“If we’re not using 21st century tactics to fight 21st century wood frame structure fires, we’re behind the curve,” retired Chief Gary Bowker told students this morning. At the workshop, “Firefighting in Disposable Structures” the first-time attendee and presenter at FDIC said today’s wood-frame structures are no longer built to last; they react more violently and creates a greater risk than just a few years ago.
Fires at today’s “disposable” wood-frame structures, with their lightweight contruction components and synthetic-based furnishings, burn faster and reach flashover and backdraft faster, thus greatly reducing the escape time for occupants and firefighter–these structures fail sooner, with little or no warning.
He recommended specific tactics in responding to such structure, emphasizing the importance of doing a 360° walkaround before committing personnel. Bowker discussed lightweight engineered components as well as those made of plastics which can be akin to gasoline in solid form. Among other construction concerns, he outlined modular construction, where components are prebuilt and then put together on the building site.
In addition to lightweight construction, modular structures may have large uninterrupted void spaces, a variety of unfirestopped avenues for firespread, and adhesives used in place of nails. Photos shown of a fire in such structure show fire fully involving it in under 10 minutes. Bowker also showed a video from the Fire Smoke Coalition, outlining the dangers of the “toxic twins,” carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, present in smoke on the fireground.
The most important thing Bowker wants for his students, he said, “After attending this workshop, apply the knowledge you have gained at the next ‘disposable” structure fire you respond to.”
Bowker is the author of “Fighting Fires in Disposable Structures” (Fire Engineering, March 2013, 99-108). Before retiring, he served most recently as the chief of Sumner County (KS) Rural Fire District #10.