Lightweight construction and firefighter safety
New methods of construction negatively impact firefighter safety under fire conditions. Studies point to the failure of lightweight engineered wood systems routinely used in floors and roofs of new homes. (Read an NFPA Journal feature, "It’s not lightweight construction. It's what happens when lightweight construction meets fire."July/August 2009.) These structures are prone to catastrophic collapse as early as six minutes from the onset of fire. Passive protection of these assemblies will not solve the problem.
Lightweight construction is not the only danger to firefighters. New homes often contain modern furnishings made of mainly synthetic materials which, in a fire, can create a highly toxic environment, greater fuel load, and faster fire propagation. Fire sprinklers provide added safety to firefighters, protecting structural stability and maintaining tenability by preventing flashover, allowing fire crews to conduct search and rescue operations and perform an offensive fire attack.
The dangers of lightweight construction
NFPA has created a Powerpoint® presentation that you can use to help educate your community's decision-makers and the public about the dangers of lightweight construction materials under fire conditions. The presentation, "The Threats of Lightweight Construction and Modern Furnishings to Firefighters", features the stories of two incidents in which firefighters were killed or seriously injured in homes built according to the lightweight construction model. It also includes data that shows that home fire sprinklers lessen the dangers posed by lightweight construction.
Firefighter fatalities in residential structures
Following are "death in the line of duty" reports from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that detail fire fire fatalities at residential structures.