Lightweight Construction: Is Now the Time To Push for Sweeping Industry Changes?

BY AZARANG (OZZIE) MIRKHAH and DAVID C. COMSTOCK JR.

The use of engineered floor and roof systems in residential occupancies across the United States is skyrocketing. Most newer residential occupancies incorporate lightweight, engineered wood or composite structural components, including trusses, wooden I-beams, and lightweight flooring and roofing systems. In most cases, these systems are structurally sound and designed to support the appropriate loads under normal conditions. However, they are likely to fail very quickly under fire conditions. As a result, firefighters have been dying in residential structure fires at an ever-increasing rate despite the fact that fire service authors have been warning of these dangers for more than two decades.1

For example, in 2007 a 24-year-old male volunteer firefighter died at a residential structural fire involving lightweight wood trusses. The home was built in 2004 and was a two-story, single-family residence of ordinary construction that encompassed approximately 2,200 square feet of living area above grade and 2,200 square feet below grade. The floors of the structure consisted of a lightweight wood truss system of engineered wooden I-beams, which were formed with a 2- × 3-inch or 2- × 4-inch top and bottom chord with a sheet of plywood or particleboard vertically sandwiched in between as a web. Firefighting crews were attempting to conduct a search in zero visibility when the floor collapsed without warning, sending the firefighter into the basement. Rescue efforts were unsuccessful, and the firefighter died of smoke inhalation.

An investigation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) made several specific recommendations, including that building code officials and local authorities having jurisdiction consider modifying the current codes to require that lightweight trusses be protected with a fire barrier on both the top and bottom. In this case, the floor trusses for the first floor did not have any protection on the bottom chord, which immediately exposed the trusses to fire in the basement. NIOSH pointed out that it is critical for trusses and lightweight engineered wood and I-beams used in a load-bearing assembly to be protected with a thermal barrier such as gypsum wall board. (See “Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Investigation Report # F2007-07.”)

The risks firefighters face as a result of construction methods are only likely to get worse. At least 65 percent of all new construction in the United States now uses lightweight wood trusses. More importantly, the heat release rates found in typical residential fires have skyrocketed within the past decade. Where wood trusses would previously fail within 20 minutes, they may now fail within five. In 2008, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) conducted a research study involving a series of six tests in which floor and roof assemblies were subjected to fire. The study concluded that lightweight construction and increased fuel load in the presence of synthetic petroleum-based materials contributed to a much greater fire growth, which in turn increases the probability of sudden catastrophic structural failure in these buildings.2

CONSTRUCTION SOLUTIONS

The fire service must design a solution that will permit architects and contractors to continue building structures with engineered lightweight wood truss members. However, the structural integrity of the floor and roof assemblies that come under fire conditions must be improved. Many points of intervention in the construction process could address the problem of the engineered lightweight wood structural member failure under fire conditions. Intervention at any one of these points in the overall process would yield a positive result.

First, the homebuilders and the construction industry could use a “passive” fire protection approach to enhance the fire resistance of the floor and roof assemblies. The manufacturers of engineered lightweight wood structural members could use stronger metal connector plates that penetrate more deeply into the wood. Better yet, manufacturers could invest in the research and development of a completely different type of joint connection mechanism that performs significantly better under fire conditions. The homebuilders could install additional layers of gypsum board to the bottom of the lightweight wood structural members, which would increase the structural integrity of the floor and roof assemblies for a longer time before structural failure under fire conditions. Additionally, local or state legislators could require that all structures, including single-family homes or duplexes, be marked with signs that would indicate the presence of lightweight roof or floor trusses. Such signage on buildings would permit firefighters to change their tactics for fighting fire in buildings with the lightweight truss system.

However, a higher degree of safety is achieved with an “active” fire protection approach. By fighting the fire in the incipient stage, residential fire sprinkler systems would provide for occupants’ life safety and would better protect the entire building, including the roof and floor assemblies, from the intense heat of combustion, prolonging the exposure, which could result in structural failure. In the worst-case scenario, firefighters arriving on the scene would face a much more controlled fire. From that perspective, this solution could enhance building occupants and the responding firefighters’ safety. The enhancement to civilian safety and the reduction of fire fatalities make the minimal construction cost increases (1 to 1.5 percent) for the residential fire sprinkler systems much more palatable from a cost-benefit perspective.

