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...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


The Five Star Command Model provides an integrated framework that the Adaptive Fireground Management system is based on. Furthermore, it is an essential element in the methodologies in reading a building. Five Star Command is integrated around five fundamental core domains consisting of Building Anatomy, Risk Management, Human Performance, Safety Management and Command Management. Each of these five domains also has five points of excellence that are further integrated and share functionality.

The Building Anatomy domain’s five points consist of:

• Construction systems

• Occupancy risk profiling

• Compromise and collapse

• Methods and materials

• Fire dynamics

The following represents a brief overview of selective key operative elements that comprise the process and system of reading the building. They are provided in an abbreviated fashion as a primer of insights for some of the process elements and do not reflect the entire system or process. They are provided to promote discussion and dialogue and represent key focus areas of assessing and reading a building in order to identify systematic considerations, likelihood of occurrences and consequences related to key building features that are inherent to all building types and occupancies that must always be assessed that include:

Building System Envelope

• Roof system (RF)

• Floor/ceiling system (FL/CL)

• Floor system (FL)

• Compartment (CP)

• Perimeter wall (PW)

• Envelope enclosure (EN)

For an expanded version and comprehensive narrative, please see the “Anatomy of Buildings on Fire” blog in


Building Construction Classifications

• Type I (or Class 1) fire-resistive

• Type II (or Class 2) non-combustible

• Type III (or Class 3) ordinary

• Type IV (or Class 4) heavy timber

• Type V (or Class 5) wood frame

These provide insights and have characteristics related to fire-resistive ratings (hours) for exterior bearing walls, interior bearing walls, columns, beams, girders, trusses and arches, floor-ceiling assemblies, roof-ceiling assemblies, interior non-bearing walls and exterior non-bearing walls and provides a comparison of similar types of construction derived from model building codes.


Building Anatomy and Construction:

Construction Systems

• Heritage Construction (HC)


• Legacy Construction (LC)


• Conventional Construction (CC)


• Engineered Structural Systems (ESS)

1980-2000 Type 1

2001-current Type 2

• Integrated Hybrid Construction Systems (IHS)

2002- current

• Composite Engineered Construction systems (CES)


Integrated into the categorization of Building Anatomy and Construction system profiles are inherent characteristics, features, process, form and function that define the buildings anatomical and operational enhancements or detriments that will influence operational actions of the fireground. Look for expanded discussions on building anatomy features related to specific occupancy types and risks in a future column in Firehouse® Magazine or in a blog posting.



The increasing variables related to building construction, design, materials and methods of construction, process and workmanship, occupancy types, risks, compartment characteristics, functionality and use, fire behavior, adaption, renovation, age and deterioration coupled with the continuous evolving fire suppression capabilities of a department and agency demands new processes and systems that align with current and future operational fireground demands providing a readily accessible and retrievable process that adds value in the performance and conduct of critical steps in the management and suppression of a structure fire in a building and occupancy.

The evolving and rapidly changing dynamics of building structures and occupancies both in terms of new construction as well as the renovation and adaptive reuse of older buildings and occupancies are self revealing. That suggests alternatives and improvements in how we view buildings now and how we can better read them in the future to take advantage of information that can be presumed, predicted or known.

Providing a new order in identification and assertion, with the predictability of building and occupancy performance during fire suppression operations, may provide the edge we need in the challenges faced on today’s fireground. We just need to read the building with clarity and knowledge. n