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  1. #1
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    Talking Houses too close.

    I just read the attached article. It amazes me these people are only just finding out something that fire fighters have been aware of for years.

    Why on earth they need to go and spend money to find out that houses that are only a few feet apart are going to become part of the problem when the adjacent structure catches fire? just go into any fire station, they will get the answer for free.


    Deadly Fairfax, Virginia Fire Shows Growing Peril
    Distance Between Houses Could Lead To Large Fires

    ERIC M. WEISS
    The Washington Post

    A tiny flame from a candle touched papers that melted vinyl siding and set off a fire that raced unnoticed up three floors. The blaze torched 18 condominiums, left three people dead and forced a man on fire to leap from a third-floor balcony.

    Beyond the devastating personal tragedy, the fire in Fairfax County last weekend also highlighted a little-known danger in the Washington region and across the county, fire safety officials say: Houses are built too close together. Radiant heat from the fire in the Kingstowne section of the county nearly set ablaze another building 34 feet away.

    "It was about ready to go over there, very close," said Fairfax fire and rescue's Peter J. Michel, lead investigator in the fatal blaze. "I'm surprised we only lost the three the other day."

    Michel and other fire officials fear that entire blocks of houses could erupt in flames in a serious fire. National building codes allow single-family houses to be built just six feet apart. Increasing development pressure and the scarcity of land in metropolitan areas are resulting in more -- and larger -- houses built to minimum spacing standards.

    Building suburban-style houses at an urban density could cause conflagrations that could devastate whole neighborhoods, fire officials warn.

    "It's just a matter of time before we have big fires here," Michel said. "They're building them right on top of each other."

    Fire officials in Virginia, alarmed by recent blazes that have moved swiftly from one house to the next, have been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen national standards by forcing houses to be built farther apart or requiring such additional protections as fire walls. They are seeking to make the International Residential Code, used in the District, Virginia, Maryland and 41 other states, at least as strong as regulations adopted recently in Virginia.

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology also is concerned and today will conduct a series of test burns at the federal agency's facility in Gaithersburg. The agency hopes to use the data to create computer models to help fire officials decide how close to one another houses can be built safely.

    "If one house has a fire, it shouldn't affect the neighbor's house. It certainly shouldn't affect the neighbor's neighbor's house," said Battalion Chief L. Ray Scott of Prince William County. That is what happened in Loudoun County in 1994, when three houses -- each six feet apart -- went up in flames before the first firetruck arrived. In January, a Gainesville house fire spread quickly to the house next door, 11.4 feet away.

    Scott pushed successfully for new rules from the Virginia Board of Housing that will force developers to build houses 10 feet apart or build a fire wall. The rules will go into effect this year, after they are published in the Virginia Registry and after a public comment period.

    Some fire experts say planners and political leaders in U.S. suburbs have been lulled into complacency by decreasing numbers of fires and fire deaths. The success is largely a result of smoke detectors, sprinklers, safer electrical wiring and better stairwell and exit design.

    Industry groups say there are no data to support the contention that building houses farther apart would prevent the spread of fires. They say that houses today are safer than ever. Indeed, the number of fire fatalities in the United States has dropped from 3,825 in 1993 to 2,695 in 2002, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

    But reliance on newer materials and technology is resulting in buildings that some say are less sturdy than houses of the past. Using vinyl siding instead of stucco or masonry, smaller and drier timber, and home furnishings made of plastics and chemicals that create a toxic smoke when burned make newer houses more dangerous, some experts say.

    "We are building more and more combustible buildings and building them closer together," said Vincent Brannigan, a professor at the University of Maryland's department of fire protection engineering. "We are pushing all of the envelopes at the same time."

    With house and land prices continuing to rise, cluster houses on smaller lots often are more affordable. Linda Canadiate, for example, said she loves her house in a new subdivision in Woodbridge so much that she treasures a framed photo of herself and her family next to the "sold" sign. She enjoys sitting in her rocking chair in the setting sun and saying hello to her neighbors.

    She doesn't have to raise her voice. Next door is just 11.9 feet away.

    "Kissin' close," Canadiate said.

    She said she doesn't smoke and takes other precautions against fires, such as storing flammable materials in the garage. But she also has to worry about whether her neighbors are equally careful.

    "They're building them too fast and too close," she said.

    The home-building industry emphasized that improvements are costly. "We can build a house that will never burn down," said Jeff Inks, who monitors housing codes for the National Association of Homebuilders. "Maybe Donald Trump or the average billionaire could afford it, but the average guy couldn't."

    Cozy neighborhoods where houses are closer together also are part of the "new urbanism" movement that aims to build suburban villages where people can walk instead of drive.

