Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week: Day Two- Building Knowledge = Fire Fighter Safety


Know Your World

Other Considerations in Program Planning for Safety Week; Other considerations to support the theme, objectives and initiatives of Safety Week include wide latitude of activities and interactive actions that can achieve the goals for increasing awareness and providing dialog, interaction, training while encouraging discussion and interchange.

These functional area topics can be integrated into planned program development to support the FGS training presentations, delivery and support a comprehensive strategy for integrated Fire Ground Survival training, awareness and insights. These functional areas are supported with references and links to support program develop and deliveries.

Suggested Functional Areas for Alignment with the Theme and Focus during Safety Week;

  • 16 Fire Fighter Life Safety Initiatives

  • Rule of Engagement

  • Fire Fighter Near-Miss Learning‘s

  • Procedures, Policies and Guidelines

  • Pre-Fire Planning

  • Building Construction

  • Structural Systems

  • Occupancy Risk Profiling

  • Fire Dynamics & Fire Behavior

  • Reading Smoke

  • Survivability Profiling

  • Risk Management

  • Crew Resource Management

  • Situational Awareness

  • Disorientation Awareness

  • Structural Collapse & Compromise

  • Mayday & Rapid Intervention

  • Fire Ground Survival

  • Air Resource Management

  • Tactical Patience

  • Go to the Planning Resource Guide for Direct Resources, templates and suggested planning and instructional aids. HERE

Suggested considerations include the following, as well as encouraging fire/EMS departments to identify and integrate local issues, needs and identified gaps or enhancements that can contribute towards operational excellence and safety integration.

  • Review and select a Near Miss Event Report from the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System or the Report of the Week (ROTW) series related to functional area topics or mayday actions and discuss the event in a small group or company setting to identify similarities or difference from your our organization. Is your company or department susceptible to a similar event? What should be addressed?
  • Review and select a NIOSH LODD Report from the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Program related to functional area topics or mayday actions and discuss the event in a small group or company setting to identify similarities or difference from your our organization. Is your company or department susceptible to a similar event? What should be addressed?
  • Take out your Rapid Intervention Equipment and review the purpose and function of each piece of equipment. Identify and discuss alternative uses or tools that can be obtained or used in the event of unavailability, malfunction or additional resource needs. Discuss protocols, procedures, safety awareness and operational hazards, expectations and precautions. Inspection the equipment for operability and integrity.
  • Identify and select a recent departmental or local/regional incident event that was either a near-miss/close-call or transitioned into a mayday event. Discuss and facilitate dialog on lessons learned, gaps, enhancements or operational successes, achievements and positive elements. Identify any factors or elements that were presented in the FGS training series that are applicable to the event, strategies, tactics or operations: can anything be improved or enhanced?
  • Lead a discussion on how to call and initiate a Mayday. Discuss the factors and insights from FGS Program Chapter 3 Self-Survival Procedures and Chapter 4 Self-Survival Skills.
  • Select and lead a discussion on a pertinent incident case study from either the list provided or your own selection and discuss the relevancy of the event in terms of mayday operations, fire ground survival, incident outcome and relationship to your Department or agency. What is the relevancy, similarities or differences? Can this event or circumstances occur in your jurisdiction? What can be done to prevent a history repeating event (HRE)?
  • Review and discuss Roles and Responsibilities for mayday events and operations. How do they match up with your operating procedures, policies and expectations?
  • Develop and facilitate a table top exercise (TTE) on a mayday event scenario utilizing a building in your first-due or response jurisdiction. Take photographs and integrate into your program. Refer to example of a simple TTE attached or go to Fire for an example here;
  • Visit a residential or commercial construction site (with pre-arrival authorization and approvals) and tour the stage of construction, looking critically at the type of construction and structural systems being implemented, materials used, workmanship and signs of deficient or adverse conditions that may affect operational integrity, safety or collapse and compromise once the building is occupied.
    • Discuss issues such as structural integrity, collapse risk, occupancy risk versus occupancy type considerations, avenues for fire travel, effects on fire load package and rate of heat release and projected fire intensity.
    • How would you fire a fire in the occupancy? What will define the strategy and tactics that would be or should be selected and used?
  • In a controlled setting with or without PPE, Practice calling a mayday with the identified communication attributes defined in the FGS training program. Critique and practice the evolution until the group feels that it is acceptable.

Understand your Response District

“Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety”, Know Your District and its Risk

Protect Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility.

