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Previously in my fire service career I took a college course on Dr. Francis Brannigan’s book Building Construction for the Fire Service. As a Company Officer, I feel it never hurts to gain new information, so I recently took a class on Lightweight Construction.  

One of the first slides in the new course quoted Dr. Brannigan’s book “the building is your enemy, know your enemy” the course continued with another quote, “...buildings constructed with lightweight wood trusses should be considered by firefighters as disposable and not worth a firefighters life.”  

The course instructor and I, knowing each other for eight years have a mutual respect. As I sat there intuitively listening and he proceeded to the next slide, I decided not to hold back.  I politely raised my hand and explained, “Brannigan has given a lot to our fire service but I have to disagree with those two statements.”  

There are others out there that agree, just look at the blogs, FireServiceWarrior for one pretty much said the same thing a couple years ago.

The building is not our enemy, the enemy is and always will be the fire. The building is our battleground and we must familiarize ourselves with the battleground.  Building construction is a vital aspect of our profession.  If we understand it than we know how to operate within and manipulate it to make our enemy, do what we want it to, ultimately go out.  If buildings were our adversary one could make the argument that we are allies with the fire.  If that was the case our firehouses would have drotts and wrecking balls to aid the fire in destroying the building. 

When the military goes to battle they intensely research the environment they will operate in to give them the best chance at defeating their enemy.  Frequently the military is fighting on the enemy’s “home field.” One could argue the fire has a “home field” advantage on us. Buildings should not be written off because they are built with lightweight construction. Citizens invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into their dream home, just because lightweight manufactured products are used shouldn’t prevent us from fighting a smart aggressive interior attack.  Studying building construction principles, preplanning and getting out in your first due to look at what is being built, will allow us to do so.  Knowing how fire is going to behave and knowing the warning signs of failure will allow us to safely and effectively operate in buildings constructed with lightweight products.   

Other than the two statements above, Brannigans book gives us pertinent information on the battleground we will be facing. Some highlights include, information on how the buildings are constructed, methods used and no longer used, history of building construction and more importantly information on how buildings possibly act when fire is impinging on them. This is why Brannigans book and class on building construction are still important for firefighters at all levels to read and study.

Take classes, get out in your first due, train, talk at the kitchen table, pass along the knowledge and make the first service better for the next generation.

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