Training Tip: Build a House in 30 Minutes
Lt. Brad French
Almost every jurisdiction in the United States has some form of active building construction going on at any given time. Whether it be a new housing development on the edge of town, some urban in-fill housing spattered throughout an older residential district, or just simply a random house going up on a long-empty lot in an established neighborhood, firefighters often don’t have to look far to find a construction site filled with training opportunities. While studying time-tested manuals and books in the fire service can provide a great deal of insight into building construction (if you don’t know who Frank Brannigan is, it’s time to Google him…), kicking down that comfortable recliner and getting out into your district often provides for a much more lasting and impactful lesson. And better yet, you’re seeing the construction features and layouts of YOUR actual structures; not theoretical buildings or examples in a book from another city.
One of the best ways to understand the many elements of modern residential construction is to visit a housing development under construction. During the active construction phase, which depending upon the size of the housing tract can last for several years, a fire crew can see a house “built” from bare foundation, to rough frame, to interior finish, to completed, all in the span of about 30 minutes of walking around into various similar units in the area. Crews can get a close-up look at concepts such as gusset plates that hold together lightweight truss roof members, finger-jointed wall studs, engineered wooden I-beams, and structural insulated panels (SIPs). Younger members that are unfamiliar with the “guts” of a house can gain a frame of reference about void spaces, pipe chases, knee walls, soffits, utility meters, and many other features that will come in handy when that next fire comes along. In addition to construction-related discussion, the company officer can guide a quick lesson on common house layouts, typical stairwell configurations, likely bedroom locations, patterns of inward vs. outward door swing for different types of rooms, and the accompanying victim search and tactical fire operation options that are possible for each house that the crew checks out.
Keep in mind, of course, professional courtesy with any on-site construction workers, and the privacy of any residents already living in the neighborhood. Although workers and neighbors alike are usually open and agreeable to the local fire service responders checking out the new development, it’s typically best to speak to a site foreman and/or any inquisitive neighbors that are in the area. Wear a helmet if entering an active construction site, and make sure not to track mud or mess into someone’s new home. A residential neighborhood under construction is an extremely simple, zero-cost, impactful training opportunity for your crew. Get out there and walk around in your buildings!