CODE SOLUTIONS

The fire service and the building industry long have known how to prevent truss failure. However, contractors have resisted implementing passive or active fire protection systems in their construction processes. Contractors have insisted that they build strictly based on the requirements of the adopted building codes, which, they point out, are written primarily by building and fire officials. The construction industry has argued that the code provides only minimum and reasonable protection for occupants and that any additional fire protection would only increase the construction costs and make homes less affordable without providing any significant additional benefit to the firefighter or home-owner. Industry professionals downplay the risk of firefighter deaths resulting from truss collapse by pointing out that of the 100 firefighters who die annually on average, very few deaths have been historically related to wood truss failure. Thus, the additional costs for adding passive or active fire protection systems to a residential dwelling do not make good economic sense, according to the homebuilders.

The fire service has had the ability to counter these arguments through its participation in the construction code process for single- and two-family dwellings. Efforts to implement additional fire protection measures for single- and two-family residential homes have failed because of a lack of coordinated effort among the various fire service organizations, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, and the International Resident Code (IRC) Fire Sprinkler Coalition. As a result, the fire service has permitted the home builders to focus on construction costs instead of firefighter safety as the primary factor in the development and implementation of residential building codes.

In 2008, the fire service, united at last, spearheaded a proposal to change the IRC to require residential fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family dwellings (IRC Proposal RB64-07/08). The proposal passed with a strong majority (73 percent) of the governmental members of the ICC present and voting. The vote was 1,282 for the code change to 470 against. The fire service and public safety organizations came prepared to the final action hearings of the ICC in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with incontrovertible evidence that residential fire sprinklers save much more than property: They save the lives of the public and the lives of fire service personnel who protect them.

Despite the overwhelming passage of the IRC sprinkler proposal, the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) filed an appeal, contending that the ICC failed to provide a balance of interest in voting since it did not “prevent a single interest group, specifically the fire service, from unfairly dominating the voting at the final action hearings.” The NAHB also claimed procedural irregularities, including the assertion that firefighters, who had been credentialed by the ICC as voting governmental members, should not have been permitted to vote in the ICC process. On December 11, the Appeals Board of the International Code Council voted unanimously to reject the appeal filed by the NAHB. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Appeals Board affirmed that the new sprinkler requirements resulted from valid actions of the ICC membership and issued a recommendation to reject the appeal to the ICC Board of Directors. The full ICC Board of Directors later upheld the Appeals Board’s decision.

The NAHB has vowed to continue the fight, despite the actions taken by the ICC in September and December. It is now approaching local and state legislators to prevent the ICC provisions from being adopted in local and state building codes. Such bills have been introduced in Arizona (HB2267) and North Dakota (SB2354). These bills would block new code adoptions mandating residential fire sprinkler requirements.

With the economic recession affecting new housing starts, homebuilders will continue to argue that the increase in costs associated with residential sprinkler systems will only further harm the building industry and the economy in general. Yet, this argument continues to ignore the cost of human lives and suffering directly caused by the lack of active and passive fire protection systems in residential housing. As the war on residential sprinklers continues to be waged, new avenues may be required to force architects, engineers, and building officials to consider the true costs when current lightweight building systems are not properly protected.

LEGAL SOLUTIONS

While the homebuilders turn to local and state legislatures for relief, firefighters may need to turn to the courts. Although never previously used, injured firefighters or the estates of those killed as a result of truss failures should soon consider filing product liability claims against manufacturers and suppliers of trusses, as well as negligence claims against the architects and homebuilders who have used and continue to use unprotected truss systems.

A product liability claim is a civil action to recover compensatory or monetary damages from a manufacturer or supplier of a product for death or injury to a person or physical damage to property arising from the design, production, construction, assembly, or marketing of the product; any warning or lack of warning or instruction associated with a product; or any failure of that product to conform to any relevant representation or warranty.

Generally, a manufacturer is liable in a product liability claim if an injured party can demonstrate that the product (in this case, a truss or wooden I-beam) was defective and that the defect proximately or directly caused the harm for which the claimant seeks to recovery compensatory damages. Product defects are usually categorized in one of four categories: manufacturing, design, inadequate warning or instruction, and nonconformity with a specific representation. A manufacturing defect occurs when the product was not constructed or manufactured in conformity with manufacturing specifications or performance standards or deviated from otherwise identical units manufactured as the same design specifications and performance standards. A product may be defective even if the manufacturer exercised all possible care in the manufacture or construction of the product. This type of product liability case would not usually be found in a fire service situation, and proof of a specific truss manufacturing defect would be difficult to prove given the effects of fire on wood.

