Building Construction is Still the Firefighter's Enemy

Michael Daley says Frank Brannigan's mantra, “The Building is Your Enemy. Know Your Enemy,” was drilled into his sub-conscious at an early age, and he continue to preach his words to anyone who will listen.

Recently, I was discussing textbooks and reference materials that I have in my library at home with some of my constituents. Spending over a quarter of a century in the fire service has allowed me to amass a considerable amount of literature as it pertains to the discharge of our duties as firefighters. There are a few that I continue to reference, primarily because these specific books have proven to withstand the passages of time, techniques and industry standards. One such book will always be Frank Brannigan’s third edition of Building Construction for the Fire Service (BCFS).

While I also possess the latest version of this manual, I will go on record and state that I will never find a reason good enough to discard this reference guide, for a few reasons. First and foremost, I tip my helmet in respect to the Old Professor and Glen Corbett, PE, for combining forces prior to deliver the high-quality fourth edition of BCFS. Although I have a copy of that edition as well, I still use his third edition consistently more than any other reference book in my library. Secondly, the copy I have was signed by the Old Professor himself; it is irreplaceable.

Hitting The Streets To Find Hazards

Brannigan’s mantra, “The Building is Your Enemy. Know Your Enemy,” was drilled into my sub-conscious at an early age, and I continue to preach his words to anyone who will listen. It is a message that I continue to pass on to every one of my department members, boot school recruits, seminar attendees, and fire service professionals within earshot of my discussions. In order to “…Know the Enemy” we owe it to Frank’s memory to continue to seek out new ways that the “Enemy” is plotting to catch us off-guard, laying in wait to catch us in a moment of apathy. A great way of doing this is our “field trips” to construction sites within our first-due response area, looking to see how the structures are built before the fire. Additionally, I have been known to travel with a digital camera within close proximity for just this reason; many times construction “techniques” are present, wide open for all to see. As I have done for many years, I have photographed some interesting existing construction “concerns” that raised an eyebrow when I saw them for the first time. In keeping with Chief Brannigan’s message, I present a few “nuggets” of building construction awareness that you should feel free to pass on to anyone who wants them.

A new residential development was being constructed within two miles of my station, so we took a ride over to see how the construction was progressing. Photo 1 was taken at the area where construction materials are dropped off by delivery vehicles for crews to grab as needed. A stack of TJI joists were draped over a job box, and curved and weakened as they sat. These TJI joists are used in the floors and roofs of these residences; it is bad enough that during construction the cutout guidelines are rarely followed. Most of the time I have seen cutouts widened beyond the maximum limit by workers. Finding these joists in this condition is disheartening, because I know these joists will find their way into the floor of one of these new “starter castles.”

Looking inside one of the castles, I immediately was intrigued by the presence of an indoor balcony within the great room (Photo 2). Further scrutiny revealed a series of cantilevered beams that were hung in joist hangers and Tico sheer nails, and extended out from a Parallam header in the room. Furthermore, the voids within the bottom of the balcony house a number of recessed light fixtures. The voids will allow fire to travel unimpeded, and attack the cantilevered beams, possibly leading to early collapse on an unsuspecting hose team.

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