It Is About Time

As emergency responders first on the scene to all types of emergencies, it is of utmost importance that we recognize that the National Institute of Standard and Technology's World Trade Center recommendations have direct relevance to all of us.


After three years of investigations conducted under the National Construction Safety Team Act, last year at a Congressional Hearing, National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) released their final report of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse investigation. As emergency responders first on the scene to all types of emergencies, it is of utmost importance that we recognize that the NIST's WTC recommendations have direct relevance to all of us.

A quick glance at the NIST's WTC report reveals that even though these recommendations came in the aftermath of a horrific terrorist event, none of these recommendations are solely based on terrorist threats, and they have multi-hazard response applications. The enhancements recommended by NIST, have a direct impact on protecting both the building occupants and our firefighters, from all types of incidents that require full building evacuation and interior emergency operations.

It is important to recognize that the NIST's WTC recommendations are not futuristic and were developed based on the available technologies and the standard operating procedures and capabilities of the fire service in responding to the high-rise emergencies. These recommendations are focused on increasing the structural integrity of the buildings to avoid progressive collapse and total structural failure; enhancing the fire resistance of the structures protecting the structural members by installation of better and additional layers of fire resistance and spray-on fire resistance materials; requiring active fire protection systems; enhancing tenability and providing fire safety for the building occupants; improving the means of egress by increasing the stairwell capacity and stair discharge door width to accommodate counter-flow due to access by emergency responders; improving elevator and hoist-way design to allow usage of elevators both in evacuation and also in firefighters' staging operations; and improving communication technologies and procedures for the emergency responders by installation of radio amplification systems, etc.

These recommendations have direct relevance to us, and apply to our operations in mitigating any types of hazards in the high-rise buildings. We face the same types of challenges in responding to any emergencies in high-rise buildings. High-rise evacuation, for example, is quite problematic, because whether it is fire, explosion or other kinds of acts of terrorism, or even a hoax threat of terrorist attack, they would all result in the full occupant evacuation which would cause counter-flow problems for the responding firefighters.

The recommendations in NIST's WTC report, have something in common, time. Structural improvements and passive fire resistive enhancements provide for additional time prior to structural failure. Active fire protection systems provide additional time for the occupants before the tenability is compromised. Means of egress enhancements decreases the time to evacuate the building, and by reducing counter-flow problems it also decreases our time to stage our interior operations. And similarly modifications to the elevators would also save us time in getting our firefighters and equipment to the staging floor. Enhancements to the fire communication systems provide us real time information for all our fire command and control purposes.

The gist of our fire suppression and all our other emergency responses is simply one thing, time. From the very moment that we receive the dispatch, our performance is measured in time, and our fight is simply against time. In the fire service we have known for a long time that delayed response time could have direct adverse impact on the outcome of the call. The fact of the matter is though that time is actually what we don't have as a luxury, when responding to the high-rise emergencies.

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