The Fire Sprinkler Initiative, a project of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), has created a presentation highlighting the dangers of lightweight construction and the corresponding benefits of home fire sprinklers.
Lightweight construction began to appear 25 years ago. These less expensive engineered wood systems are routinely used in floors and roofs of new homes. According to a Centers for Disease Control/NIOSH Alert, more than 60 percent of roof structures in the U.S. are constructed with lightweight wood truss construction techniques.
While more affordable than traditional/dimensional materials, lightweight construction poses serious risks for residents of the homes and emergency responders.
The presentation includes information on lightweight construction and its behavior in a fire scenario, as well as a video demonstration of a side-by-side live burn of a room with legacy furnishings and a room with modern home contents. The modern contents room hits flashover point — the simultaneous ignition of everything — and becomes an inferno, more than 25 minutes earlier than the one with older furnishings.
Consequently, there is an increased risk for firefighters entering homes made with lightweight construction. The joists are less secure and structural collapse is a greater possibility. Interviews with firefighters who have experienced the damage of lightweight building materials are also incorporated into the slideshow.
“Lightweight construction poses hazards to firefighters and must be considered before firefighting operations begin,” said Ken Willette, NFPA division manager of Public Fire Protection and a former fire chief. “An uncontrolled fire within such a structure will compromise its integrity, increasing the risk of structural collapse as firefighting operations commence. Home sprinklers minimize that risk and increase safety for firefighters and occupants alike.”
Home fire sprinklers significantly reduce the dangers posed by lightweight construction. Fitting a home with sprinklers reduces the chance of death by fire by 80 percent, and reduces property loss by 71 percent.
For the full presentation, and more information regarding sprinklers and lightweight construction safety, visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative resource for firefighters’ page.