Frame Buildings: The Longer They Burn, The Weaker They Become

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					                       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

 I
       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.




                                                                                                                                                                                 Brian Feeney
 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
				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: Balloon frame and platform frame are the most common types of frame construction. The wall studs are normally two-by-four-inch lumber set 16 inches apart. The bearing walls support the structure and can be any of the exterior walls, depending on the layout of the building. Since standard framing lumber comes in a maximum of 20 -foot lengths, the building is typically designed so that the floor and roof joists sit on exterior bearing walls constructed of wooden members.
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