Preplanning Building Hazards

BY FRANCIS L. BRANNIGAN,SFPE (FELLOW)

Editor’s note: For further reference, consult Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition (BCFS3). Page numbers, where applicable, are included after the caption.


Since it is likely that these buildings have a common cockloft, in an actual fire, this should be considered all one building. The structures on either side of the fire building would no more be exposures than a dining room would be in relation to a fire in the living room. However, operationally, designate these structures as exposures, to place units in the proper locations. Open up the roof with trench cuts, and get lines into the exposures on either side of the fire building.

The standard width of a brick, wood-joisted commercial building was 25 feet. Since modern stores require more room, the ground-floor masonry walls of both buildings were removed. The hidden walls of upper floors are supported by a beam-and-column arrangement, which is vulnerable to fire-caused collapse. If the upper floors of adjacent buildings are connected, the usual practice is to make an opening through the wall and install an automatic fire door, which should close when fire melts a fusible link. Don’t pass through a fire door-protected opening without chocking the door. Even if only light smoke is showing, a sudden flareup may activate the door and imprison firefighters. Overhead rolling fire doors sometimes have an escape door nearby; determine this during a prefire survey. Fire doors may often be found chocked open-this is a major violation! Issue a citation, and write a letter explaining the hazard to building management (See BCFS3, 195-196).


This impressive-looking parapeted fire wall may be ineffective if it is compromised in any way. Check for openings of any kind; even an opening for a single wire can pass fire. The laundry rooms were in the basement. Tenants chocked fire doors open for convenience; fire extended to three units.


This gypsum-board fire barrier is supposed to stop fire moving from one store to the next in a strip mall. Elongation of the steel bar joist would tear out the gypsum board.


This fire wall also serves as a bearing wall. Beams on both sides are in the same pocket. Expect early extension, even before the fire department arrives. The exposure fire can be-and has been assumed to be-the original fire if it is the location of the initial alarm.


A hoseline crew should be on hand when checking for extension. Get help moving early. If it is a mutual-aid situation, discuss this beforehand with mutual-aid units to avoid comments such as, “We went over to Panicsville on a malicious third alarm.”


The standard width of a brick, wood-joisted commercial building was 25 feet. Since modern stores require more room, the ground-floor masonry walls of both buildings were removed. The hidden walls of upper floors are supported by a beam-and-column arrangement, which is vulnerable to fire-caused collapse. If the upper floors of adjacent buildings are connected, the usual practice is to make an opening through the wall and install an automatic fire door, which should close when fire melts a fusible link. Don’t pass through a fire door-protected opening without chocking the door. Even if only light smoke is showing, a sudden flareup may activate the door and imprison firefighters. Overhead rolling fire doors sometimes have an escape door nearby; determine this during a prefire survey. Fire doors may often be found chocked open-this is a major violation! Issue a citation, and write a letter explaining the hazard to building management (See BCFS3, 195-196).

FRANCIS L. BRANNIGAN, SFPE (Fellow), the recipient of Fire Engineering’s first Lifetime Achievement Award, devoted more than half of his 63-year career to the safety of firefighters in building fires. He was well known as the author of Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition (National Fire Protection Association, 1992) and for his lectures and videotapes. Brannigan was an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering. He submitted this column before his death in January 2006.

Preplanning Building Hazards

BY FRANCIS L. BRANNIGAN,SFPE (FELLOW)

Editor’s note: For further reference, consult Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition (BCFS3). Page numbers, where applicable, are included after the caption.


The “wooden” beam is actually cast polyurethane, which is readily ignitable. When combined with a plywood ceiling, it is a recipe for flashover.


How is this deadly suspended load attached overhead? Probably by wire or plumber’s pipe strapping. A flash fire overhead could bring it down-it would be invisible in smoke. Arrange for the alarm office to report this hazard on the first alarm. Notify building management that until this useless interior decorator’s “widow maker” is removed, the fire department will not perform interior firefighting, since command would be liable for criminal prosecution if fatalities occur.


An alert photographer caught this cornice in mid-flight. Overhangs, eyebrows, signs, balconies, and bay windows all present the hazard of detachment and collapse.


The black coloring indicates rot. Note that several improvised patches are visible. Such a building should be designated DOA (defensive on arrival).


Note that the wood has rotted away where the column is connected, a common failure point.


FRANCIS L. BRANNIGAN, SFPE (Fellow), the recipient of Fire Engineering’s first Lifetime Achievement Award, has devoted more than half of his 63-year career to the safety of firefighters in building fires. He is well known as the author of Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition (National Fire Protection Association, 1992) and for his lectures and videotapes. Brannigan is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering.