Know Your Enemy: Building Construction for Firefighters

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Know Your Enemy: Building Construction for Firefighters


Gordon Graham
Category: Fire

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for fire service personnel. 

“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

2500 years ago, Sun Tzu said, “Know the enemy and know yourself.” 50 years ago, Frank Brannigan put pen to paper and wrote, “The building is your enemy, know your enemy.” These admonitions continue to ring true. 

The world of firefighting is more complex today than it was in the 1970s. The mission scope has increased beyond simply extinguishing fires. EMS, technical rescue, and response to terror events are just a few of the additions. But today I want to talk about the original mission: extinguishing fires.  

Buildings and vehicles have changed in many ways. Fully electric vehicles run on a type of battery that can make vehicle fires difficult to extinguish. Buildings have been made of wood forever, but about 30 years ago we started to see the impact of lightweight wood frame construction. Now, mass timber construction has made its debut and is included in the 2021 International Building Code.  

Have you immersed yourself in learning about the idiosyncrasies of hybrid and electric vehicles? Do you understand how mass timber buildings are constructed and how that affects fire spread? If not, then you ought to start now. These are your new enemies. You need to know whether they require new or modified strategies and tactics.  

Make it part of your training regimen to go out in your response area to look at new construction and renovations. Look for odd or inconsistent features that will affect your strategy and tactics. Update your preplans, training manuals, and procedures to keep up with these changes.  

Allow me to conclude with the final line of Sun Tzu’s quote: “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off. 

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