FDIC 2013: Class Deals with Tactical Considerations for Attic and Cockloft Fires

Economic conditions, new construction, and building renovations were considerations in classroom session “Tactical Considerations for Attic and Cockloft Fires,” presented by Michael Daley on Thursday morning at FDIC 2013.

A lieutenant and training officer with the Monroe Township (NJ) Fire Department, Daley has been attending FDIC since 1999, and served as both a classroom and a HOT Instructor for FDIC since 2001.

Daley distinguished between an attic and a cockloft space. An attic is a space on the top of a structure under a steep-pitched roof that is high enough to provide storage and can be modified for living space. A cockloft is a top floor space above the top floor ceiling and under the roof rafters that is not usable for living space.

Because of current economic conditions, it is more common to find attic spaces converted in to living space as family members move back home. Daley showed slides that provided clues to look for to determine whether an attic space is occupied. For example, there might be curtains or holiday decorations in the windows, satellite dishes, or air conditioners. One way to confirm whether an attic space is being used for living space it to observe it at night and look for lighted windows.

The means of access can be a life safety issue for occupants in case of fire, Daley said. One slide shown indicated access to an attic space was apparently through the house to an exterior door at the second-floor landing of a fire escape; the upper floor occupant would climb fire escape stairs up to an entry door to the third-floor living space. The fire escape had a drop-down ladder from the second-floor landing to the ground, but it might be inoperable. Daley asked if there is fire below the fire escape landing, where do occupants who have escaped to the second-floor landing from the second and third floors go? 

Daley reviewed the changes in construction over the years, in which solid lumber has been replaced by lightweight truss construction using engineered wood products. Common in new construction, these trusses may also be used in renovations of older legacy buildings, and only visible during the renovation. After the renovation is complete, the presence of such materials is not obvious. In a fire, these lightweight construction components present a high fuel load and a quicker time to collapse. Daley is the author of “Attic Fires: Hazards from Above.” (Fire Engineering, March 2013, 73-82).

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