If you intend to make a career in the fire services, one of the topics you’ll need to study is building construction as it relates to fires and fire fighting. The term ‘building’ describes any habitable construction built for human purposes. Buildings are used for a range of purposes. There are residential buildings, warehouses, commercial buildings, church and school buildings, storage buildings, arenas and gymnasiums, farmhouses, museums and theaters, shopping malls and much more. In fact, nearly every modern commercial and non-commercial activity requires a building. The building may be a single storey or it may be a sprawling skyscraper with hundreds of stories. Each of these types of building reacts differently to fires due to their construction materials, and their contents.
Ancient buildings were small huts made of thatch, hay, stone, bricks and whatever other crude materials could be found. They also burnt down easily courtesy of the flammable materials in them. Modern buildings are much more sophisticated and high tech. They’re constructed of state of the art materials such as reinforced concrete, cement, steel, glass, etc and are a lot more fire proof. However, most building still contain elements that are highly flammable and it’s this ratio that determines how a building is classified in terms of fire vulnerability.
Modern building construction is a complicated task. At the top of the list is its function. It needs to fulfill the purposes for which it’s being constructed. It also needs to be esthetically pleasing both inside and out. These are all important considerations but over and above them, it needs to be safe. It shouldn’t collapse when the first tornado hits and there should be clearly defined exit routes for people to get out in emergencies. There should also be fire-extinguishing systems in place.
Most importantly though from the fire fighter’s perspective is being able to assess quickly what category a building belongs in with respect to fire resistant properties. This knowledge governs how fire fighters respond, how they extinguish the fires, what equipment they use, and even whether or not they’ll attempt to go inside. Knowing whether or not a building will collapse on top of them based on its classification is vital – commercial buildings made from concrete and fire retardant materials with a good fire system in place is far less likely to collapse suddenly than a wooden framed residential building.
Fire fighters though are not born with this knowledge instilled into them. Knowing how to recognise the different types of structures and what that means in terms of flammable materials, knowing how various types of building materials react to fire, knowing what types of noxious fumes they give off when burning and so on. These are all things a fire fighter needs to learn. It’s the principle behind a mandatory course about building construction related to the fire service that is required for all basic fire fighter certification.