The second product liability claim arises when a product is defectively designed or formulated. The product is defectively designed if, at the time it left the control of its manufacturer, the foreseeable risk associated with its design or formulation exceeded the benefits associated with that design or formulation. A risk is foreseeable if the manufacturer should have recognized the risk while exercising the judgment that a reasonable manufacturer should possess and any superior information that the manufacturer does possess. In a case involving trusses, an argument could certainly be made that, based on historical data, the manufacturer knew that trusses using gusset plates were more likely to fail than trusses that would use other means to connect the truss sections.

Courts will use a nonexclusive list of factors to determine the foreseeable risk and benefits associated with the design or formulation of a product. These factors include the nature and magnitude of the risks of harm, the awareness of product users of the risks of harm, the likelihood of harm in light of the intended and reasonable foreseeable uses, and the extent to which the design or formulation conformed to standards that were in effect when the product left the manufacturer. The factors to be considered when determining the benefits include the utility of the product, the feasibility of using an alternative design or formulation, and the nature and magnitude of foreseeable risks associated with the alternative design or formulation.

Attorneys arguing on behalf of injured or deceased firefighters would certainly argue that the death or serious physical injury from an improperly protected truss, the likelihood that a firefighter would be killed from truss failure, and the fact that the industry was well aware of the design flaw when it placed the truss into the stream of commerce makes the product defective. Attorneys would also argue that there are alternative designs for the installation of the truss, which would include the passive and active fire protection systems discussed previously in this article.

In response, the Homebuilders Association may argue that a truss is not defective in design because the inherent characteristics of the product (the truss) cannot be eliminated without substantially compromising the product’s usefulness or desirability. Homebuilders will also argue that the likelihood of harm is minimal in light of the intended or reasonable foreseeable uses of the truss and that firefighters should be aware of the minimal risk, if any, of the truss so as to be able to avoid any danger resulting from its use.

A third product liability claim may be asserted when the manufacturer or supplier fails to provide adequate warning or instruction with the product. A product is defective because of inadequate warning or instruction if at the time it leaves the manufacturer’s control, the manufacturer knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, the risk associated with the product that allegedly caused the harm for which the claimant seeks to recover compensatory damages. The manufacturer must also fail to provide the warning or instruction that a manufacturer exercising reasonable care would have provided concerning the risk, in light of the likelihood and seriousness of the potential harm.

Claims may also be made against manufacturers even after the product has left the manufacturer’s control. To demonstrate that a product is defective because of inadequate postmarketing warning or instruction, a claimant must prove that the manufacturer knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, the risks associated with the product that allegedly caused harm for which a claimant seeks to recover compensatory damages. The claimant must also prove the manufacturer failed to provide the postmarketing warning or instruction that a manufacturer exercising reasonable care would have provided concerning the risk, in light of the likelihood and seriousness of the potential harm. This requirement of warnings after a product has left the control of the manufacturer obligates the manufacturer to add a warning or to update the existing warning with information obtained subsequent to the product’s leaving the manufacturer’s control. Manufacturers may not be liable, however, for a lack of warning or inadequate warning if the risk is open and obvious or if a matter of common knowledge exists. Ceiling and floor trusses are not open and obvious, and although knowledge regarding the risk of lightweight construction may exist, firefighters cannot guard against the risk if firefighters do not know when and where trusses are used.

With respect to lightweight building construction, manufacturers would be liable for not providing information to contractors or homebuilders regarding the likelihood of truss failure in the event of fire. However, any warning provided through the sale of the truss itself would likely be inadequate to protect members of the fire service. Instead, manufacturers should have to sell, with their product, warning signs to be affixed to structures indicating the presence of a truss. An attorney asserting a product liability claim would argue that a simple warning affixed to the building would let all firefighters know of the presence of floor or roof trusses. This warning system has proven effective in those jurisdictions that already mandate such signage.

