Introduction To Structural Anatomy

With the variety of occupancies and building characteristics present, there are definable degrees of risk potential with recognizable strategic and tactical measures that must be taken.


The built-environments that form and shape our respective response districts, communities and municipalities pose unique challenges to the day-to-day responses of fire departments and in their subsequent operations at structural alarms. With the variety of occupancies and building characteristics present, there are definable degrees of risk potential with recognizable strategic and tactical measures that must be taken. Although each occupancy type presents variables that dictate how a particular incident is handled, most company operations evolve from basic strategic and tactical principles rooted in past performance and operations at similar structures.

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The fire and emergency services have consistently exhibited its unique ability to overcome adversity and meet headlong the challenges imposed in satisfying the demands of society and the built environment in which we operate. These demands translate themselves into the methodology and manner in which emergency services are delivered and the strategic and tactical disciplines that we adopt are assimilated.

The primary tenet which the fire and emergency service profession has traditionally focused upon is the protection of life and property. This is the basis from which we provide services to our communities and jurisdictions. Of the many functions these emergency services have evolved into, structural fire suppression and rescue forms the major component within this multi-faceted delivery system.

Combat Fire Suppression and Rescue is considered the top response priority of most fire and emergency service agencies. We plan, prepare, train, outfit and anticipate the call for fire suppression services - that alarm dispatch that communicates a possible or actual report of fire in a structure and occupancy and the need to dispatch, deploy and orchestrate the equipment, resources, manpower and expertise necessary to safely handle the fire and incident. Combat fire suppression and interior rescue and support operations, incident severity, magnitude and frequency can vary widely in their application and potential as an incident response factor. There is one element that is a constant in deployment, response and operations during combat structural fire operations; and that is the interface and interaction with the structure, the occupancy and it's inherent features, hazards, risks and performance characteristics.

With any structure, regardless of its construction type, materials, occupancy classification, age or size, strategic and tactical decision-making during combat structural fire operations demands a focused and continuing assessment of building structural integrity, fire behavior and construction performance to ensure the safety and integrity of tactical company missions within the incident action plan. It demands an intimate knowledge of construction techniques, engineering principals and performance measures.

The fire and emergency service profession expends a tremendous amount of time and effort in varying disciple areas to develop, expand or enhance knowledge, skills, abilities, proficiencies and capabilities. Yet when asked; "How much do you really know about building construction, performance and structural integrity?", the response is typically far less than we would expect or have. The initial or continuing education process on the subject of building construction, principles, sciences or engineering is at best minimal, marginal or non-existent.

But still, we respond daily to structures, occupancies and buildings; placing personnel inside of these envelopes and enclosures, many times under untenable and hazards conditions, and command incident operations or undertake tactical assignments with little due regard to how the building will perform or with the poise, ignorance or audacity that we'll mange to knock the fire down, make the grab and take in the job, as successfully as we have in the past. You know, nothing has adversely affected your organization in the past like a LODD or serious event OR you are condition to be fatalistic that it's all part of the job and accept that "tonight could be the night".

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