A Building Marking System

Also See: More Images Of Marked Buildings

The building is the enemy in the fire service. So says "The Old Professor", Frank Brannigan. This statement suggests that firefighters and officers should know as much about a building as possible before entering it or operating within it.

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Photo By Mike Dugan
The NFPA 704 diamond on a building with the number 4 in the flammability box indicates an extremely flammable and dangerous material stored within that building.
See: More Images Of Marked Buildings

How might this be accomplished? Why aren't the buildings marked so responding firefighters are made aware of what is confronting them before they enter a structure?

How might this be done?

The fire service already has a marking system in place, the NFPA 704 marking system. This is used to mark the building on the exterior indicating the hazard of the interior contents.

If the building is hazardous why not mark the building also? The building itself could be marked to indicate the hazards that are inherent to that specific building or the type of construction used to construct that building. This way, in addition to available response information, there is another way to alert firefights to the dangers this building holds within its walls; an exterior sign visible to responding firefighters and officers.

New York City has a building marking system used to mark vacant buildings. There are three different marks used to indicate the hazards contained within the structure at the time of marking. This helps determine possible hazards and how to conduct operations at this building. Because the marking system is only an indicator, a complete size-up is still required. The number one factor determining how to operate would be the structural stability of the building. If in doubt, always operate in the safest possible manner.

The system has three different marks indicating the degree of hazard from normal condition and stability, to questionable stability and possible interior hazardous, and finally to almost certainly perilous stability and numerous interior hazards.

They are a tentative indicator and the building will have most likely deteriorated since last marking (see sidebar). They should be dated to indicate the elapsed time from marking to the response. This will allow the incident commander and responding firefighters and officer to determine how long the building might have been vacant and to get a tentative indication of its structural stability.

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Photo By Mike Dugan
Build of normal stability when marked, but when was that?
See: More Images Of Marked Buildings

They should be used by the incident commander and responding officer as a clue to what they will encounter within the building. The building will only get worse with age and time until either renovated or demolished.

The primary hazard marking is placed on a substantial part of the structure and at about ten feet high near the main entrance. This is done so that if the building is entered or vandalized the hazard marking is will remain visible. At the ten-foot level a ladder will be needed to paint the marking on the building and this help eliminate the problems of graffiti covering or hiding the mark. Additional marks may be placed anywhere such as the roof bulkhead or side and rear walls.

In addition to using the building hazard marking system, units are advised to insure that the roof is properly ventilated after a fire in a vacant building. The unit will then mark R.O. (roof open) indicating the roof is fully ventilated. This mark is placed over the primary hazard marking to let other companies or different firefighters from the same unit know that the roof is open and there is no need to send a firefighter to the roof to vent above the fire. This will help prevent a firefighter from being injured on a roof with many hazards such a previous holes cut in the roof. The R.O. should also be placed near the roof bulkhead and anywhere else it might be needed alert firefighters the roof is open and dangerous.

The address should be an additional marking put on the exterior of the building so that if information is available for that specific building, it gets to the operating forces. A building with the address visible on the exterior will allow the first in units to give the address to the dispatcher who will be able to determine if there is any information available for the current address. This action might get necessary information to responding or operating firefighters, before a tragedy.

In New Jersey, commercial buildings constructed with trusses must be marked. It is the law. This information will assist responding firefighters and officers with information vital to the size-up of the fire building. The marking is required to be by the front entrance and in close proximity to the fire sprinkler siamese and are a red triangle with a W for wood or S for steel in the center of the triangle.

The fire service should be pushing for marking of all buildings built with lightweight materials so the type of construction can be included in the initial planning stages of the operations. The fire service knows that the building construction industry will fight this because they do not want their buildings viewed as substandard. The ability to make this happen will depend on the fire service becoming vocal to protect ourselves and our brothers and sisters. New York enacted a law requiring new truss-constructed commercial buildings to be marked with a triangle to indicate truss buildings. Unfortunately, this only applies to new construction. But it is a start.

Building complexes will post maps to assist the public in finding areas within their complex but they do not want to put up a sign with a T for truss at the entrance to every building. But they might put a "T" at the map to alert firefighters to the dangers of the truss construction.

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Photo By Mike Dugan
This vacant building has the address and the date on the building along with the hazard marking. This will give needed information to units responding and assist with information about the building if the department has an address base data system.
See: More Images Of Marked Buildings

However it is accomplished, marking buildings that are hazardous is another tool that can be used to save firefighter's lives. Marking vacant buildings is easy because the owner has left the building and the fire department can routinely inspect the exterior of vacant buildings to determine as much as possible the condition of the structure.

Marking new and existing buildings built with lightweight materials will be more difficult. However it can be accomplished if the fire service unites with one voice for the safety of our members now and in the future. Marking of buildings is one more easy way to be used to improve fire ground safety and prevent injuries to firefighters. And it can be done with little or no cost.

The FDNY vacant building marking system

Eighteen by eighteen-inch box with lines about two inches wide in reflective paint. The marking should be placed on a substantial part of the building and dated. It is a tentative indicator of the building conditions.

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