Firefighter Training Drill: Parapet Walls

Douglas Mitchell, Jr.
Lieutenant, New York City Fire Department
Instructor, Traditions Training LLC.

In our great fire department history, parapet wall collapses have injured and killed several of our members. Parapet walls are those that extend vertically above the roof level and give the illusion that a building is taller in height than it really is. While most commonly found on the ‘address side’ or ‘front’ of buildings, they may be found on any and all sides. They will vary in height from several inches to several feel above the roof-line. 

Parapet walls are prone to failure at fire operations and collapse for several reasons. These walls are consistently exposed to the elements and, as such, quickly fall into disrepair. As far as their support, many are placed on horizontal steel I-beams that run the length of the buildings front. If fire enters the cockloft space (the space between the finished ceiling and underside of the roof boards) the I-beam can quickly be exposed to heat, expand, and cause the parapet to buckle, crack, and fail. While sometimes the falling pieces are small, many times the sections are all tied together and fall in a ‘wave’ like form, raining thousands of pounds of bricks and mortar of the complete parapet on the sidewalk. Another hazard, as shown in the photos of this week’s drill: as buildings change occupancies, signage can be added to and removed from around and over existing parapet walls. 

The photos show a large diamond plate sign attached to and covering the original parapet. Not only may this additional weight increase the potential for early catastrophic collapse, it will also likely cause a delay for members to access the roof itself. No one can stress the importance of knowing your buildings!

Download this week’s firefighter training drill HERE.



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