Commercial Construction Considerations: Buildings Under Construction and Renovation

Construction and renovation projects leave building components in a variety of unstable conditions.

Over the last year, this series of articles has been devoted entirely to the discussion of building systems. All of the major building systems were covered, so that you could gain a basic understanding of the systems. As this column continues, I will dedicate time to discuss specific issues pertaining to these systems as well as issues directly related to building construction and the fire service.

The first issue that bears some discussion given the current state of the economy nationwide is the danger involved with fighting fires in buildings under construction and buildings under renovation. Even more we need to start thinking of some if the dangers in buildings that are partially constructed and now construction has stopped due to the economy and these building are now sitting idle or vacant.

Buildings Under Construction
The first topic to discuss is buildings that are under construction or under renovation where work has stopped. There are many hazards associated with a fire in this type of facility. One of the most obvious is there will be no project manager or construction superintendent on site to ask questions. Under normal circumstances when there is a fire at a construction site you may have had some interaction with the project management staff on site to get an idea of what is being constructed and the sequence of construction.

If this fire were to occur during normal working hours generally there would be someone on site or someone a phone call away. It may be more difficult to obtain this information once construction has stopped and there will not be anyone on site.

Another obstacle will be access to the facility. We all know that most construction sites are fenced and in general not easily accessible. There are a couple of points to remember on site access. You will find one of two situations when you arrive -- either the security has been increased to decrease theft or the site has been left largely wide open.

The situation of increased security is something firefighters should be able to easily deal with, using basic forcible entry techniques. The later may be more difficult to deal with including the theft of components of systems, such as standpipe and sprinkler systems that have already been installed which could hinder firefighting. Also there is the possibility that these structures will be used by vagrants as a place to stay during these cold winter months.

However the most obvious hazard is that the work is not complete, I know many of you are saying "of course the work is not complete why is that the greatest hazard?" We remember back to the previous articles specifically in regard to a building's structural systems. Buildings are complex and a variety of systems are required to work together in order to complete the building. Once again I will say that it is imperative that you have an idea of the condition of the structures in your response area.

A Variety of Hazards
This includes structures under construction, structures partially constructed, structures where construction has stopped, occupied and unoccupied structures. As I was saying building components are designed to work together as a system and may not work very well on there own. The most obvious example of this is structural systems that are designed to have some type of fire protection. Steel is often encased in concrete, wrapped in gypsum board, or covered with some type of fire proofing. Well if the steel was installed and the project was stopped before the steel could be protected you are dealing with a structure that will loose its structural integrity in a relatively short period of time. The same can be said of the roof. Many times the roof design will consist of a gypsum board roof deck, to meet code required fire ratings. As we know, gypsum board is very susceptible to moisture, if the entire roofing system was not installed and the gypsum decking is now wet and you attempt to ventilate the roof you will be in trouble when you step in it before sounding it.

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