Operational Safety at Buildings Under Renovation

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F_rSeUQQYM

A multiple alarm fire consumed the county courthouse in downtown Pittsboro, North Carolina yesterday. The building was undergoing renovations at the time of the fire and was occupied and operational. The fire started in the clock tower of the 130-yr.-old building and is believed to have been caused by welders.  The entire building was undergoing renovation with the outside enclosed with scaffolding. 

The clock tower had a protective tarp wrapped around it that preventing outside hose streams from reaching the seat of the fire. The fire broke out at 4:45 p.m., according to county and court officials, shortly after court sessions had ended. All who worked in the building were evacuated safely, according to county officials, and no injuries had been reported late Thursday. According to published reports, the courthouse, the centerpiece of the Pittsboro downtown, was built in stages. It was initially constructed in 1881 at a cost of $10,666, according to Paul Shield Crane’s first edition of “North Carolina Taproots: Courthouses of North Carolina.” In 1930, another story was added to the brick building and, in 1959, there was an extensive renovation that cost $130,000.

Bottom line, buildings undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations can pose significant risk to suppression operations and lead to firefighter injuries and fatalities. This can not be stressed enough.

The unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences, requires a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation. You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.

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The following are assessment considerations that may provide insights in the assessment, risk profile and development of pre-fire plans, operational procedures and field directives to prevent history repeating events (HRE) with similar conditions and attributes;

 Construction Type

  • What is the construction type or mixed application? How does this affect suppression, rescue, special operations and typical daily operations?
  • Stage and/or Phase of construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations
  • The Stage and/or phase of construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovation has, SIGNIFICANT impact on firefighter safety and operational integrity.
  • Understanding these stages and phases can provide mission critical decision-making considerations to incident management teams and company officers.

 Site conditions and accessibility

  • Considerations for both horizontal, vertical and grade conditions.
  • Considerations during changes in stages and phases. Expect changes
  • Conduct periodic command and company level inspections and walk-throughÂ’s

 Exposures

  • These will be specific to the commonality or uniqueness of the structure and occupancy.

 Resources

  • Do you have enough of whatÂ’s going to be needed? Plan for it now, before youÂ’re in the street needing it “yesterday”.
  • Think BIG, as the adage goes, you can always send the companies back. DonÂ’t under estimate the types and kind of resources needs, based upon the structure profile and the potential of undetermined conditions. (reinforces need for pre-planning)
  • Share the Knowledge, Situational Awareness and Pre-planning inf
    ormation with other agencies (resources) you may call upon to support escalating or multiple alarm events.

 Operating procedures
Again, response and operations at these types of structures demands that pre-fire plan considerations, dialog, discussions, communications and what ever else is appropriate to you organization is identified and disseminated BEFORE an alarm response occurs. Take advantage of pre-gaming and table top a target occupancy, to increase preparedness and reduce risk potential.

  • Conduct periodic command and company level inspections and walk-throughÂ’s
  • Update the plans as conditions change
  • Share the information with other agencies (resources) you may call upon to support escalating or multiple alarm events.

 Knowledge and Situational Awareness

  • Understand, explore, research and obtain ALL the necessary information on the structure(s) undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations
  • Conduct periodic command and company level inspections and walk-throughÂ’s
  • Communicate the observations, findings, conditions and considerations.

 Communications

  • What ever you identify- COMMUNICATE this throughout the organization.
    Share the information with other agencies (resources) you may call upon to support escalating or multiple alarm events.

 Special and Unique Conditions

  • Identify and plan for the Special and Unique Conditions that may exclusive to you jurisdictionÂ’s structure undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations.

 Contingency Plans

  • Plan of the unexpected and have contingent plans in place.

 The magnitude and complexity of an incident involving a structure undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations will be directly proportional to the size of the building/construction site and corresponding age profile (vintage) of the existing building, if under renovation, and degree of construction. Operational deployment and the Incident Action Plan- IAP must be addressed during strategic and tactical incident management, risk profiling and pre-incident and on-scene intelligence, reconnaissance and planning considerations: More HERE

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