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Just as the car industry has reinvented itself with the “Hybrid” vehicle, today’s Main Streets have reinvented themselves by renovating nineteenth century structures by adding and renovations thus breathing life into their respective downtown areas.

Large enclosed malls built in the 1960’s led to the demise of many old downtown districts, and just like everything else our desires become cyclical and consumers are again favoring business districts that are outside and incorporate sidewalks and individuality…..The New Main Street.

So, how does this affect the fire service? It basically necessitates the need to know what Francis Brannigan described as the sixth building type, “The Hybrid”. NFPA 220 which defines building types, does not formally recognize hybrids with a specific class but as we get out into our “Main Streets” we will find many facelifts and new fronts using modern construction techniques surrounding older legacy type original construction.

Mixing of these building type is allowed in most jurisdictions as long as there is some type of separation, we as firefighters all know the limitations created in these separations by poke holes and pipe chases. An Example of would be a building that incorporates TYPE III and Type V methodologies.

If the new construction blanketing the old is protected by sprinklers we will be in luck, but remember the existing sections may not be retrofitted with the new system and the fire may not decide where it wants to start and extend.

Commanders need to recon and see where the fire is at, is it in the legacy part where interior attack and operations can take place or is it already advanced in the modern area of the structure affecting the lightweight supports? The ERA of the building area is the key! Site visits and a constant eye on your Main Street renovations are the key, keep an eye on your local news as these renovations and additions are heavily publicized by politicians and local commerce groups. Younger members may see the new frontage and think only lightweight construction and think along that line, it is up to veterans to mentor and instruct problems of the hybrid.

The picture below is an excellent example of a "Main Street" Hybrid, this furniture business on my Main Street began in the late 1930s in the nineteenth century residence you see in the picture additions were added through the 2000s. The addition on the far right is protected but the older sections are not, a fire attack in this large building begins with knowing where the fire is currently, where it is likely traveling, and correct ERA construction involved.

This example depicts the new voids created with the modernization of a building originally constructed in the mid- 1800s, the white square access panels now hide a large void on the A side of the building, also; the original tin ceiling has been restored and a larger ceiling height is created which can mask true heat conditions upon entering the front. More new headaches for an IC, but the key is to be ahead of the game by education and knowledge prior to the fire. Be Safe.

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