Commercial Construction Considerations: Buildings Under Construction and Renovation

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

Some of the other obstacles that you may encounter include open elevator shafts without protection, incomplete stairwells, and incomplete sprinkler and standpipe systems. You may also find in buildings under renovation that the sprinkler system has been left in an inoperable state. In some buildings under renovation were the heating system is not operable the water in the system may have frozen and the pipes burst. This can pose a significant issue if the pipe is broken before the fire room. Another significant obstacle in buildings under construction or renovation is the standpipe system; this can be of particular concern in multistory facilities.

The final hazard which bears discussion and is very difficult to quantify is the general condition of the interior. More than likely there will be construction material left lying around which will create obstacles in moving around. In many buildings under renovation asbestos removal must take place. This often requires the installation of temporary enclosures generally made out of plastic that can easily disorient and trap a firefighter. You also need to think about whether it is a large open area or if framing or walls are in place. One other item to pay attention to is construction debris hanging from the ceiling or roof which may snag on your gear. Examples include telecom and power wiring, ceiling grid and the wire that holds both the grid and other materials up.

Working in vacant and partially constructed buildings is a part of the job we have dealt with for many years. However with the contraction of the economy and the credit market I believe it is something we will be dealing with more often. The only way we can know the condition of a facility is tour it. While this may be difficult it needs to be done. We need to work with facility owners to do our best to make sure these buildings are secure so that we do not have to worry about the possibility of vagrants in the building, and we know how to access it. When we respond to fire in the types of buildings discussed here we need to stop and spend some time trying to determine what the condition the facility is in and then determine what tactics we will use to fight the fire.

As always spend some time learning the buildings and construction types in your response area. This includes buildings under construction, and renovation, and buildings that are occupied and unoccupied.

MATTHEW STIENE, a Contributing Editor, is a senior facility manager for the Mecklenburg County Real Estate Services Department, and a firefighter with Robinson Volunteer Fire and Rescue, in Charlotte, NC. He is a licensed professional engineer in North Carolina, New York and Pennsylvania, and is a certified facility manager and certified facility management professional. To read Matthew's complete biography and his archived articles, click here. You can reach Matthew by e-mail at