Hidden Danger in House Fires

By Max Resnik

August 16, 2011 Updated Aug 16, 2011 at 6:27 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Close to 3,000 Americans die each year as the result of house fires. Could the I-Beams used in building floors and ceilings be a contributing factor? Local firefighters say I-Beams burn more quickly, causing floors to collapse and roofs to cave.

In newer built homes, especially those built in about the last 30 years, engineered I-Beams are used because there are many advantages to home builders. The I-Beams are cost effective, very strong and require less time to install than traditional framework. They are also, according to Fort Wayne Fire Department Deputy Chief Eric Lahey, far more likely to burn quickly turning a dangerous situation into a potentially deadly one.

“The issue is that there's a reduction in the ability to resist fire in those engineered I-Beams over traditional framing.”

Lahey says a firefighter’s plan for taking on a fire does not ever change. They need to first locate the fire, determine the type of structure in which they are entering and then determine how much time they have to get the job done.

In the case of new homes built with I-Beams, Lahey says that third and crucial step can be shortened because the glue used to hold I-Beams together does not withstand the pressures of heat like that of tradition framework. He says there are a number of signs he and other firefighters look for once they have been made aware that they are entering a home that could possibly have I-Beams.

“Once they’re aware, there’s certain things they can do to protect themselves and the victims who may still be in the structure and that is sounding the floors using an ax or some other tool and understanding the signs that if you get a spongy floor or you start to hear creaking sounds, that the ceiling may be going above you.”

According to statistics from the National Association of Home Builders, nearly half of all homes built in 2005 used I-Beams.

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