In defending product liability claims, manufacturers may very well point to firefighters as the cause of their own injury. Generally, contributory negligence (or negligence on the part of the firefighter) is not an affirmative defense in a product liability claim. However, evidence that the firefighter’s negligence was the sole or proximate cause of the accident or injury is relevant and proper to negate the essential element of proximate causation. In other words, truss manufacturers will argue that the truss design did not kill the firefighter. Instead, they will argue, it was the firefighter’s own lack of caution in attacking the fire and conducting a search that led to his own injury. Manufacturers may argue that the risks associated with each type of building construction design are well known throughout the fire service and that if proper attack methodology was implemented (a defensive attack), no loss of life would have resulted.3

The argument of “intervening cause” is a similar argument that could likely be raised by the manufacturer. In this case, the manufacturer would place the blame on a third party, as opposed to the injured or deceased firefighter, as the cause of the death or injuries. In this case, the likely culprit would be the incident commander (IC) who failed to take proper action in attacking the fire. Specifically, manufacturers would argue that where life safety was not at issue, the IC should have initiated a defensive attack once the building components were involved in the fire. Although this argument may be tenuous, it will place an even greater burden on ICs to know building construction and the types of structures within their communities. This claim against the IC has greater merit when considering that National Fire Protection Association 1620, Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning, 2003 edition, and 1521, Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer, 2008 edition, require that data regarding roof construction be recorded. Such documentation should include the roof support components, the length of support spans, and the roof deck material.

There may also be instances where a supplier, as opposed to the manufacturer, may be liable for compensatory damages for an alleged product manufacturing defect. Such instances may include, but are not limited to, those cases where the supplier owns the manufacturer or the manufacturer owns the supplier, the supplier marketed the product under its own label or trade name, or the supplier failed to respond timely and reasonably to written requests by or on behalf of the insured party to disclose the name and address of the manufacturer.

Manufacturers and suppliers may also assert, with respect to a product defect claim, the defense of express or implied assumption of the risk on the part of the firefighter. If the claimant assumed the risk and such risk was the direct and proximate cause of the harm for which the claimant seeks to recover damages, then the expressed or implied assumption of risk is a complete bar to the recovery of those damages. Again, in this case, a manufacturer would argue that the firefighter was aware of the presence and danger of trusses and assumed the risk of collapse by making an interior attack.

There are numerous analogies from the private sector and the manufacturing fields to support the theory that product liability claims may change the way entire manufacturing industries make their products. One such example occurred in the 1970s with respect to fuel tanks manufactured by General Motors (GM). GM had a problem with its fuel tank design, which resulted in catastrophic fires in vehicles when the vehicle was involved in a collision. As a result of several fire fatalities, GM was sued. In a July 10, 1999, article titled “$4.9 Billion Jury Verdict in G.M. Fuel Tank Case,” the New York Times reported the following:

“The jurors wanted to send a message to General Motors that human life is more important than profits,’’ Brian J. Panish, the lawyers for the accident victims, said.
Mr. Panish said that the gas tank on the 1979 Malibu was only 11 inches from the rear bumper; in some earlier models it had been more than 20 inches away. He said the trial testimony showed that it would have cost General Motors $8.59 per vehicle for a safer design but that the company had decided it would be cheaper to settle any lawsuits that arose.
One critical piece of evidence, he said, was a memorandum written by an Oldsmobile engineer, Edward Ivey, in 1973, in which Mr. Ivey estimated that fuel-tank fires were costing G.M. only $2.40 per vehicle. (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9507EEDA123CF933A25754C0A96F958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print)

Obviously, GM’s 1973 cost/benefit analysis proved that paying for the fire fatality lawsuits at the distributed cost of $2.40 per vehicle was by far cheaper than spending a distributed cost of $8.59 per vehicle to redesign the tanks and fix the problem. But then, GM could not have fathomed that it would have to pay $4.9 billion in 1999. Until a jury forced GM to include the cost of public suffering, simple economics dictated that the company continue to manufacture cars that placed its consumers and the public at risk.

A similar legal outcome occurred with Ford and the exploding fuel tank design for the Ford Pinto in the 1970s. You might also recall the Ford Explorer rollover problems with the Firestone tires back in 2000. On September 6, 2000, in an article titled “Firestone, Ford under fire,” CNN Money reported the following:

“I would like to know how it could take us 10 years, dozens of lives, numerous lawsuits, substantial consumer complaints, tire replacements overseas and repeated expressions of concern by an insurance company before any action was taken to initiate an investigation into the safety of a product being used by millions of American families,” Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Transportation subcommittee said. “Simply put—the American people deserve better.” http://money.cnn.com/2000/09/06/companies/bridgestone_ford/

The Senator was indeed right that “the American people deserve better.” The concern of the fire service for fire and life safety in homes where millions of Americans raise their families is just the same. Elected officials should ask similar questions about lightweight wood construction. If our public and our elected officials were made aware of these hazards posed by the lightweight wood trusses, they would be just as concerned as Senator Shelby and demand a workable solution instead of opposing the new code provisions. The fire service has a greater responsibility now more than ever before to educate our legislators.