    "People are interested in having less yard and living in a more compact environment," said Sherman Patrick, Prince William's zoning administrator. "It's a desire to provide an alternative for townhouses and a new urban design that people like. The challenge is how do we allow and encourage new designs for usable open space and at the same time not run afoul of the building code?"

    In some cases, townhouses are safer than close-together single-family houses, because attached townhouses are required to be built with firewalls separating the units. "We'd be better off with two townhouses because you don't have that air and space separation," said W. Keith Brower Jr., deputy fire chief in Loudoun County.

    How close is too close is a question without a scientific answer. But the subject is of interest to federal officials. For the fire test scheduled for today, National Institute of Standards and Technology scientists in Gaithersburg have built two average "homes" six feet apart. Each has a wood frame covered with a weather wrap, such as Tyvek, and is finished with vinyl siding. One will be furnished with a sofa, table, armchair, wall paneling and carpet.

    "Then we're going to start an ordinary living room fire, which will break out through the window, and then we're going to measure the time needed to get the second unit involved," said David D. Evans, an institute engineer.

    It shouldn't take long. A 1988 Canadian study of two similar structures 5.9 feet apart showed that it took 4 minutes and 50 seconds for the second house to ignite. Thirty seconds later, the second house was fully engulfed.

    Evans has studied the fire response at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and has researched the behavior of wildfires when they hit residential communities. He said it is unlikely that a single "safe" distance between houses will be determined.

    "That's a sharp line, and physics is rarely that sharply defined," Evans said. Variables come into play, including materials that compose the house, its design and how long it takes a firetruck to reach the house.

    Scott, also a former Prince William fire marshal, said he has been told that he is scaring people. But he said that is not important.

    "All I want is for them to live safely," Scott said, "and for the people who are building these things to know the risk.''

    Related:
    Last edited by protomkv; 07-20-2004 at 10:20 AM.


  2. #2
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    This problem or situation (depending on your view) won't be going away. As I think in many places the market or Federal Government is going to be dictating higher densities due to the fact that large lot suburban sprawl has created all sorts of problems never imagined when Levitown NY was laid out.

    A number of places in the Northwest US have already placed restrictions on thier cities size and Neo-Urbanism or "Traditional Housing" (their word, not mine Bou ) is gaining populairity even in the midwest with their large amounts of cheap land.

    Part of the problem is cities allow the use of vinyl siding on such housing. Using a product that so readily ignites and supports combustion isn't the smartest thing a homeowner could do. Although I also agree with the Vinyl guy, it isn't a life safety issue as it is more a property issue.

    Also I noted in a post a few weeks ago in a similar story out of Colorado, but in the first paragraph they note how a man had to jump from his third floor balcony...I ask why weren't there any fire escapes for a 3rd floor apartment such as that?

    Interesting story anyhow. Perhaps they'll require masonry instead of wood frame for such houses as a precaution.

    FTM-PTB

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    Sr. Information Officer NJFFSA16's Avatar
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    Post New Jersey Sprawl

    The Oakland, NJ Fire officials argued until they were blue in the face.....and the developers won. The result? Ramapo River Reserve, where you can't even get ladders between the structures...and the street widths are sub standard. A nightmare for engine/truck placement and subject to losing multiple dwellings. A wildland/urban interface nightmare.

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    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    NJ, I've watched that area be built for the last few years and always shuddered to think of what could happen. I have the same in my area although on a smaller scale. We have 1 area where the large houses are crammed against each other, we also have a "bungalow" area where the small, seasonal houses are crammed on each other. A structure fire in the bungalow area results in mutual aid companies being dispatched just for exposure protection. Knock on wood, we have been able to keep them at 1 building so far....
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    MembersZone Subscriber CJMinick390's Avatar
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    I'm glad NIST is looking into this. It will give us another tool to use in trying to get coherent, sensible building requirements. At the cost of these homes, it shouldn't break the bank to require masonry walls and fire rated windows on the walls that are in such close proximity to each other. A lot of places are beginning to require sprinklers in the homes. Perhaps they should require and provide in ground sprinlkers (similar to those provided on golf coursed for irrigation) to form water curtains between the dwellings.
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    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    Perhaps they should require and provide in ground sprinlkers
    How about requiring them nationally, in all construction, inside the house (and firehouses) first? Then we won't have to worry as much about the exposures.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    How about requiring them nationally, in all construction, inside the house (and firehouses) first? Then we won't have to worry as much about the exposures.
    The reason this will never work or come to pass is very easy to see.

