Roundtable: Truss Assembly Policy

By John “Skip” Coleman

Short and sweet this month. We all have (or should have) read Frank Brannigan‘s Building Construction for the Fire Service. In that text, Mr. Brannigan states (and I paraphrase) that you should never work above or below a trussed space involved in fire. Although I readily agree with the statement as it relates to working above a truss assembly involved in fire, I am not sure the word “never” should be used as it relates to working below a trussed assembly. You need to know what’s below the assembly and if what is below is also supporting the assembly. Think of what was below the truss assembly at the Hackensack Ford fire that killed five firefighters in 1988 compared with what is below the truss assembly in a garden-type apartment building: One had wide open spaces with absolutely nothing supporting the roof but the roof (trusses) itself that would prohibit or stymie a truss failure from falling to the floor below. The other has many wall assemblies (separating the different apartments and rooms therein) that aid in stopping or stymieing the truss assembly from falling to the floor below.

Having said that, most truck companies are tasked with ventilation and search. Does your fire department have a policy concerning working above or below truss assemblies involved in fire?

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Skip Coleman: Firefighting RoundtableJohn “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering. Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008) and Searching Smarter (Fire Engineering 2011) and 2011 recipient of the FDIC Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award.



Billy Goldfeder
Deputy Chief, Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department:

Venting or going to the roof is a command-level decision–in other words, command will direct companies as needed. With that said, when fire is in or below a wood truss-contructed roof, we will not put companies on that roof. Companies MAY be directed to work from their ladder or bucket to open up, but in many cases, the fire may take care of that prior to our arrival. In general, placing companies on a truss roof with fire below? Not gonna happen.

Thomas Dunne
Deputy Chief, Fire Department of New York (FDNY):

The FDNY would not position firefighters either above or below a burning truss assembly. We would use the reach of the hose stream from a safe area until a careful analysis can be made of the integrity of the truss system.

The problem lies not in establishing the strategy but in defining the construction details. The dispatch information provided to our units will often provide a warning about trusses in buildings they are responding to. However, if no information is available the best assumption to make is that trusses are present until proven otherwise, especially with new construction. Alternate tactics have to be considered, such as opening up the ceiling below the fire to see exactly what is holding up the fire floor.

Vincent Dunn and Frank Brannigan started writing about trusses decades ago. By now, their hazards should be no surprise to the fire service.

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