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Date: January 08, 2015 Author: Brandon Winters

From a distance, many burning buildings look the same: plumes of smoke rise through the air and flames can be seen leaping in and around the structure. However, this is where the similarities between building fires end. For firefighters, one of the main differences between a blaze in one building and a fire in another depends on building structure. Fire and rescue missions are commonly impacted by elements of building construction listed below.

For an in-depth look at the following elements that affect firefighting and rescue missions, read Structural Fire Fighting: Truck Company Skills & Tactics, 2nd Ed., available from Firebooks.  

Number of Occupied Floors

It is important to distinguish between the number of floors in a building and the number of occupied floors. Firefighters don’t need to rescue people from unoccupied floors, so they need to know how many floors of a building are occupied before they begin the firefighting and rescue effort. The less occupied floors a building has, the easier it generally is to evacuate building occupants to safety using the emergency egress paths (i.e., exit stairwells) in a building.   

Number of Emergency Egress Paths

Emergency egress paths are the stairwells that building occupants descend to reach a building exit. Typically used for fire evacuations, the paths -- which contain emergency exit lighting -- are also used in the event of blackouts. It is important for a building to have enough emergency egress paths according to municipal zoning regulations. Otherwise, evacuees can create “bottlenecks” as they try to push their way to safety using available stairwells.

Condition of Emergency Egress Paths

In addition to the number of emergency egress paths, the condition of the paths is also important. As of 2010, 43 states had adopted a version of the NFPA’s Life Safety Code (a.k.a. NFPA 101), which requires emergency egress paths to be outlined with luminescent tape if the building is occupied above 75 feet from the level of fire department vehicle access.

Because luminescent tape glows in the presence of smoke, it can help expedite evacuations, and indicate the presence of building elements that are important to firefighters, such as fire hose and standpipe units, assisted rescue areas, and roof access.   

Presence of Assisted Rescue Areas

Large buildings often contain designated assisted rescue areas where building occupants who cannot traverse stairwells can receive assistance evacuating. Assisted rescue areas do more than help semi-mobile building occupants escape to safety; they also help emergency egress traffic run smoothly in stairwells by helping to keep those who can’t efficiently use stairwells out of the crowd as it heads for the exit.

Number of Building Exits

Building exits are similar to emergency egress paths: the more of them a building contains, the more likely building occupants are to evacuate without experiencing shoving, trampling, and bottlenecks near the exits. The number of building exits a structure must contain may be governed by local, state and federal rules and regulations pertaining to building structure.   

Brush Up on Your Knowledge

Several elements of building construction impact the approach of firefighting and rescue missions, particularly: number of occupied floors, number of emergency egress paths, condition of emergency egress paths, presence of assisted rescue areas and number of building exits. If you are a firefighter truck operator who needs to prepare for these contingencies and others, order Structural Fire Fighting: Truck Company Skills & Tactics, 2nd Ed., from Firebooks today.

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