Fire Building Construction: Thanks, Professor

In the past several months, I have received "close call" letters from readers who also wrote, "Thank you, Professor Brannigan," and those words deserve mention here. All fire officers and instructors want to have a positive impact on those for whom...


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In the past several months, I have received "close call" letters from readers who also wrote, "Thank you, Professor Brannigan," and those words deserve mention here.

All fire officers and instructors want to have a positive impact on those for whom they are responsible. The truest measure of that impact is if lives have been saved. Without question, Frank Brannigan's efforts over the years have saved thousands of firefighters' lives by educating all of us on the hazards of building construction as it relates to firefighting.

Are we done? Are we all educated? Far from it. We continue to lose firefighters due to the lack of understanding by officers and firefighters about building construction. Firefighters still walk above areas with heavy fire with no means of escape. A recent video showed firefighters on the roof of a single-family dwelling, with heavy fire and smoke venting from all four sides. The fire was vented - it was blowing out four picture windows - yet the firefighters were still on the roof trying to cut a hole! Without question no one was watching out for them, and they barely made it off the roof before the fire engulfed the entire area.

In two other examples within the last year, firefighters arrived at single-family-dwelling fires with heavy fire in the basement, yet proceeded to the floor right above the fire - which was heavily involved in the basement. They fell into the basement and burned to death.

Building construction: We are much better educated due to the efforts of Frank Brannigan, but we have a long way to go before every firefighter can say, "Thank you, Professor Brannigan."

Take time to read his book, Building Construction For The Fire Service (now in its third edition), take classes, study the buildings in your area and become better educated on the hazards of construction in relation to firefighting operations. It will make a difference.

The following account is provided by a reader. Chief Goldfeder's comments follow.

We were dispatched around midnight to a commercial building fire. Manning on the first out unit was three firefighters, one officer and one driver/operator. The structure, a commercial garage that specialized in tire replacement, was a single-story, noncombustible metal building, approximately 100 by 75 feet. It had large electrically operated garage-style doors on sides A and C. Next to the door on the A side was a personnel-access door. Heavy fire was venting from office windows on the A/D sides, and a heavy smoke condition was coming from all vents from the roof.

I was the officer of the first-in unit and we forced entry to the personnel-access door. We stretched a 21/2-inch line with a 11/8-inch tip. The office on the A/D side was lower than the open roof structure and heavy fire was venting from the office area out all openings inside the garage and impinging on the roof. The high ceiling allowed us to have good visibility to the eight-foot level, but above that level visibility was good only in the area of the fire. Several vehicles in various states of repair near the office, one on a lift, were on fire and we were concerned about the one on the lift falling or the lift coming down. We began our attack on the fire in the office area and the immediate vicinity. Two things from a safety standpoint began to concern me:

  • The roof was in jeopardy.
  • We didn't have a second way out.

Our attack included application of the fire stream on the roof and structural members (Thank you, Professor Brannigan). I also asked the truck to begin to make an opening in the garage door with a saw because I wanted another quick way out if something bad happened. (I had previously tried to open this door, but none of the buttons or manual means to open the door seemed to work.)

We were making progress and visibility began to turn bad when suddenly we heard a loud crash behind us. I ordered everyone out and took a roll call. All personnel were accounted for, the building seemed to be in good shape and we resumed our attack on the fire. An opening was soon made in the garage door as well as the roof and visibility began to get better.

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