How Builders Can Protect the Lives of Firefighters / by peter podlas

What’s a firefighter’s first concern when they roll up to a fire? Put the fire out safely and live to tell about it!  Recent changes to the NYS Residential Building Code regarding the use of trusses will help keep firefighters safe.

New construction can be found in every community, including the community you live in. With the pressure of getting it done yesterday, rising material cost, and the demand for large open rooms many builders are turning to truss construction to satisfy their customer’s expectations. Trusses are engineered to use forest resources efficiently. Trusses, I-joist, and laminated veneer lumber products have evolved to resourcefully utilize wood fiber, resulting in less cutting and less waste of trees needed to manufacture them.

However, the increased usage of lightweight wood truss roof and floor structures have increased the hazard of injury from structural collapse to unaware firefighters. Once the structure is completed, it is nearly impossible for firefighters to recognize a building of truss construction. The problem is there is no existing database from which to identify buildings of truss construction. So, when firefighters roll up to a burning building they are doing so completely unaware.

The main concern is that a truss is made in such a way that it contains an open void. It can allow a fire to simultaneously expose a larger portion of structural members that a conventional solid wood joist void would not. Also, the new “I” joist is constructed with a thin vertical plywood member that burns quicker than solid wood joists.

The NYS Residential Building Code now requires Truss System Placards for firefighter safety to be placed on the exterior electric box. This new requirement of the placard will allow early recognition of a truss system being present, what type and where it is installed which will allow firefighters the opportunity to change tactics thereby increasing the firefighter’s margin of safety. The sample language below provides building labeling that identifies the building’s construction type, it is simple, yet logical and should allow firefighters to quickly know the building’s floor and roof construction materials.  This will promote better and more complete information on the fire ground and increase firefighter safety.