This old mill has been converted into a shopping center.

Preplanning Building Hazards

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.


This old mill has been converted into a shopping center.


The floors are sprinklered, but for some reason the wooden stairways are not. A malicious arsonist, such as a disgruntled employee or customer, might choose to start a fire in the stairway. Such stairways should be sprinklered. Sprinklers required for life safety should be complete and fully functioning when the building is occupied. (BCFS3, 584)


Sprinklers alone are not enough to ensure life safety where people sleep. Toxic gases from a smoldering fire can reach lethal levels before the sprinkler operates. Smoke detectors are also necessary.


Be very cautious in buildings being renovated. Boston`s 1972 Vendome Collapse killed nine firefighters and left eight widows, a fiancé who never married, and 23 fatherless children. Bricks dumped on this wooden floor have stressed it to within a hair`s breadth of failure. Don`t you be the straw that breaks the camel`s back. Many renovations are underfinanced, and the chief concern is cosmetic. (BCFS3, 151)


In a windstorm, avoid masonry walls under construction and braced in this manner. The planks are the wrong shape for the compressive load delivered down the planks by the wind hitting the wall. One builder described them as “snapping like matchsticks.” In addition, heavy rains will liquefy the soil, and the pins driv-en into the ground will move. Recently, I have seen round steel tubular braces, the proper shape, being used. (BCFS3, 62)

FRANCIS L. BRANNIGAN, SFPE (Fellow), the recipient of Fire Engineering`s first Lifetime Achievement Award, has devoted more than half of his 57-year career to the safety of firefighters in building fires. He is well known for his lectures and videotapes and as the author of Building Construction for the Fire Service, Third Edition, published by the National Fire Protection Association. Brannigan is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering.

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