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.

Up to this point in the article I have discussed others' responsibilities in addressing the lightweight construction failure problems. But, enough of pointing fingers at others. Now let's take a deep look inside to see what we in the fire service can and must do, to reduce our firefighter fatalities. That is especially important, when you consider that there is an inventory of more than one hundred million existing homes around our country, majority of which, were constructed with those lightweight wood trusses.

Then the question to be asked from the fire service leadership is what can we do to reduce our firefighter fatalities resulting from such structural failures?

Obviously, looking at it from the firefighters' safety perspective, we in the fire service do have the option of staying out, and do the exposure protection in a defensive mode of operation. This concept, even though contrary to our current aggressive "interior attack" mode of operations, is a very viable option that fire service should seriously consider. Simply stated, when it comes to the lightweight wood truss construction, it might be best to stay out from the get go, and protect our own firefighters.

Considering our professional obligation and deep commitment in the fire service to saving lives, this might be a lot easier said than done. And I don't have the slightest ambiguity that we would still be charging in full force, if we believe that someone might be trapped inside and a life could be saved. But then, we should also remember our commitment is to save lives, and that also includes our own.

Simply stated, since these houses are built without much fire resistive rating and no active fire protection systems at all; then we should not be risking firefighters' lives and must stay out, if there are no civilian lives to be saved in the first place. Buildings are disposable, lives aren't; and that goes the same for our firefighters' lives too.

What's it going to take? The resolve of the International Association of the Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the other national fire service leadership organizations; not to tolerate any further firefighters injuries and fatalities resulting from the structural failure of these engineered lightweight wood constructions under the fire conditions. We should indeed risk a lot to save lives; but then that includes our firefighters too. Houses are being built with very minimal fire resistive features, and no fire protection systems at all; simply stated they are built as disposable. Saving such structures, is not worth risking the lives of our own firefighters; especially since they would demolish and tear them down to rebuild anyway. In most other countries around the world, fire departments don't go offensive and rush inside immediately. It is time that we take note of that. That is a big paradigm shift that must come down from the top leadership of the fire service.

What's it going to take? The might of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and their membership, to take appropriate political and legal measures, both nationally and locally, not to allow the construction industry to view firefighters fatalities as "an acceptable risk" or as "collateral losses". Firefighters must recognize that just as important as their PPE, the best way to protect them in their interior firefighting operations, is to enhance the fire protection features of the building, to afford them more time and a safer environment for accomplishing their tasks. But then, that could only be done by the full force and active participation of our firefighters in the building code development process. Their voices must be heard load and clear.

What's it going to take? Certainly, a heck of a lot more than just writing reports alone. Then, why am I writing yet another article? Because we still have a chance to make a difference in the 2009 edition of the building codes. And we don't have much time to waste. We must actively participate in the ICC Final Action Hearing for the 2009 edition of the building code that is scheduled for September 17-23, 2008, in Minneapolis.

Sure, the homebuilders will be there putting all their efforts behind defeating the residential fire sprinkler proposal for the 2009 edition of the codes. Then, we must greet them cordially and be there in full force to vote for the adoption of the residential fire sprinkler proposal. Installing residential fire sprinkler systems could address our lightweight construction concerns. Remember "Fire Sprinklers Save Firefighters' Lives too". It's time to act.