FIRE STUDIES >>>
By JAMES P. SMITH
Frame Buildings: The Longer They Burn,
The Weaker They Become
Knowledge of Construction Aids in Predicting Routes of Fire Travel
t was 4 P.M. as the firefighters arrived.
Medium to heavy smoke was coming
from the second floor of a two-story
balloon-frame apartment building. The
building was over 100 years old and in a
rundown condition. It was in a block of
similar rental properties that had received
little maintenance in recent years.
The fire was reported in a second-floor
rear apartment. The first hoseline was
stretched up the interior stairs at the front
of the building. The second-floor hallway
was long and packed down with smoke.
On the floor in the hallway, firefighters
found a young woman with a child strug-
gling to get to the stairs. She told them it
was her apartment that was on fire and
that no one else was in the apartment.
They assisted her to the stairs and another
firefighter took them to safety.
As they crawled down the hallway to
stay under the heat, the firefighters could
Even sufficient fire department staffing does not ensure controlling a fire in its incipient stage if the fire
now see the flames pushing through the department is not notified in a timely manner.
smoke from the slightly opened apartment
door. They could hear the sound of glass advanced, knocking down the fire in the The types of frame buildings are:
being broken by the truck companies and other rooms. • Balloon frame – This system uses a
the smoke in the hallway started to lift as As the firefighters were doing a pri- continuous wall stud from the lowest level
the windows in the apartment were vent- mary search, the captain notified the chief through the roof area. It interconnects the
ing the smoke and fire to the exterior. of their progress. The chief was concerned void space created by the floor joist at each
An apartment door across the hallway about fire entering the walls or ceiling be- level of the building with the wall void
opened and was quickly slammed shut, cause of the balloon-frame construction. spaces. Fire-stopping is rare. In actuality,
and the elderly woman in that apartment A truck company firefighter had a pike the entire void space within the building
began to shout for help. The firefighters pole and the captain had her pull the ceil- is one large interconnected area. A fire
told her to stay inside and she would be ing to check for fire extension in areas that starting on a lower level and entering wall
safe. At the same time, the captain alerted showed up on the thermal imager. There or floor voids can quickly extend to the
the chief of her location. Water was now was minor extension of fire into the walls attic. Though this type of construction is
at the tip and the nozzleman pushed open and ceiling that was quickly extinguished. no longer used, there are many balloon-
the door and played the stream in a circu- frame-constructed buildings in commu-
lar motion onto the ceiling of the burn- Wood-Frame Construction nities throughout the United States.
ing apartment. The hoseline was then A wood-frame building is one in • Platform frame – The most com-
fed from the hallway as the nozzle man which all members are wooden or a simi- mon type of new frame construction is
lar material. Frame buildings contain fea- the platform frame. It starts at the lowest
JAMES P. SMITH, a Firehouse ® contributing editor,
recently retired as a deputy chief of the Philadelphia Fire tures that can assist or impair firefighters’ level where the floor joist and flooring are
Department. He is an adjunct instructor at the National abil