Knowledge of building construction types is one of the most important things for a firefighter. It allows predicting collapse patterns and tendencies, determining severity of fire by looking out for smoke factors, and selecting which safety measures to use. Five major types of building construction are defined and agreed upon ICC (International Codes Council) and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) within the Standard on Types of Construction (CDIS, 2006).
Type 1 Construction: Fire-Resistive
This type of construction is represented by the tallest building in Colorado Springs, Wells Fargo Tower, 90 South Cascade Avenue (Figure 1). The first specific feature is its high-rise structure, made of concrete and fire-resistant steel (the building was built in 1990, has 15 floors, and is more than 250 feet high). The hazards of this building with regard to the firefighting operations are as follows: although this construction is the most capable of holding fire for a long time at bay in a floor or room of origin, the challenges are providing for ventilation, need to have a good knowledge of stairwells and internal structures (Frassetto, 2012).
Type 2 Construction: Noncombustible
An example of this type of building construction is a warehouse located 6055 Terminal Avenue, Colorado Springs (Company name: Haman Enterprises at Powers). This building was built in 2014 with the same materials as fire-resistive buildings. It is thought to hold heat well (CDIS, 2006). The hazard of this building with regard to the firefighting operations is as follows: Metal decking roof is not an easy ventilation task, with its several layers of roofing paper, insulation, and neoprene, as well as tar and grave (Frassetto, 2012).
Type 3 Construction: Ordinary
An example of this construction type is an apartment building located 830 Vindicator Dr, Colorado Springs (Figure 3). This building is of a newer kind of ordinary constructions. It has masonry walls and some timber constructions within, as well as has three stories. Hazards for firefighting operations include: fire-resistance may range from zero to one hour, structural elements are combustible; truss systems in roof will rapidly fall with the direct impingement of fire; need to use safety measures and remain on structural members or ledger walls (Frassetto, 2012).
Type 4 Construction: Heavy Timber
An example of this construction type has been found in Denver, Colorado. The building of Old Spaghetti Factory, located on 18th Street, today is a restaurant (Figure 4). The building was originally constructed at the end of the 19th century as an industrial building; it has thick red-brick walls; big pieces of wood as structural components; big wooden door, etc (CDIS, 2006).
The hazards of this building with regard to the firefighting operations are as follows: although this building is likely to adequately hold up under the conditions of fire, firefighters should not have a false sense of security, because the building is old enough, may have termites and is subject to weathering conditions, so it may collapse earlier than expected; decking is thicker than expected, which means ventilation hole will take more time to complete (Frassetto, 2012).
Type 5 Construction: Wood-Framed
Examples of building construction of this type are found in Austin Park, apartment homes 597-1657, Colorado Springs. The single family dwelling in the photo illustrates a typical wood-framed modern home of type 5 (Figure 5). It refers to this type of building construction because of its characteristics: walls and the roof are all made of combustible materials; the walls are wood framed and the rooftops are all ceramic tile, placed over rather lightweight trusses. The hazards of this building with regard to the firefighting operations are as follows: if direct fire impingement happens, the lightweight building construction will fail within just minutes (Frassetto, 2012). Fire resistance of this construction is limited. Constructed using the platform method of construction, this building heavily relies on trusses, which conduct heat. When heated too much, trusses disrupt, loose grip on the wood, and, as a result, destabilize the structure. Firefighting operations will be complicated by absence of rooftop ventilation, need to remove the tiles for ventilation, excessive use of combustible materials (CDIS, 2006).
In summary, awareness of each of the aforementioned construction types and ability to distinguish between them is essential for any firefighter. Not only will it help act in critical circumstances with great effectiveness, but it will also help save human lives, including those of firefighters.
- Center for Distance and Independent Study (2006). Principles of building construction. Retrieved from https://services.online.missouri.edu/
- Frasetto, R. (February 2012). Understanding building construction types. Fire Rescue Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.firefighternation.com/