Within the focus area of Survival and the elements of Structural Size-Up and Situational Awareness, some suggeted key functional components could include the following;

  • Keep apprised of different types of building materials and construction used in your community.
  • The operative question today is this: “What do you “really” know about the buildings in your district?”
  • As you drive about your response district today, coming back from an alarm, heading to the firehouse tonight or running errands around your community, take a good look around. Ask your self a simple question; “How well do you know the buildings, structures and occupancies in your response jurisdiction?”
  • Be honest, do you really understand how those “older residential” structures were built and understand how fire travels and impacts your fireground operations?
  • Are your aware of the newest features of engineered structural support systems being constructed within that new set of homes going up in your second-due area?
  • Are you aware, that vacant office building is being converted into a light manufacturing and assembly business?
  • How about those unoccupied store fronts and businesses that have recently closed up due to the tough economic times…. any special hazards or operational concerns to your company should you get a dispatch to respond?
  • Have the senior members of your station or department shared their stories of operations and incidents at various buildings around your district or community?
  • Did you listen to them, or were you quick to dismiss those “old war stories”. There’s a wealth of “pre-planning’ nuggets hidden in those stories. Take the time to listen, remember or postulate
  • Take a good look around….think about any given building, the one across the street that you’re looking at while you waited for the traffic light to change; Think about a fire in that same building.
  • Do you really understand how it will truly perform under combat structural fire conditions?
  • What’s the building’s collapse profile?
  • How much operational time will you have? Will you need?
  • What’s the fire load package size?
  • What are your concerns for rapid fire extension, extreme fire behavior and vent path issues that amy affect firefighter safety?
  • What dynamic risk assessment factors will you have to deal with?
  • How safe is it for you to engage in interior operations upon your arrival?
  • How can this building, its occupancy and structural system hurt, my team, my company, my firefighters, my department, me?

Sometimes things aren’t as obvious as them seem. You may have responded and operated at numerous incidents at a wide variety of buildings in your response area, or very few; some routine, others maybe more demanding…the question remains, “What do you really know about your buildings?” Your life may one day depend on what you actually do know or recollect. Take a good look around.

Pre-Incident planning is formulative to any effective fire service organization. A good staring point is to look at the NFPA 1620 Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning document. ( NFPA Codes and Standards, HERE)

The purpose of the NFPA 1620 Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning document is to aid in the development of a pre-incident plan to help responding personnel effectively manage emergencies with available resources and should not be confused with fire inspections, which monitor code compliance.

The Pre-Incident Plan document is developed by gathering general and detailed data used by responding emergency service personnel to determine the necessary resources and actions necessary to mitigate anticipated emergencies at a specific facility, structure or occupancy.The Pre-Incident Plan document can contain a variety of useful information related to the construction features and systems, building materials and components, occupancy, layout and floor plan, access/egress, built-in protective, detection and suppression systems, special hazards, fire loading, fire suppression flow needs, pre-determined resource needs, exposure factors, etc.The Pre-Incident Plan document can be as simple or detailed as occupancy and/or operational factors dictate.

The import issue here is that you HAVE Pre-Incident Plan documents available for at the very least targeted or high hazard occupancies and buildings, and that they have been updated at some periodic frequency. There’s nothing worst that arriving at a particular box alarm, pulling open the pre-fire “binder” and finding the occupancy was last planned twenty years ago at best.

The 2007 Deutsche Bank Building fire in lower Manhattan, New York City that resulted in the LODD of FDNY Fr. Joseph Graffagnino and Fr. Robert Beddia, stressed the need for timely and accurate pre-incident plans, when a seven alarm fire progressed through the 40 story high-rise building that was in the process of being deconstructed.An informative Training PDF download is attached that provides Operational Safety Considerations at Demolition and Deconstruction sites.

The full power-point version is available for direct download HERE.

Think about your Buildings and Occupancies and correlate your incident operations using an effect acronym called BECOME SAFE.

Our world has evolved and changed. There are a variety of technological and sociological demands that create a continuing element of change in the built environment and our infrastructure. With these changes and demands come the requirements to assess these vulnerabilities, hazards, threats and dangers with effective and dynamic risk management and competent command and control.

These changes influence the way we do business in the street, the interface-up close and personal with the buildings in your community and equate to the risks and hazards you and your personnel will be confronted with and the level of safety afforded them during incident operations. Dynamic Risk and Command Management and the integration of BECOME SAFE concepts, ingredients for safer operations.

