They’re Not Just In Big-City Suburbs Anymore
Just wanted to open this one up and say to all the brothers and sisters out there to be careful. The recent firefighter deaths need to be a message to all of us to be careful on the job, Baltimore County, Maryland just lost a firefighter this week and we all feel the loss. So please, “Let’s be careful out there!”
McMansions … I mentioned that term on my last posting and I wanted to take some time and expand on them. I do not think that these are a problem just in large metro areas. These homes have been and are being built all over the country. Yes, I know the economic downturn, especially in housing has stopped the mass production of McMansions, but look around. Some of these mega-homes are sitting there unoccupied. What are McMansions? Well this was a term coined by Jay Westerveldt to describe the building of these large, single-family dwellings that were springing up all over the country. The term has its roots in MacDonald’s and their Big Mac sandwich. Like the Big Mac, the McMansions are large and they are built almost in assembly line fashion from pre-made parts. These homes can be in part of a development with a lot of like structures, or they can be placed into existing neighborhoods. The ones placed in existing neighborhoods are really interesting and make it very necessary for us to get out and drive through our response districts to make sure we know what is going on and to look at these buildings before they are built.
Ed Ruping photo used with permission
The home construction industry, like all other aspects of modern society, have been faced with the growing realization that we need to conserve our natural resources and one way that they have responded to that dilemma is to engineer structural building components. The use of these engineered components is widespread and an accepted practice within the home building industry. The use of items like trusses, wooden I beams, and laminated beams helps better utilize our natural resources. In addition, of course, these components are engineered to carry specific loads. Go out and look at these buildings especially if you are in an area where they are still being built and look at what is going on before the sheetrock is applied to the walls and the ceilings.
I know that Frank Brannigan spent countless hours talking to us about the dangers of wood trusses, but we need to remember that lesson and not lose it. While engineered wood is great, it carries the loads it is designed to carry and it saves natural resources, but it also does not seem to have the same ability to stand up to fire that regular sawn joists have. Brannigan used the term fat to describe the extra material in wood beams that needed to be lost in a fire before the fire would affect the carrying capacity of that beam. There is not any fat in a truss and there is no fat in a wooden I-beam, period! These engineered wood members are designed to carry a specific load and there is little or no ability for those components to sustain their loads under fire conditions.
Now back to the McMansion, look at the roof. We know what is in the roof, trusses. Look at the roofs again and think about all the nominal 2″ x 4″s that are in the roof and how much they will contribute to a fire in that attic space. Once again, get out look at these buildings as they are being built and develop your tactics and strategies before the fire. Also, take a quick look at how you can get to the attic. Do you have to cross a large foyer to access the stairs and get up to the second floor? If so what are you walking under? Will that huge span remain intact while lines are being deployed to get to the fire in the attic? That is a big question that we need to figure out now, and not when we arrive on the scene with a working fire.
Roof trusses in a McMansion. Notice the cutouts in
the roof to allow inspection/access of additional roofs.
This was short, and I hope to expand on it next time. My department and several other departments have had difficult issues with McMansions. In fact I live about two miles from where Technician Kyle Wilson of the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department lost his life on April 16, 2007. Where did Kyle die? In a McMansion!