What's it Going to Take?

The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is involved in further evaluating the performance of the lightweight wood trusses under the fire conditions.


Once again, the homebuilders need to tell us, how they believe that we could reach a win/win solution, to allow them to continue constructing with these lightweight construction materials, and yet enhance our firefighters' safety. They should open up a constructive dialogue with us, so that we can all work together to address this issue. And again, the homebuilders must recognize that doing nothing at all to address our concerns is no longer acceptable.

Quite correctly, our homebuilder friends will insist that they build these houses strictly based on the requirements of the adopted building construction codes. They will point out that they are not the ones who write the building codes. They will remind us that the building officials are the ones who write the building codes nationally, and then adopt them locally. Which then, that brings us then to the most significant player in this overall construction process; our very own fellow public servants, the building officials.

Building officials, through their control and involvement in the development and enforcement of the building construction codes; are undoubtedly the most important player in the overall construction process. Through their codes, the building officials are responsible for the fire and life safety protection for both the public, and the responding firefighters. Thus their role is the most crucial, and their building construction codes are the most instrumental point of intervention in this process. And their support could definitely yield positive results in addressing our firefighters' safety concerns.

The building officials, through their code development process, could implement any/all of those three previously mentioned solutions; enhancing structural integrity during the manufacturing of the wood trusses, improving the fire resistive rating of the floor and roof assemblies, or requiring installation of the residential fire sprinklers. It is of importance to recognize that, none of these options; whether the passive fire protection enhancements approach by means of installing additional layers of gypsum board, or installation of the residential fire sprinkler in all new homes, would have any direct financial impact on the building officials at all.

So, if there is no dime coming out of their pocket, and if they don't have a horse in this race, then why would the building officials oppose these life safety and fire protection enhancements? After all, wouldn't those measures make for much safer communities? The building officials should tell us, how many more reports and how much more proof would they need to finally address our firefighters' safety concern with these lightweight trusses in their building codes. What's it going to take after all?

What is urgently needed, I believe, is the commitment of our fellow public servants, the building officials, to fulfill their commitment to safety of our public and our firefighters; by revising and enhancing the life safety and fire protection requirements in their building codes for the engineered lightweight wood construction.

By now, it should be clear that the building code is the most important document and the key to addressing any such construction flaws and deficiencies. Fire service must focus on changing the national building construction codes.

Recognize that just like anything else in our democratic ways in America, changing the building code will only be possible by our active participation in their established development process. We must heavily and actively participate in the International Code Council's code development process. The ICC Final Action Hearing for the 2009 edition of the building code is scheduled for September 17-23, 2008, in Minneapolis. To see any changes at all, fire prevention advocates and fire safety proponents must plan to participate in full force and with all their might.

I have discussed the various points of intervention, from the manufacturing of construction materials, through development of the codes, and then all the way through the construction of the buildings, where there other players involved, that could take measures to decrease the probability of lightweight construction failures under the fire conditions resulting in firefighter fatalities. Recognize that these proposed measures would only apply to new houses being built, and will not have any impact at all on the exiting homes. The important point though, is that we must start somewhere to put an end to this problem; and no there is better time than now.