There are other examples of cost shifting through the courts outside of the auto industry. In November 2007, pharmaceutical giant Merck settled 27,000 lawsuits related to its arthritis drug Vioxx, which apparently added to the risk of heart problems. In its November 9, 2007, article titled “Merck Agrees to Settle Vioxx Suits for $4.85 Billion,” the New York Times reported the following:

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004, after a clinical trial proved that it increased the risks of heart attacks and strokes. But internal company documents showed that Merck’s scientists were concerned about the risks of Vioxx several years earlier. And a large clinical trial that ended in 2000 also showed that Vioxx was much riskier than Naproxen, an older painkiller sold under the name Aleve. (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/09/business/09merck.html)

In addition to product liability claims against manufacturers and suppliers of lightweight wood trusses and other floor and roof assemblies, firefighters may also have negligence claims against homebuilders who fail to properly protect the trusses and I-beams during the construction of a dwelling. With the amendment of the IRC, a contractor who fails to install sprinklers (or at least provide protection for the truss/I-beam) would be doing so at his own peril. With the information available regarding firefighter deaths, an aggressive attorney would likely argue that even if a sprinkler system is not mandated by a state or local code, a homebuilder who fails to take the necessary steps to protect the firefighter or homeowner would be negligent based on the new national standard.

Of course, the homebuilders would raise several defenses in response to these arguments. First, they would raise the issue of contributory negligence on the part of the firefighter, discussed previously in this article. Additionally, homebuilders might raise the affirmative defense of the Firefighter’s Rule, which is a legal doctrine that prohibits a firefighter from making claims against a homeowner or landowner on whose property the firefighter sustains injury. The courts have generally held that a landowner is liable only for personal injuries to firefighters resulting from a defect in the premises where the defect is created by the owner’s reckless, wanton, or willful conduct or where the landowner failed to warn of a hidden defect or condition that he knew to be dangerous. However, a firefighter would simply argue, in response, that the doctrine has no applicability since the Firefighter’s Rule protects the homeowner and not contractors who negligently build homes.

For years, the fire service has borne the emotional and financial impact when a firefighter is killed or seriously injured on the job. To reduce the costs incurred by firefighters and their families, as well as fire departments and the community, the fire service has attempted to educate its members regarding the dangers of lightweight wood construction methodology. This effort has been minimally successful.

The fire service has been slow to react to the changes in building construction methods and the increase in building fire loads that have resulted from product composition changes. Firefighters are at greater risk than ever before, and it is clear that education alone will not protect firefighters, even with a change to defensive attacks, as situations will still arise where firefighters must attempt to make aggressive interior attacks to save lives.

The fire service has attempted to have the true costs resulting from a firefighter’s death or injury transferred to the relatively minimal cost of providing warning signs on structures covering lightweight systems or installing sprinkler systems in all new homes. The estimated additional cost would be 1 to 1.5 percent of the total construction cost, which is typically passed directly to the homeowner. With the mandate of the new code provisions, all homeowners will have to incur this cost, and therefore all homebuilders will face a level playing field. This differs from the current situation where the homebuilder who chooses not to install a sign, thermal barriers, or a sprinkler system will build his home more cheaply than the builder who seeks to protect firefighters and homeowners. And, as it relates to costs passed to the homeowner, keep in mind that most sprinkler systems could be installed for less than the cost of the plasma or LCD television hanging on the wall in the recently constructed home.

Despite the relatively minimal cost of sprinkler systems, homebuilders will continue to fight the requirement that sprinkler systems be installed in all single- and two-family residential dwellings. By eliminating the sprinkler mandate, the NAHB is attempting to shift the costs of the sprinkler system back to the fire service, which translates to the emotional and financial suffering sustained by firefighters, their families, departments, and communities. If the fire service is not successful in combating the recent legislative effort of the NAHB seeking to block the implementation of the IRC’s sprinkler requirements, then firefighters and their families will have to turn to the courts to have the homebuilders take into account the true costs of the current inferior building methods. The public was able to force the automobile and drug industries into making sweeping changes through jury awards assessing the costs of the injuries and deaths to the manufacturer. Now it may be the fire service’s turn.

