What do you know about Building Construction?
Regardless of your rank or time in your organization or company; what do YOU know about building construction? It’s a loaded question to say the least, since the characteristic replies run the gamete of what one thinks they know versus what they actually know. I had the opportunity to lecture in different regions around the country over the past four weeks doing a series of programs on building construction, command risk management and firefighter safety. I say this to frame into context the following. When discussing strategic and tactical operational issues related to combat structural fire operations in the built environment, the majority of personnel, when asked “what type of formal training or instruction have they received in the areas of building construction?”; the majority of replies was typical- NONE, or in varied instanced; a seminar, maybe a weekend field class, or what they received in recruit school. There were some who indicated they had completed a college level course or some more comprehensive single course delivery.
At the minimum, as a company or command officer you must have a soild and fundamental understanding of building construction in order for you to safely and effectively do your job. It’s that simple, it’s that clear, it’s that important.
This common theme is distressing on a number of levels. First and foremost, do you think that, we as firefighters when tasked with the distinctive job of fighting fires in buildings and occupancies; that we should know intimately how a building is constructed, it’s materials and methods of construction, what systems and assemblies hold it in place. How fire loading, dynamics, behavior, intensity and travel and will affect a structure in terms of impingement, propagation, compromise, integrity and collapse. A solid and well versed knowledge base on building construction is an essential and fundamental element in all operational assignments at fires involving a structure and occupancy. Do you think it is anything less?
Knowledge and proficiencies related to building construction are formulative to all strategic, tactical and task level assignments. Without understanding the building-occupancy relationships and integrating; construction, occupancies, fire dynamics and fire behavior, risk, analysis, the art and science of firefighting, safety conscious work environment concepts and effective and well-informed incident command management, company level supervision and task level competencies; You are derelict and negligent and “not “everyone may be going home”.
Take a look at local, regional or national level training offerings and opportunities. Check out on-line offerings and select from the many seminar programs being offered related to building construction, risk management , structural systems, fire dynamics and fire behavior that integrate construction , strategies, tactics, safety, and operational relevant to today’s fireground risks and operational parameters.
Remember, Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.
Understanding Buildings, Performance & Fire Operations-Random Thoughts
• There is an acute corollary of technical knowledge and inter reliance on occupancies, construction, strategy, tactics, risk, safety, physics, engineering and fire suppression theory…FACT!
• There are Fundamental Domains that can be applied
• The Rules of Combat Structural Firefighting have changed; Didn’t anyone tell you?
• What about; Structures, Occupancy Types, Construction, Systems, Materials, Size, Height, Dimensions, Volumes, Vintage, Square footage, Resistance, Combustibility, Fire Loadings, Hazards, Occupancy Loads, Compartments, Barriers, Defenses, Protective’s, Inherent, Style, Design, Features, Appearance, Form, Façade, Deceptions, Assumptions, Distance, Proximity, Exposure, Access, Restrictive, Limiting, Vulnerable, Risk, Value, Operations and Safety. What do these mean to you?
• Do you equate the true limitations of time related to occupancy, structure and fire dynamics and fire load? Or is it just stretching the line and getting in…?
• Do you truly integrate occupancy risk with operational deployment and task assignments?
• Does your Incident action plan (IAP) reflect dynamic risk assessment related to the structure and occupancy?
• Modern building construction is no longer predicable; Do you an appreciation of what impact this has on your strategic or tactical operations?
• Command & company officer technical knowledge may be diminished or deficient in the areas of building construction; Does your organization have gaps in this area? If so, what can you do to close those gaps and reduce the risk?
• Technological Advancements in construction and materials have exceeded conventional fire suppression practices, yet we still advocate, train and practice antiquated firefighting principles.
• Some fire suppression tactics are faulted or inappropriate, requiring innovative models and methods.
• Fire Dynamics and Fire Behavior is not considered during fireground size-up and assessment
• Risk Management related to building structure and occupancy is either not practiced or willfully ignored during most incident operations
• Nothing is going to happen to me (us); “we’ve been fighting fires the same way for the past thirty years and we’ve done OK. We don’t need any of this stuff”. Sound familiar; what do you think?