    Everytime anyone suggests that any certain city increase the number of companies and staffing for their FD you get the following replies:

    -It won't work here.
    -We can't afford that.
    -We are happy with our fire protection.
    -We make do with what we have.
    -etc....

    Part of the problem comes from the change in densities and the fire protection levels and responses that while approprate for spralling houses on 1 acre lots in a suburban city might not be sufficent for density more commonly found in older urban cities.

    The residentail areas of suburban cities in the past are often not sufficent enough to support themselves tax wise. Now cities are looking to cram more into the same limited space to increase populations and tax revenues. It appears though perhaps the FD aren't catching up in staffing, companies, or tactics.

    FTM-PTB

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    As always the amount of fire protection equals the number of votes it will buy. If citizens demand it then and only then will the politicans provide it. Beating heads with politicans isn't going to solve anything. What will solve things is getting the public behind the fire service. This is one place that our Leo friends have by far outshined the fire service.

  9. #9
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Sprinklers, Sprinklers.................... .

    Any Building, regardless of occupancy, built in my County, MUST have sprinklers. No Tradeoffs, No Options. And now that the sprinkler legislation has been in place for over 10 years, it's paying off. We've merged a couple of VFDs that were within shouting distance of each other, and we've made some changes to keep up with the times, but NO REDUCTIONS of stations or personnel will occour. We still have plenty of older structures, and plenty of Fires in them.
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    I wasn't aware that PG county doesn't allow trade-offs. (I'm in PG as well). I was aware, of course, that all new construction was required to have sprinklers, and I can't even imagine how many lives that has probably saved. I was under the impression that trade off's are allowed in other counties in Maryland. (I know, I drifted off of the topic, my apologies). But anyway, even with sprinklers, new construction can really suck. And the people buying these "track mansions" are not getting their money's worth in most cases.

  11. #11
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Question Well...................

    Yes, some jurisdictions allow tradeoffs, But, PG does not. I have yet to find anything worth trading when it comes to sprinkler systems. And, part of our County has no Public Water system. Construction in areas without water has to have a large tank (Capacity is formulated by the Cubic feet of the structure) to supply the sprinklers. Anyway, back to the Close Spacing. There is some concern that by requiring sprinklers, we can lighten up on things like construction materials, spacing, etc. Rest assured, we're not letting up on anything. Why there has been no National push for Sprinklers is a mystery to me, I think it's worth the effort.
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    Hwoods,

    It is very simple to me why there is no push Nationally for sprinklers...They don't want to pay for it and still pay the same taxes for fire depts.

    Many times they don't want to pay for additional protection in the form of the following:

    -Increased staffing FD (and PD)
    -Open more Companies
    -Use more fire safe construction (demension lumber, Mansonry, etc)
    -Mandatory Crime prevention measures (high-security locks, Bars, alarm systems) Why is that the cops aren't pushing for mandatory buglar alarms on all structures??

    Operating a city is just like a buisness and they all want to be the most competivie in attracting jobs, housing and residents. You don't do that by having signifigantly higher costs of living and construction. Untill this system is changed, you won't see any push for anything that might encourage development to leave one town for another.

    FTM-PTB

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    Originally posted by Bones42
    we also have a "bungalow" area where the small, seasonal houses are crammed on each other.
    My entire neighborhood started off as a "cottage" area. I have about 4 feet between the houses on one side of me and 8 feet on the other. This problem definitely isn't limited to new construction.
    FTM-PTB-DTRT

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    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Default Huh?................

    Originally posted by FFFRED
    Hwoods,

    It is very simple to me why there is no push Nationally for sprinklers...They don't want to pay for it and still pay the same taxes for fire depts.

    Many times they don't want to pay for additional protection in the form of the following:

    -Increased staffing FD (and PD)
    -Open more Companies
    -Use more fire safe construction (demension lumber, Mansonry, etc)
    -Mandatory Crime prevention measures (high-security locks, Bars, alarm systems) Why is that the cops aren't pushing for mandatory buglar alarms on all structures??

    Operating a city is just like a buisness and they all want to be the most competivie in attracting jobs, housing and residents. You don't do that by having signifigantly higher costs of living and construction. Untill this system is changed, you won't see any push for anything that might encourage development to leave one town for another.

    FTM-PTB
    I respectfully disagree, to a point. Mandating sprinklers will not do anything to warrant increased staffing, or cause more companies to be opened. One example of what sprinklers accomplish is here in PG County where a new station is being planned. Approximately 75% of the residential and 100% of the commercial property that will become the first due area of this new station has sprinklers. As a result, this station will not have an Engine or Truck Company. It will operate with one ALS Ambulance and one BLS Ambulance and no Fire suppression units. Current calls for service in this area are over 90% medical, and response time/distance from existing stations are adequate for Fire response. Another benefit of sprinklers is that lighter construction materials will work where there is adequate protection (Sprinklers) built into the structure. CJ, if you read this post, correct me if I'm wrong on that.
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    Permanently Removed CALFFBOU's Avatar
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    Default Oh yeah?