Endnotes

1. In 1988, Vincent Dunn authored Collapse of Burning Buildings: A Guide to Fire Ground Safety (Fire Engineering Books and Videos, 1988).

In 2000, Russ Sanders and Ben Klaene addressed concerns about the failures of engineered lightweight wood construction trusses under fire conditions in their book Structural Firefighting: Strategy and Tactics (National Fire Protection Association, 2000).

In 2002, James P. Smith addressed the failure of lightweight building components under fire conditions in Strategic and Tactical Considerations of the Fireground (Prentice Hall/Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2002) 174-190.

In 2008, the National Fire Protection Association published the Fourth Edition of Building Construction for the Fire Service by Francis L. Brannigan.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued the 2007 report “A Study of Metal Truss Plate Connectors When Exposed to Fire.”

Recently, Michael L. Smith pointed out the potential danger to firefighters from exposure to trusses under fire conditions in Building Construction: Method and Materials for the Fire Service (Pearson/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2008) 134-145.

Also see John Norman, Fire Officers Handbook of Tactics, Second Edition (Fire Engineering Books and Videos, 1998) 246-253.

Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters Working Above Fire-Damaged Floors, Workplace Solutions, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, February 2009.

2. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) posted the results of the study (“Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions”) on its UL university Web site (http://www.uluniversity.us/home.aspx). This online course is free and is essential for incident commanders, fire safety officers, and firefighters. The course is 52 minutes in length and is well worth the time spent acquiring information that will prevent firefighter deaths. Within the studies conducted by UL, a thermal imaging camera (TIC) was used to compare temperature readings above the top of the floor assembly to the temperature readings below the assembly. In one test, after five minutes, the TIC temperature showed a comfortable 73°F on the floor level above the fire while the temperature below the floor was 1,378°F. The TIC was working properly, but because the flooring and carpets did not transfer the temperature, it could not accurately read the fire conditions below.

It is important to understand that building structures will fail more quickly. The timing is working against firefighters, and a delayed response will have a direct adverse impact on the outcome of the call. Firefighters arriving late face catastrophic structural collapse conditions and must be aware of the potential for harm when fighting fires in structures built with engineered wood products. Also see the “Time Versus Products of Combustion” illustration posted on the United States Fire Administrations (USFA) Web site. This illustration demonstrates the correlation between time and magnitude of the fire, and the significantly increasing hazards firefighters are facing. The USFA illustration also underlines the impact of response time and the importance of residential sprinklers and early suppression of fires. See http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pfd/coffee-break/time-vs-products-of-combustion.pdf/.

3. This article focuses primarily on claims firefighters (or their estates) might raise against manufacturers or suppliers of trusses who place “defective products” into the stream of commerce. The article also focuses on claims of firefighters against contractors who commit acts of negligence by installing trusses without properly taking action to protect firefighters from the harm that may result from exposed or unprotected lightweight flooring and roof assemblies. However, the building industry, including truss manufacturers, would be minimizing the true potential costs against them by not including the loss of life or property suffered by homeowners when fire departments do not make aggressive interior attacks because of the presence of unprotected wood trusses and I-beams.

AZARANG (OZZIE) MIRKHAH, P.E., CBO, EFO, CFO, is the fire protection engineer for the Las Vegas (NV) Department of Fire & Rescue. He served on the national NFPA 13 Technical Committee for Sprinkler System Discharge Design Criteria and serves on the IAFC Fire Life Safety Section Board of Directors. He was the first recipient of the IAFC’s Excellence in Fire and Life Safety Award in 2007.

DAVID C. COMSTOCK JR., J.D., CFO, CFSI, is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and chief of the Western Reserve Joint Fire District in Poland, Ohio. He is a Chief Fire Officer Designee and lectures and writes on fire service topics relating to chief and company officer operations, liability, and personnel issues. He is also an attorney in the firm of Comstock, Springer & Wilson Co., L.P.A. in Youngstown, Ohio. His law practice is focused on insurance defense litigation, including governmental liability and insurance fraud/arson cases.

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