A great number of residential occupances are now being built using lightweight construction materials. Although these materials reduce construction costs and have consistently demonstrated equivalent or even superior quality under non-fire conditions, the same cannot be said when these materials are exposed to fire loading during a residential structure fire. The result is progressive structural collapse due to the failure of these lightweight structures, resulting in firefighter injuries and death.
Firefighter safety is of great importance when debating the need for residential fire sprinklers. A number of fire service organizations including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the US Fire Administration and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) have weighed in on the subject. IAFF President Harold Schaitberger was quoted as saying: “Residential fire sprinklers protect fire fighters and the communities that they serve.”
Until recently, these declarations were supported by field experience and empirical research. However, two important studies conducted since have provided much needed ammunition to the firefighter safety aspect of the residential fire sprinkler debate as it relates to lightweight construction.
The first one, published by the Institute for Research in Construction, Canada, and the most recent one published by Tyco, USA, have underscored the impact that lightweight construction poses to life safety of occupants and firefighters. These two very important studies should be included in the arsenal of weapons in the fight for residential fire sprinklers. The findings in these reports are a must read for residential fire sprinkler advocates.