  • Building
  • Evaluation
  • Construction/Occupancy
  • Operational Hazards
  • Manage Time and Elements
  • Engagement
  • Situational Awareness
  • Assessment and Risk Analysis
  • Fire Behavior and Effects
  • Evaluate and Execute


With the advancements in technology, software and programs, there is a vast extent of options and financial levels available to all organizations to develop publish and revise pre-incident planning documents. The key safety message here is that Pre-Fire Plans and Incident Plans can provide a significant margin of support to you during incident operations and can increase firefighter safety, reduce operational risk and aid in the risk management and command management of a give incident.

Regardless of your agency and respond district size, complexity of simplicity, Pre-Incident Plans are a necessary part of modern firefighting and all-hazards operations. An informative planning flow chart is available within the NFPA 1620 document, Figure 4.2.3. ( Order the NFPA 1620 document through the NFPA (HERE)

  • Attached is a copy of the Tempe, AZ Fire Department Pre-Incident Planning SOP
  • The Phoenix, AZ Fire Department Pre-Incident Planning SOP is available HERE
  • An informative Pre-Fire Planning article by Battalion Chief Michael Lee is available HERE

Spend time touring through construction sites as you monitor the progress of a building or occupancy going up.

Look at the manner in which structural support systems are fabricated and assembled. Observe the types of materials that are being used and how they are assembled to form rooms and compartments within the structure.

Take a good look at the manner in which floor and roof systems are constructed, these will become mission critical informational items that can be used to determine your operational profile and formulate your incident action plans. Keep abreast of changes, renovations and alternations to buildings and structures, especially as commercial and business occupancies change owners. These are special areas of concerns on wide latitude of safety and operational considerations.

With the continued challenges in these economic times, pay very close attention to the state of your vacant and unoccupied structures. A change in strategic and tactical deployment considerations MUST be instituted; it shouldn’t be business as usual in these structures.

  • Keep apprised of different types of building materials and construction used in your community.
  • Document those conditions and aspects and train your personnel to understand the occupancies within your community.
  • Understand the Structural AnatomyTM of your buildings and occupancies.
  • The operative response to the opening question this time next year will be this: “What do you “really” know about the buildings in your district?” …The answer will hopefully be…”A lot!”

Are you keeping up the latest construction terminology, materials and methods? Changes are you are not. But I can assure you, somewhere in your community, jurisdiciton, first, second or third-due or mutual aid area; there is new construction features, systems, components and materials being used that will affect the manner you which a structural fire will need to be addressed; The Rules of Structural Fire Suppression have changed- but know has told you…yet.

Of the many issues affecting the Fire Service, the prevailing challenge that has a pronounced impact on operational safety is the assimilation of engineered structural systems (ESS) into mainstream building design and construction. The presence of engineered structural systems (ESS) are no longer considered to be an innocuous feature in a given building or occupancy; it is the predominate feature in nearly all current construction, renovation and adaptive reuse or infill applications. It has become far more than just concerning ourselves with the presence of a simple light-weight or “engineered” truss roof system or a wood I-beam floor assembly.

There is a new lexicon of building construction components and systems that must be added to your operational safety vocabulary and incident action plans. There is a new terminology, applications and a knowledge base to learn that will support operational excellence and support the integrity of incident safety performance of companies and personnel. Do you know what they represent and how these components, assemblies and systems may affect or influence an incident?

Take a tour of your local construction sites; You’ll be surprised what you’ll see

The fire service continues to apply the term “light weight construction” to a wide variety of building construction and systems. This expression has become a miss-application of both term and the correlation of risk and severity related to operational profiling. In other words, we apply and express the use of “light weight construction” for all types of engineered components, systems, designs and assemblies in nearly all types of building construction and occupancy use.

Although the roots of the term can be traced back to the early 1980′s, and its application to the (then) emerging use of trussed roofing systems and the advent of wood I-beam floor supports (sans solid dimensional lumber joists), the use of the terminology in today’s context of risk assessment, strategic and tactical management and deployment models and within the context of incident operational tactics is no longer applicable, valid or suitable. It must be expanded into a more specific and descriptive level of classification and correlation.

