Know Your Enemy #37

I have had several inquiries about information presented on the Internet that stems from a wood industry apologist.


I have had several inquiries about information presented on the Internet that stems from a wood industry apologist. It argues that the firefighters have emotion on their side but the truss industry has the facts.

Here are some facts. About 11 years ago I was invited by Joe Piscione of Truss Joist McMillan, to address a meeting of truss people in Salt Lake City. I showed a number of photos including a slide of an attractive three-story wooden office building. Then I "undressed" the building, a mass of trusses. I explained that in a fire, firefighters would get on top of this burning pile of kindling to cut a hole in the roof to let the smoke out so other firefighters could get into the building. Collectively the audience gasped.

Shortly thereafter the USDA Forest Products Laboratory started work on finding ways to make trusses safer. Their report noted that the work was in response to concerns raised by this writer. The final result is that to make a truss capable of passing the very weak ASTM E 119 test, the truss would have to be entirely sheathed in gypsum board. I saw such trusses n Alexandria, Virginia many years ago but the pictures are lost. The report suggested that since trusses collapse suddenly while sawn joists sag, it might be possible to design trusses with one part weaker so that the truss would sag before failure thus warning firefighters. Great thinking!

Joe Piscione of Truss Joist Macmillan spent his company's money to attend the IAFC meeting in Anaheim in 1992 and the additional fee for my pre conference seminar on trusses.

His letter is below. I suggest you save this for the time when you are presented with arguments like Grundahl's. Note that Mr. Piscione bought a copy of Building Construction For The Fire Service, third edition. I never received any correspondence from him or anybody else in his company arguing that anything in the book was wrong.

TRUS JOIST Macmillan
A Limited Partnership
September 16, 1992
Mr. Frank Brannigan

Dear Mr. Brannigan:

I appreciated the opportunity to attend your presentation in Anaheim. It gives me a better understanding of the fireman's perspective when preparing to fight fires in various building types. As a whole, I believe your comments on wood trusses, wood I-joists and connection were fairly stated. If your objective was to provide a better basis for tactical considerations for fighting fires under various structural conditions, then I believe you were successful.

Particularly, I think your advice about pulling out of building when the structure becomes involved in fire is sound advice. Firefighters need this kind of direction from a recognized authority.

One thing I wanted to do was to order a copy of your new edition of "Building Construction for the Fire Service".

If I can ever be of assistance, please don't hesitate to give me a call.

Joseph R. Piscione, P.E.
Manager of Product Acceptance


Apparently concern for one's fellow firefighter which annoys those whose concern is profit is the "emotion" Thy are not satisfied to announce the facts that trusses reduce costs and wooden I-beams provide more rigid floors. Some want to suppress the fact that such structures by their very nature provide less resistance to the force of gravity than some other structures when attacked by fire. In years gone by, the fiberboard industry threatened legal action to suppress publication of the hazard of combustible acoustical tile.

When I was in high school, a buff and student of fire protection disaster permanently influenced my thinking.

In 1932, eight firefighters died in the explosion of a flammable liquid locker in the basement of the opulent Ritz Tower Hotel where no expense had been spared. The hazard was apparent to anyone with the eyes to see but was of no concern to the code authorities and the owner. I learned that we must not rely solely on experience, which, in our field, is often blood and tears. We must seek out and analyze hazardous situations and determine the degree of acceptable risk.

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