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Would you send firefighters inside this type of construction to extinguish a free-burning cellar or basement fire? Could the cooling from operating a hoseline cause a pre-cast foundation to weaken? What about the content fire load in a basement or cellar? Basement or cellar areas are becoming storage bins for high-heat-release, combustible contents spread throughout. Firefighters must navigate through the maze of contents without becoming entangled.
What type of floor system rests on this foundation? Dimensional lumber, open-web, two-by-four-inch gang plate trusses, LTI plywood I-beams. Is the floor system protected with sheetrock or is it unprotected wood? What type of floor sheathing? Exposed oriented strand board? Knowing the type of construction matrix with lightweight structural materials would be invaluable to the incident commander before committing an interior attack to save property. Unfortunately, this information is not available unless a fire district compiles a fire pre-plan for lightweight construction.
Another dilemma is getting information out to the field. How long does it take before everyone is on the same page? When new innovations and technologies have the potential to injure or kill firefighters, we must analyze and tweak our strategy and tactics. The old mentality of getting in there and making an aggressive interior attack is antiquated. The lives of firefighters come first. A complete size-up on imminent life hazard, the type of construction, location and severity of the fire, and the amount of time the fire has been burning must be analyzed immediately and only then implement a planned, coordinated attack on the fire based on that information.
Maybe it is time to consider changing construction classes. Class V construction is considered wood-frame dimensional lumber construction. New lightweight construction that involves engineered lumber components may be classified as class V1, with the potential for collapse in a short period when structural components are exposed to a free-burning fire.
JOSEPH T. BERRY served for 31 years with the FDNY, where he worked as a firefighter in Ladder Company 24 in midtown Manhattan before he was promoted to lieutenant and worked in the South Bronx in Engine Company 73 and Ladder Company 42. He worked on the Ladders 3 Bulletin: Firefighting Tactics Procedures in Tenements and Ladders 5 Bulletin: Private Dwellings and Brownstone Buildings. Berry served as a member of the Division 6 Safety Committee and on five line-of-duty death investigation committees. He also worked on the department's lightweight residential construction and probationary firefighters manuals.