For the most part, when discussing buildings and occupancies, aside from classifications related to code type or class as an element of fire resistance; the emphasis has been to differentiate between conventional and engineered construction, and the application of the term “light weight construction”. I continue advocating and promoting through my lectures that it’s much more than this when looking at the spectrum of construction and the structural anatomy of buildings. Current and past generations of buildings, construction and occupancies can be more accurately differentiated and classified within six (6) expanding categories in the following Building Construction Systems;

  • Heritage: Pre-1900
  •  Legacy: 1900-1949
  • Conventional: 1950-1979
  • Engineered: 1980-current 2011
  • Blended Hybrid: 2005- current 2011

We’ll discuss these six classifications in greater details in a series of future postings and expand the level of details on the and sites.

Our current generation of buildings, construction and occupancies are not as predictable as past “conventional” construction, therefore risk assessment, strategies and tactics must change to address the advancement of new rules of combat structural fire engagement. But if you don’t understand or know what and how those changes in predictability have occurred, you may be operating with a false sense of operational risk and safety margin.

It’s a Lot More than just talking about “Light Weight” Construction….

  • From Plywood-CDX….to
  • Particle Board- PB…;
  • Orient Strand Board-OSB
  • Structural Composite Lumber- SCL
  • Laminate Strand Lumber- LSL
  • Laminate Veneer Lumber-LVL
  • Structural Insulated Panels-SIP
  • Parallel Strand Lumber-PSL
  • Machine Stress Rated Lumber- MSR
  • Medium Density Fiberboard-MDF and MDL (Lumber)
  • Finger Jointed Lumber-FJL
  • Adhesives…..
  • Do some research and check these terms out for starters.
  • We’ll talk more about these components and assemblies in the near future. So get busyover the next few days during Safety Week and discover the implications these components may have in your community….

New Materials, New Construction; New Problems

Here’s a link to a past informative posting related to engineered systems and their relationship to firefighter safety and operations, HERE.

There’s some great contributed information and manufacturer “insights” on the subject engineered wood I-joists and beams and firefighter safety. There are some interesting statistical extrapolations, correlations and conveniences’ that attempt to make the case. But then again, You be the judge.

Take at look at the presentation developed by the American Forest and Paper Association, HERE and HERE.

If you haven’t done so yet, don’t forget to check out the free online training program on Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions at the UL University developed and provided by Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), HERE and Tactical Patience and the New Considerations of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction

Here’s a series of other important Reference Links that provide some insights on operational safety, incident conditions and factors and the lessons-learned from a number of LODD events;

  • NIOSH Publication No. 2009-114: Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters Working Above Fire-Damaged Floors HERE
  • NIOSH Publication No. 2005-132: Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters Due to Truss System Failures HERE
  • Volunteer Deputy Fire Chief Dies after Falling Through Floor Hole in Residential Structure during Fire Attack—Indiana, HERE
  • First-floor collapse during residential basement fire claims the life of two fire fighters (career and volunteer) and injures a career fire fighter captain – New York, Report HERE
  • Career Fire Fighter Dies After Falling Through the Floor Fighting a Structure Fire at a Local Residence – Ohio, HERE
  • Colerain Township, Ohio Double LODD Preliminary Report, HERE
  • Career engineer dies and fire fighter injured after falling through floor while conducting a primary search at a residential structure fire – Wisconsin, HERE
  • NFPA Report on Light Weight Construction, HERE
  • Informative USFA Coffee Break series postings related to Building Types & Fire Resistance: HERE. HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE

Just Look Over your Shoulder….

I’ve commented with more than a few postings on the issues related to engineer building construction components and assemblies. I posed some questions related to Engineered Structural Assemblies & Systems (ESS) and asked if you knew what they represent and how these components, assemblies and systems may affect or influence incident operations.

I also presented some information on the pioneering efforts and quantitative results of the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) engineers and fire service representatives from the Chicago Fire Department, HERE and HERE.

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading through the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, LODD Reports or have invested time and effort to look through the data base of near miss reports and ROTW at the National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System, you’d recognize the magnitude of the issues and multi-faceted challenges confronting the U.S. Fire Services in the areas of engineered structural assemblies, components and building features.

Paul Comb’s editorial image provides a poignant and distressing reality that the fire service needs to come to terms with, addressing and implementing the necessary components that assimilating refined combat firefighting techniques and methodologies; that align with the risks and hazards presented by current and emerging construction techniques, materials and consumer lifestyles that comprise our buildings and occupancies. We need to start looking over our shoulders; we need redefined strategies and tactics for today’s buildings and occupancies. When we do have the opportunity to engage in firefighting with the dragon; we may not recognize the dragon has changed, it has evolved. Yet we stand poised to engage or take-on the dragon with faulted incident operations, strategic plans and tactical intentions that provide less than adequate results.

