Know Your Enemy #37

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

In 1971 I wrote, "Beware The Truss" without any experience to cite, only an analysis of the structure and it's fire potential.

The argument is made that only a small percentage of LOD deaths are due to trusses. Decreasing response deaths (ask the Fire Administration for their publication on tanker deaths) would raise the proportion of truss deaths. Every cause of LOD deaths should be attacked vigorously.

My target happens to be the building as the firefighter's enemy.


One truss design might cause catastrophic multiple deaths, both occupants and firefighters. This has not yet happened, but the potential is there. Trusses are cantilevered out from the building to form an entrance /exit balcony or extended across the stair opening to form a stairway landing.

Fire stopping at the building line most likely is the unproven sheet of gypsum board "buttered" into place with joint cement almost surely pierced by power or video cable.

The occupants are left with no exit from the burning building. See sketch, p. 544 BCFS3.

The fire escape pioneered in New York City for buildings with three or more families a century ago has been eliminated. The industry might say "We only build the trusses. We do not design the building."

However they have been on notice of this hazard since 1992 when it was published on p. 544, BCFS3. The civil lawsuit potential and possible criminal liability might dissuade a builder who would not be dissuaded by "emotion".

A partial residential sprinkler system installed to prevent flashover in the occupied spaces, will not control a fire in the truss void (or truss loft, a word coined separately by Tom Brennan and myself). Such a fire occurred in Solomons, Maryland. The building was a total loss.

Those who regard us as being inferior beings argue, patronizingly, "our trusses are engineered", which is expected to make us peons swoon. Trusses cantilevered out must be specially engineered but I have not heard that any engineer considers the hazard to occupants. No one thinks of the fact that a fire in the voids can destroy the only way out. The fallback excuse for not saying anything is, "We met the code". This is an inadequate legal defense, especially when the hazard has been pointed out since 1992.


I have a dream from time to time. A fire is set up in an acquired building with an open truss floor above a basement with a typical fire load. A team of truss partisans is sent to take a line into the basement. Another to the floor above. I always wake to a start. Since the Lairdsvillle tragedy has shown prosecutors the way to criminal convictions for a stupid act, the training staff could go to jail if the probable tragedy occurred.

There is little to fear. I think it would be like an occurrence in my atomic energy days. I was conducting a typical fire plus live radioactive contamination drill at a state fire school. A former Atomic Energy Commission co-worker had gotten a job with the state health department. He showed up just as the drill was starting and loudly announced that he was there to protect the states' firefighters from any hazard that I might create.

I said fine! The problem is set up inside the structure that was then smoking significantly. The staff will suit you up with protective gear and a SCBA and you can go in and make your survey. Hr suddenly found out that he must leave for another meeting.

I may at this time of my life be an "expert in an ivory tower drinking iced tea", as one chief said. He objected to my writing that the statement by the IC of a 3 LOD fatality church truss roof collapse, that he would do the same thing again, was unacceptable. But listen to 40-year veteran, Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn, FDNY (Ret.). "No building is worth a firefighter's life."

We must know our buildings and the potential fire situation. When I started, fatalities were assumed to be a part of firefighter's lives. Nobody ever asked, "were they doing something useful and necessary?"