around the site. We used our phones to take pictures and look at the different materials in question, considering the fire protection and fire loading of the building and materials. Will the building have a residential sprinkler system? If so, was that system going to provide protection to the void spaces?

What would be the fire department’s response protocol for building of this type? Were they ready for a fire in this type of building? Had they drilled on such a fire, and did they have sufficient resources for it?  

Being two old fire buffs, Chief Halton and I started looking at the materials being used to build the structure. That is when we discovered something that neither one of us had ever seen before. We found a truss that was cut on a chord–which of course could either be the top or the bottom chord. Next to that cut was a truss web member and, because of the forces that were going to be applied to this truss, there was a small piece of 2 x 4 placed above the cut to act as a stiffener or brace. I had never seen this before and I asked Chief Halton if he had ever seen a truss constructed like this. His answer was no. To me, with my limited knowledge of engineering and lack of a degree in engineering, I can only surmise that this scabbed piece of 2 x 4 is there to brace this truss and prevent failure. My question for the building community is: if it is necessary to build this safety into this truss as is shown in the attached pictures, what will happen if this truss is ever exposed to fire?

You are never too old to learn or to discover something new! My question to you, the readers and to my brothers and sisters in the fire service, is: have you seen this? If so, what have your experiences been? Please share them with us. And remember, you are never too old to learn and if you learn something; you are duty-bound to share it. The buildings we fight fires in are changing. If we discover that they are not as safe as we thought, or if they were exposed to fire conditions, we might have to rethink our actions. If you have any information on this, please share them with us because we would like to learn more and know more about this product and the effects fire might have on it.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 40-year veteran of the fire service, was a 27-year member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he served as captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, before retiring. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43 in Spanish Harlem, he received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was a volunteer firefighter in Halesite, New York. He lectures on truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service. He is a member of the FDIC and Fire Engineering educational/editorial advisory boards.


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