Building Collapse: Learn the Warning Signs

January 31, 2018

One of the greatest hazards in firefighting is the threat of building collapse. And we do not have to be on the inside to get killed. We must be alert on the fire scene, and be aware of the signs of imminent collapse.

Building movement most times is very subtle. But a moving building is a collapsing building. What other signs – in addition to cracks, bulges, and leaning walls – should we be looking for?
• Load increase as a result of water load
• Water or smoke that pushes through what appears to be a solid masonry wall
• Sagging floors, roofs and other horizontal structural members
• Mansards share the same collapse hazards as cornices on old buildings. Fire from show windows in a strip center can penetrate the soffit and spread inside the entire length of a mansard which are rarely equipped with fire-stopping. When a false mansard falls, it can bring the masonry parapet wall with it.
• Wall openings – doors, windows, and passageways. Are they square? Do the doors still fit? Can you close them? Have the windows cracked for no reason? Are the frames square in the window frame? If not, the building is probably moving.

These are just a few of the warning signs. What are some other clues that you should change the strategy to defensive as soon as possible?

Photos by Brian Litt

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