Buildings On Fire: Reading the Building: The Importance of the Size-Up

Previous columns discussed the importance of understanding a building’s anatomy, occupancy risk and compartment profile. These are integral to efficient and effective firefighting operations within buildings on fire and are essential for all phases of...


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Building performance

The identification, assessment, probability, predictability and intrinsic characteristics of the building and its expected performance under fire conditions must be identified, assessed and integrated into an adaptive fire management model and flexible incident action plan. In other words, arriving companies and personnel at a structure fire must be able to rapidly and accurately identify key elements of a building, process that data based on a widening field of variables present on today’s evolving fireground and implement timely actions that address prioritized actions requiring intervention. Deterministic fireground models for size-up and suppression have to give way to a more expandable stochastic (random) model of assessment. Key to this is having a broad and well-developed foundation of building knowledge.

The predictability of building performance must take into consideration that in the context of today’s fireground, buildings and fire dynamics, small changes on initial compartment or structure conditions may often produce and result in large-scale or magnitude changes that affect the long-term outcome of the incident.

The ability for the first-arriving company, company officer or commander to perform an accurate identification of building types and classifications are formulative toward anticipating variables in structural integrity and resiliency to the effects of extreme fire behavior, accelerated fire load package growth rates and intensity levels typically encountered in today’s composition and arrangement of buildings and their associated construction systems during initial and sustained fire suppression.

We have assumed that the routines or successes of past operations and incident responses equates with predictability and diminished risk to firefighting personnel. Our current generation of buildings, construction and occupancies are not as predictable as past construction systems, occupancies and building types; therefore, the risk assessment and size-up process and resulting strategies and tactics must adapt to address these evolving rules of combat structural fire engagement that challenge anecdotal practices and methodologies.

Today’s evolving fireground demands greater adaptive insights and management with an amplified understanding of buildings, occupancy risk profiling (ORP) and building anatomy by all operating companies on the fireground as well as greater skill sets and knowledge of building construction, architecture, engineering, fire dynamics and fire suppression methodologies.

The equation for success rests directly on “building knowledge equals firefighter safety.” For incident deployments to a report of a structure fire, the single most important attribute that defines all phases of subsequent operations and incident management is that of understanding the building.

 

Reading the building

An officer or commander’s skill set, comprehension and intellect in their ability to read a building is paramount toward identifying risks, conducting fluid assessment, probability, predictability and recognizing intrinsic characteristics of the building and its expected performance under fire conditions, which are essential toward development of an integrated and adaptive fire management model and flexible IAP.

If you don’t know and understand the building, how can you identify and select appropriate strategies and tactics and have an integrated IAP suitable for the building and occupancy risks and predictability of performance? It’s much more than just arriving on location, identifying a single-family, wood-frame residential, a three-story brick or a five-story fireproof or single-story unreinforced masonry (URM) commercial and stretching in and going to work.

Reading the building and understanding the building’s anatomy, occupancy risk and compartment profile are integral to efficient and effective firefighting operations within buildings on fire and are essential for all subsequent phases of fire suppression and operational engagements.