Last month I was visiting a friend and he gave me a tour of the new house he and his wife were building. It was a standard ranch style house, and at 1200sqft it would be considered modest in comparison to the 3500sqft mc mansions that were so common just a few years ago.
Dave and his wife are approaching retirement and as we walked through the house he pointed out the amenities that would make things easier for them as they aged. He showed me how the vanities are taller, requiring less bending and effort to brush their teeth, the toilet was taller, and there was a seat in the shower. The laundry room is on the first floor and the doors to enter the house and the bedrooms are wider to accommodate wheelchairs.
Although I enjoyed the tour, as a firefighter my focus kept reverting to the overall construction of the house. The walls and floors were built from oriented strand board (OSB). The floor was supported by an engineered I-beam, commonly referred to as an I-Joists or TJI. The beam was built with 2×3 inch headers with OSB sandwiched in between – known as the web. These beams have become popular because of their low cost and high strength; that is until they are exposed to fire. I took particular note of the number of holes that were drilled into the web of the I-beam by plumbers, electricians, and the heating and ventilation contractors. The holes varied in size, location – top, middle, and low, as well as their proximity to one another – all affecting the integrity of the beam.
Over the years a great deal of attention has been given to gusset plates and the light weight construction of roofs. However, on nearly a daily basis we can find a story about firefighters falling into a basement because the floor or the I-beam gave way. These newer methods of construction may be cost effective and stronger, but we must recognize that they lose their strength quickly when exposed to fire.
Let’s face it, people today have more stuff and a great deal of that stuff is made in part by petroleum or other synthetic products – fires are burning hotter and faster. The most dangerous place to be is above the fire. Ask yourself, what is under me? Don’t be a moth to the light, it is important to maintain situational awareness, constantly assessing what is happening around us. Here are some examples of the questions we should be asking ourselves. Are things getting better or are they getting worse? How long have we been inside? Do we have a plan B? Has a second egress been established, and do I know how to get to it? How much air do I have? Is it getting hotter?
As an interior officer my priority is the safety of my team, however, I am only one member of that team. We all must help each other. If you notice a change in conditions, share that knowledge with the other members of the team. You may pick up on something that the other members missed.

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