In addition to the traditional flooring systems, as building occupants have changed to an open floor plan they have also started using raised floor systems in many of these facilities. A raised floor system is a floor above a floor. The floor system is actually comprised of a floor that is part of the building and a floor that sits on top of it. There are pedestals that hold up 24-by-24-inch sections of floor. Once these sections are removed, you have access to the under floor plenum, this space is used much like the plenum space that has traditionally been above ceilings.
While you will not find many combustible products in these areas, the raised floor system creates a way for the products of combustion to be distributed throughout the building. In the heating, ventilation and air conditioning segment I will discuss how under floor air distribution works and some things firefighters should be on the look out for.
The final item I wanted to discuss is roofing systems. Performing vertical ventilation is something we normally do without thinking; however, as we all know it can be difficult and dangerous. Firefighters need to have a basic understanding of commercial roofs and issues that can exist. There are hundreds of roofing products out there today, ranging from foam, to thylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), and bituminous products.
Do to recent trends in energy savings most of the new roofs and many retrofitted roofs will have insulation on them. Most roofs are built in a system and start with a basic roof deck. The roof deck can be anything from metal, to pre-cast concrete, to gypsum board. On top of the deck can range from insulation to the first layer of roofing material to concrete. On top of that will be additional insulation which will typically be the "board type" then several layers of roofing material and then a cap sheet.
It is important to know what types of roof structures you have in your response area so you know how to approach them. Metal roofs are becoming more popular and are often installed over existing roofs, which is something that you should keep in mind when you see one.
Fire departments should try to develop a working relationship with the facility managers of large commercial facilities in their response area. You should find out who is in charge of upgrades and renovations and work with them to have updated plans in the fire department files. Then pre-plan these facilities so there are no surprises when you pull up.
I believe that the ceiling construction, door and access systems, the flooring, and roofing systems are major components that affect firefighting. Next month we will discuss concrete, how it is used in the building process, how it reacts to fire, and some of the locations you may find it.
MATTHEW STIENE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a project manger 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 management professional. To read Matthew's complete biography and his archived articles, click here. You can reach Matthew by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.