Firefighters taking out fire with hose

Why Firefighting is Riskier with Modern Buildings

Construction and architecture have changed drastically over the past few decades. But have firefighting tactics evolved to adapt to modern construction? Find out in this guide.

The longstanding SOP

The majority of fire departments have the same standard operating procedure when fighting single-family dwelling residential fires: pull lines, commence entry, and put up a PPV fan for interior ops. Even in Australia where the blazing weather takes out moisture in the air, heavy-duty pumps for firefighting are successful in putting out most residential fires. However, in recent years, the failure to adapt firefighting tactics to modern construction often leads to the demise of some firefighters.

How modern construction affects firefighter safety

When using the SOP without putting too much thought into the approach, firefighters fail to consider the new dynamics of modern residential fires. To minimize risk to the lives of both firefighters and civilians, all firefighters should recognize the following hazards:

  • Lightweight material. If you examine houses that were built fifty years ago, the lumber used is generally stronger than the lightweight material modern houses are built with today. Sturdy lumber provides more mass and structural support in a fire, resisting collapse until search and rescue have been completed. However, due to the introduction of lightweight and cheaper materials, houses today are built without such quality. Homes like these are more susceptible to combustion and collapse during a fire.
  • Artificial fuel. Fire spreads faster in newer homes today because there are so many sources of synthetic fuel, which adds significant risk to safety and survival. For starters, wood structures are coated with synthetic material for insulation, making them extremely flammable. Moreover, the majority of modern houses today contain furniture and objects that are made of plastic and synthetic material, which burn rapidly in a fire.
  • Floor plan. Modern homes usually have open floor plans. With the lack of compartmentalization, fires tend to spread out faster.

How firefighters should adapt to modern construction

skyscrapers

In any case of fire, whether residential or commercial, firefighters should have an irrefutable reason to enter the building, such as to save a life. Nevertheless, fire departments should:

  • Develop standard operating guidelines for buildings with lightweight construction. In modern lightweight homes, floors can collapse in six minutes. If firefighters follow the traditional SOP, safety and lives are put at risk.
  • Open up voids upon entry of the fire floor. Create an inspection hole on both the ceiling and the floor to assess structural framing condition and see if there are hidden fires. With the use of lightweight materials in construction, fire tends to spread easier due to the abundance of holes in the joists.
  • Ventilate all fire areas after the fire is controlled. This is done to check the integrity of the components in lightweight construction. For attic fires, ventilate from the exterior before sending firefighters inside.
  • Continue to assess risk during operations. Fires in modern residential structures can be unpredictable. Maintain flexibility during operations and always be ready to change the plan as needed.

Firefighters put their lives at risk every time they enter a burning building. However, the risk should be minimized as much as possible, especially when dealing with less structurally-sound buildings of today.