Agencies Work to Prevent Construction-Site Fires

The Construction Fire Safety Coalition consists of more than 40 member organizations working to determine best-management practices to prevent fires.

Raymond O’Brocki
American Wood Council

According to the most-recent numbers from the National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA (nfpa.org), U.S. fire departments responded to more than 3,700 construction site fires each year between 2010 and 20141. These fires caused $172 million in direct property damage annually to buildings of all materials that were under construction2. Most, if not all, of these fires could have been prevented.

In response to this, private- and public-sector organizations joined forces in 2017 to create the Construction Fire Safety Coalition (CFSC), Leesburg, VA (constructionfiresafety.org). The coalition is charged with determining best-management practices in construction-site safety to reduce the frequency and severity of construction fires. The coalition began with six organizations and a vision to improve fire-safety standards to keep our communities and first responders safe. Since then, it has grown to more than 40 members, including American Wood Council (AWC) Leesburg, VA (awc.org); International Code Council (ICC), Country Club Hills, IL (iccsafe.org); International Association of Fire Fighters, Washington, (iaff.org); National Fire Sprinkler Association, Linthicum Heights, MD (nfsa.org); and additional leading fire-prevention organizations.

Coalition members share and pool insights, findings on the most-effective fire-safety solutions, and resources for working toward their vision of improving fire safety in construction and decreasing devastating fires. One of the most crucial goals of the coalition is to work closely with fire-service and code officials to ensure fire-safety practices are enacted nationwide.

As part of its mission, AWC has also collaborated with members of the fire service to hear and address concerns about the safety of wood-frame buildings. AWC has held meetings and educational sessions with fire departments and developers in regions including Denver, Milwaukee, Boston, New Jersey and Maryland, providing resources and training on construction-site fire safety.

While some building-material industries have faulted wood for construction-site fires, the fact is fire is a danger for all buildings and construction sites–regardless of building material. When built to code, buildings of all materials meet the national standards for public health and safety. What’s more is that wood construction meets or exceeds all building and fire codes, and building codes have only gotten stronger in the past 10 years.

Though much progress has been made, construction-fire safety and safety of first responders remain top priorities for AWC and the Construction Fire Safety Coalition. The fire service and building officials have not previously had easy access to the latest, best practices for preventing fire and increasing safety in construction sites, which is why the coalition has created an online library of key resources for fire safety, including construction-site checklists, evacuation plans, and safety policies.

As Rob Neale, former fire chief in Washington State and ICC vice president of Fire Service Activities, said at the inception of the Coalition, “no single organization can solve this issue, but together we can support systemic change. We are calling all industry professionals to work alongside AWC and the Construction Fire Safety Coalition to push for continued progress in preventing construction site fires.” The information provided at ConstructionFireSafety.org will help developers, construction teams, and code officials build to code, follow safety standards, and mitigate fire hazards on construction sites, collectively ensuring our homes, workplaces and communities at large are built safely.

Author
Raymond O’Brocki, is the manager of fire service relations for the American Wood Council, Leesburg, VA. Before that he was the chief building official for the City of Rockville, MD. O’Brocki has served on the NFPA Urban Fire Safety Task Force and has presented at the National Fire Academy. He is a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of law and a licensed attorney.

Resources
1 Campbell, Richard, Fires in Structures Under Construction, Undergoing Major Renovation, or Being Demolished, National Fire Prevention Association, April 2017. https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics/Occupancies/osFiresInStructuresUnderConstruction.ashx?la=en

2 Campbell, Richard, Fires in Structures Under Construction, Undergoing Major Renovation, or Being Demolished, National Fire Prevention Association, April 2017. https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics/Occupancies/osFiresInStructuresUnderConstruction.ashx?la=en

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