    No one told Las Vegas, Nevada about it and look at what is
    very common out there. They are working on a "Community
    Growth Management Initiative" now.

    See more information at-Las Vegas/Clark Count growth info. and charts- wow!


    Last edited by CALFFBOU; 07-20-2004 at 11:28 PM.

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    Hi Harve, you are quite right. The lighter construction works for strength because it uses the material in the building product efficiently. There is no excess material, only what is required to support the loads the member is designed for. Light weight materials support the loads required by the building codes quite well. Unfortunately, fire currently is not considered a design load. I think it should be.

    Getting back on subject, though, it is true that sprinklers make the use of lightweight materials more viable. If a fire is suppressed in the incipient stage, the lightweight materials won't be attacked by fire. The problems come when a fire starts in the walls due to an electical malfunction or if the gypsum wall board is somehow breached and fire gets out of the sprinklered areas. Without adequate fire stopping (and from what I've seen it's missing in a lot of residential construction) the fire will move through the open voids and attack the structural members that will fail very quickly. If void spaces and attics are sprinklered as well as the living spaces, this problem would be taken care of for the most part.

    By the way, if fires were kept small and confined, the problems posed by houses being close together would be largely taken care of as well.
    Last edited by CJMinick390; 07-21-2004 at 09:04 AM.
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    hwoods,

    You completely misunderstood my post.

    What I was stating was that you can't ever get these citizens to pay for increased staffing or more companies in their communties...why? Because they and the politicians always claim they are happy with their level of fire protection.

    Note how many on here claim that their city doesn't require Truck Companies, that they are satisfied with the level of fire service is based on local conditions. The reason they claim they can have a two man Engine or Truck is because the local needs are only for that. Just the same many look at sprinklers as needed only for high-risk occupancies.

    The same goes for mandating sprinklers, many don't want to increase the cost of their new house. They don't want to pay more than they have too. Especailly when their neighbors without sprinklers will pay the same amount for fire protection as they will. They don't want to mandate every building having sprinklers. They are happy with their fire protection.

    Bou-

    Thats great for Las Vegas, somehow they figured out how to do it.

    I used to live in one of the fastest growing counties in this country. Every city was competing with the next for more growth which often translated into more federal funds and the such. The more growth meant it was easier to attract business. There were multiple jurisdictions, cities, counties and states that all were out to top the guy next door. I don't know how many counties and cities Las Vegas has to compete with. I don't think it can be that many being it realtively out on its own in the desert.

    My old fire marshal said despite what he'd like to do they (city council) would never let him sprinkler houses for the cost would freeze development and the other nearby cities would then see an increase in home construction due to the more affordable homes being there instead of our city.

    FTM-PTB

  18. #18
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Smile OK.....................

    Fred, OK, I think I got it. There must be different ideas about growth in other parts of the Country. Here, the County is the defining level of Government, Cities and Towns find that their Governments aren't all that important. Only one new town was incorporated in Maryland since 1950, there is no benefit to incorporation. All Public Safety, Education, Zoning, Permit/Licence, Utility and Infrastructure Operations and Management is at the County level. Our county passed Sprinkler legislation in 1990 and now we're seeing the Counties around us following suit. I expect to see Sprinkler legislation like ours (modified slightly in different areas) in effect across the entire state in the next 10 years. We are not competing with anyone for home sales, jobs, or anything else. In fact, I'd like to export about a quarter million people because we're getting crowded. One thing that irks me to no end is the bidding contest to land a new business in a given area, where localities offer tax breaks, road improvements , and so on. We flat refuse to participate in such foolishness. You want to locate here, Fine. You are no different than anyone else, everyone follows the same rules, and get the same benefits. (Of course, those benefits include the finest Fire Protection on Earth. )
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    FFFRED
    What I was stating was that you can't ever get these citizens to pay for increased staffing or more companies in their communties...why? Because they and the politicians always claim they are happy with their level of fire protection.
    I came across an interesting article related to this FFFred.


    http://fe.pennnet.com/News/Display_N...&NewsID=104267

  20. #20
    55 Years & Still Rolling hwoods's Avatar
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    Smile Hope it Works.....................

    Thanks Cheffie, Interesting approach. Unfortunately, those folks don't seem to be thinking outside the box. I wish them luck, they'll need it.
    Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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