Building Collapse Indicators, Continued

Present State & History Of The Building As fire attacks a building, failure will occur. It can start with localized interior collapse. As fire stops break down, the fire area will enlarge and structural members can become exposed. The destruction of...


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Cracking noises coming from a building. As fire attacks building components, they can shift. This movement can cause sounds that can be heard by firefighters. Cracking noises can indicate that parts of the building are failing. Upon hearing building noises, a visual inspection should be attempted to see if any distortion is noticed or additional indicators are present. Loud and repetitive noises should be a warning to immediately vacate the area.

Interior collapse. Though the most sensational type of collapse is the exterior wall collapsing and being captured on video or camera, the type of collapse that causes most firefighter injuries is the localized interior collapse. As portions of the interior fail, load-bearing walls can be affected. When interior collapse is noticed, the firefighter observing the collapse scene should try and ascertain if additional dangers exist to the firefighters on the interior and exterior of the building.

Plaster sliding off of walls. A severe condition that can be observed is plaster attached to wooden lathe sliding off the walls in large sheets. The twisting movement of the building breaks the attachment of the plaster from the wooden lathe causing this dangerous situation. lt must act as an indicator for immediate withdrawal from the building of all personnel.

Buildings Under Construction, Renovation Or Demolition

Buildings go through various phases, from their initial erection to a variety of renovations over the years to the final stage of demolition. Each stage can create dangerous situations for firefighters responding to an emergency within the building. For this reason a building going through any of these stages should be considered a potential for collapse, or as an indicator itself.

Buildings under construction, renovation or demolition can present different problems for responding firefighters. New construction will not have the safety features required of a completed building. Sprinkler and standpipe systems may not be functional, delaying an attack on the fire. Unprotected structural members will be prone to attack by fire.

Buildings undergoing renovation can have varying stages of fire protection. A nearly completed structure would probably be well protected, whereas a building in the early stages could have much of its protection removed. Weekly inspections of a building being renovated either by the first-due company, the fire prevention or inspection bureau will keep the fire department abreast of changes that could affect the building should a fire occur.

The building undergoing demolition will have many of the same faults as a building under construction or a building being renovated. Safety features will be removed and fire stops may be nonexistent. Structural supports may be replaced with temporary shoring.

Buildings being prepared for demolition by explosives fall into this category. The demolition experts will weaken critical areas of the structure to ensure that the building will collapse in an exact and specific manner. Should a serious fire occur prior to the actual demolition, an early collapse must be anticipated.

A building being attacked by fire must be considered a building under demolition.

Water & Building Loads

Water is the principal tool used to combat fire. For all of the positive aspects, water can have a negative effect on a structure. It is important to monitor water usage.

The following collapse indicators include some associated with water usage and other building loads.

Excessive water in a building. Water not coming out of a building as fast as it is going in. Water runoff from between bricks. Bales of absorbent material in a building. Large machinery or heavy contents in a building. Excessive or unusual roof loads. Excessive water in a building. Firefighting operations can drastically increase the live load on the fire building. This can be due to the weight of:
  1. The firefighters with their protective equipment and tools.
  2. The hoseline brought into the fire building.
  3. The water used to attack the fire. A 1 3/4-inch hoseline can deliver approximately 175 gallons of water per minute. This adds about 1,500 pounds each minute into the fire building. If multiple hoselines are operating, the weight of the water can be tremendous.