Lightweight Construction: Newer Homes Pose Extreme Danger to Firefighters

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Jun 12, 2009

Opponents of residential fire sprinkler systems like to boast that newer homes are safer homes and that the fire and death problem is limited to older homes. However, newer homes may pose an extreme threat to the lives of firefighters. This message has mostly been lost, but must be shouted from all corners of the battle.

An article written for Fire Engineering by Ozzie Mirkhah and David Comstock, Jr. clearly identifies this danger. The article presents a vivid example of a needless firefighter death in a newly constructed home. According to the article, ..."in 2007 a 24-year-old male volunteer firefighter died at a residential structural fire involving lightweight wood trusses. The home was built in 2004 and was a two-story, single-family residence of ordinary construction that encompassed approximately 2,200 square feet of living area above grade and 2,200 square feet below grade. The floors of the structure consisted of a lightweight wood truss system of engineered wooden I-beams, which were formed with a 2- × 3-inch or 2- × 4-inch top and bottom chord with a sheet of plywood or particleboard vertically sandwiched in between as a web. Firefighting crews were attempting to conduct a search in zero visibility when the floor collapsed without warning, sending the firefighter into the basement. Rescue efforts were unsuccessful, and the firefighter died of smoke inhalation."

The authors note that the risks firefighters face as a result of this type of construction are only likely to get worse because, they say, at least 65 percent of all new construction in the United States now uses lightweight wood trusses.

Because it is unlikely that these construction methods will cease to exist because they are economical; isn't it time to demand that newer homes be protected by fire sprinkler systems as an offset? Needless firefighter deaths must be stopped.

Maria Figueroa