Predictability and Performance Of Buildings on Fire

When we look at various buildings and occupancies, past operations (good and bad) give us experience that defines and determines how we assess, react and expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm. The “art and science of...


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When we look at various buildings and occupancies, past operations (good and bad) give us experience that defines and determines how we assess, react and expect similar structures and occupancies to perform at a given alarm. The “art and science of firefighting” is predicated on a fundamental understanding of how fire affects a building and its occupants and the manner in which the fire service engages when called on to combat a structure fire.

We have certain expectations that fire will travel in a defined, predictable manner:

• That the building will react and perform under assumptions of past performance and outcomes

• That fire will hold within a room and compartment for a predictable duration

• That the fire load and related fire flows required will be appropriate for an expected size and severity of fire encountered within a given building, occupancy or structural system

• That we can safely and effectively mitigate a fire in any given building type and occupancy

• That we will have the time to conduct the required tasks identified to be of importance based on identified or assumed indicators

• That the building will conform to the rules of firefighting engagement

Times have changed

Today’s incident demands on the fireground are unlike those of even the recent past. This means incident commanders, commanding and company officers and firefighters alike must have increased technical knowledge of building construction with a heightened sensitivity of fire behavior and fire dynamics, a focus on operational structural stability of the compartment and building envelope and considerations related to occupancy risk versus the occupancy type. Understanding the building – its complexities in terms of anatomy, structural systems, materials, configuration, design, layout, systems, methods of construction, engineering and inherent features, limitations, challenges and risks – is fundamental for operational excellence on the fireground and firefighter safety.

There is an immediate need for emerging and operating command and company officers to increase their knowledge and insights of modern building occupancy, building construction and fire protection engineering and to modify traditional and conventional strategic operating profiles in order to safeguard companies, personnel and team compositions. Strategies and tactics must have the combined adequacy of sufficient staffing, fire flow and tactical patience orchestrated in a manner that identifies with the fire profiling, predictability of the occupancy and the building that accounts for presumptive fire behavior.

We used to discern with a measured degree of predictability how buildings would perform and fail under most fire conditions. Implementing fundamentals of firefighting operations built on decades of time-tested and experience-proven strategies and tactics continues to be the model of suppression operations. These same fundamental strategies continue to drive methodologies and curriculums in current training programs and academy instruction.

The lack of appreciation and the understanding of correlating principles involving buildings, compartments, fire behavior, the fuel package, its rate of heat release and growth stages of compartment fires and their effect within a structure are the defining paths from which the fire service must reexamine operations in order to identify with the predictability of occupancy performance during fire suppression operations, thus increasing suppression effectiveness and firefighter safety.

Our buildings have changed – the structural systems of support, the degree of compartmentation, the characteristics of materials and the magnitude of the fire-loading package. All of our occupancies, new and old, have new operating parameters and considerations that must be identified and assimilated into preparedness, training and operations.

New rules

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