In those situations where we are deficient or we achieved less than expected results, we continue to miss the apparent or root causes and fall back on perceived notions and excuses. Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety; Understanding today’s building construction, fire dynamics, fire loading and behaviors and instituting appropriate firefighting methodologies, we can achieve safe and successful fireground operations.

Better Look Over your Shoulder

  •  Have you and your company, battalion or department discussed limiting factors, enhanced firefighting tactics or operational experiences related to engineered systems, past fires, observed new construction or renovations and what it all means to your assigned duties or company assignments?
  • Are you and your company adequately trained to address “modern” construction, occupancies and conditions or is a much bigger dragon lurking in the shadows?

Remember, the Predictability of Performance and the combat firefighting based upon Occupancy Risk not Occupany Type.


Remember its Occupancy RISK not Occupancy TYPE

Here’s the New Formula for Fire Fighter Safety ; Bk = f2S; Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety



There’s another factor contributing to unsafe practices, one that we rarely talk about. In short, we need to stop “entertaining” ourselves during fire suppression operations and instead focus on comprehending and reacting to evolving risks. Rather than practicing appropriate risk management, it is suggested that some individuals employ adverse behaviors that occur on a tactical level while Incident Commanders and Company Officers believe firefighters are completing their assigned tasks, thus compromising accountability.

These behaviors include;

Tactical amusement: engaging in any practice or tactic during fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk for the sake of entertainment.

Tactical diversion: diverting from an assignment while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations in such a way that places personnel at risk.

Tactical circumvention: deliberately “getting around” an assignment or disregarding risk assessment and incident action plans.


Here’s the expanded versions in case this is the first time you’ve seen them;

TACTICAL AMUSEMENT*tak-ti-kəl ə- *myüz-mənt

1: of or relating to structural fireground tactics: as a (1) a means of amusing or entertaining during fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk

2: the condition of being amused while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk

3: pleasurable diversion while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations: entertainment; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL DIVERSION*tak-ti-kəl də- *vər-zhən

1: the reckless act or an instance of diverting from an assignment, task, operation or activity while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operation for the sake of amusing or entertainment; that places personnel at risk

2: the reckless act of self determined task operations that diverts or amuses from defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL CIRCUMVENTION*tak-ti-kəl sər-kəm- *ven(t)-shən

1: to deliberately manage to get around especially by ingenuity or approach that diverts for the purpose of amusing; assignment, operations or tasks that countermand or disregard defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk


TACTICAL PATIENCE (NEW) This is a new one that’s called Tactical Patience…I’ll post more on Tactical Patience later this month.

If we’re going to reduce firefighter injuries and deaths, we must be doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons, and in the right place. We must stop the entertainment.

” The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. Fire suppression tactics must be adjusted for the rapidly changing methods and materials impacting all forms of building construction, occupancies and structures.

The need to redefine the art and science of firefighting is nearly upon us. Some things do stand the test of time, others need to adjust, evolve and change.

Not for the sake of change only, but for the emerging and evolving buildings, structures and occupancies being built, developed or renovated in our communities.

It’s no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations.

Aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environments, while maintaining the values and tradition that defines the fire service.”

Remember one thing…Don’t ever under estimate what you might encounter on any structure fire, or what might change in a second; focus on the Occupancy Risk not the Occupancy Type….. And Know your buildings, your team and your capabilities



Remembering FDNY Black Sunday…Multiple Firefighter LODDs January 23, 2005


Chicago: Anatomy of a Building and its Collapse


Anatomy of a Building and Its Collapse

If you have not had a chance to look over the emerging website,…take some time to explore…its still under construction, with a wealth of information, research and data today’s Firefighter, Company Officer and command Officer need to know.

The authoritative and informational site that provides leading insights on fire service issues related to Building Construction for the Fire Service, Firefighting Operations and Command Risk Management for Operational Excellence and Firefighter Safety.

  • Link HERE

  • coupled with it’s companion sites and will continue to provide prominent and timely information to support the continuing traditions and missions of the Fire and Emergency Services.

Filed Under: BuildingsonFireIn the StreetsSafety & Survival


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