Building Construction Considerations for Fire Incident Commanders Discussed at FDIC 2011

Speaking to a packed room at FDIC 2011, Paul Dansbach, fire marshal of the Rutherford (NJ) Bureau of Fire Safety and host of Fire Engineering Training Minutes videos, talked about the importance of building construction concerns when it comes to implementing firefighting tactics at structure fires. Dansbach’s workshop presentation including a multitude of photos of buildings under construction and during actual fire incidents.

Dansbach discussed building loads and fire loads, and how the latter varies depending on the use of the structure, citing as one example an school auditorium that normally contains a small fire load but, during an annual fair, becomes packed with combustible material. “Learn to expect the unexpected,” Dansbach said.

He also dealt with restored or renovated buildings, and how evaluating the structural hierarchy of a building can help the incident commander (IC) make decisions regarding its structural integrity.

Dansbach showed diagrams and photos of various types of trusses and touched on the large combustible void spaces that often result from truss construction. He cited FDNY Chief (Ret.) Vincent Dunn’s concept of a “truss roof trilogy,” three critical historical incidents involving structures with truss roofs that killed firefighters and changed the fire service’s approach to fighting fires in such structures–in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey; the Waldbaum’s Supermarket Fire collapse in Brooklyn, New York; and the Hackensack (NJ) Ford Fire. Each of these tragic incidents demonstrated different ways firefighters could be killed or injured at incidents involving trusses.

He stressed that, when ICs are in doubt if they are dealing with a truss roof, they should use caution and operate as if they were. “If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong on the side of safety.”

Dansbach also discussed other factors affecting structural integrity and indicators of collapse in various different types of construction. He spoke so forcefully on the subject that, in one of many lighter moments, former Jersey City (NJ) Battalion Chief Bill Peters, teaching in a nearby room, popped in to ask Dansbach to lower the volume a bit. “I love an instructor with passion,” said Peters.

Dansbach, a past chief of Rutherford and longtime fire marshal, is an editorial advisory member for both Fire Engineering and FDIC.

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