Building Anatomy: Types and Classifications

Christopher J. Naum examines building types and classifications to anticipate variables in structural integrity and resiliency to the effects of extreme fire behavior for firefighters.


Today’s evolving fireground demands a greater understanding of buildings, occupancy risk profiling (ORP) and building anatomy by all companies operating on the fireground. The identification, assessment, probability, predictability and intrinsic characteristics of building performance under fire...


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• In balloon-frame construction studs run from the foundation to the attic (This type of construction was common in many parts of the country until the late 1930s for residential and light commercial buildings. This provides a continuous air space from top to bottom. Floor joists are tied into the wall, allowing for fire extension in any direction. Fire stopping was not a common practice.)

• In platform-frame construction the walls of each successive story are built on a platform formed by the preceding floor (The joists for the deck may be full-dimension lumber or lightweight materials. Once the floor or deck is in place, walls are placed on it with a sill at the bottom of the wall and a plate at the top. Platform-frame construction provides a natural fire barrier for vertical extension within the walls, but openings in walls for water, sewer, ventilation or heating/air conditioning pipes can create a void for fire extension.)

• Modern construction uses assemblies and structural systems comprised of engineered components with a continuing advancement of new materials, designs and structural and architectural integration.

 

Strategies and tactics

Since the late 1940s, the fire service has used building-type classifications to define or establish prescribed strategic or tactical deployment methods based on predictability of fireground and building performance. The fire service used to discern, with some predictability, how certain building types would perform under most fire conditions. Implementing established fundamentals of firefighting operations built on nine decades of proven strategies and tactics has formulated today’s conventional models of fire suppression operations. These same fundamental strategies related to building types continue to drive methodologies and operational curricula that are the core of modern fire suppression theory and combat fire engagement in the built environment.

The evolving and rapidly changing dynamics of building structures and occupancies involve new construction as well as renovation and adaptive reuse of older buildings and occupancies. The fire service must re-examine operations related to construction types and create a new order of building classifications and groupings to help fire departments meet the challenges faced on today’s fireground. n

 

Christopher J. Naum will present “Reading the Building: Predictive Occupancy Profiling” at Firehouse Expo 2012, July 17-21 in Baltimore, MD.

CHRISTOPHER J. NAUM, SFPE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 36-year fire service veteran and a national instructor, author and lecturer. He is an authority on building construction issues affecting the fire and emergency services and a former fire command officer, architect and fire protection engineer. Naum is a technical reviewer to the NIOSH firefighter fatality investigation and prevention program and NFFF Firefighter Safety Advocate. Naum is the executive producer of buildingsonfire.com, a site dedicated to building construction, fire command and firefighter safety. He can be contacted at christopher.naum@gmail.com or at buildingsonfire.com. For expanded articles, follow his blog at Firehouse.com and on Facebook at Buildingsonfire.