Structural Anatomy; Operational Safety at Deconstruction & Demolition Sites
Fire operations for structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and danger to operating personnel. This reality was clearly validated when; two FDNY firefighters died in the line-of-duty during a seven-alarm fire that tore through the abandoned Deutsche Bank skyscraper in lower Manhattan, next to ground zero in New York City on Saturday August 18, 2007.
The Deutsche Bank Building located at 130 Liberty Street adjacent to the quarters of FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10, was once a 40-story high-rise structure that had been systematically reduced to 26-stories at the time of the fire. Significant building contamination from numerous toxic substances that included asbestos and lead resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks required the deliberate floor-by-floor dismantling effort as part of the deconstruction process that would ultimately remove the building from its present site.
The two FDNY firefighter fatalities were Fr. Joseph Graffagnino, an eight year veteran and Fr. Robert Beddia a twenty-three year veteran, both assigned to Engine 24 and Ladder 5 in SoHo. The seven alarm fire was being worked with a contingent of over 275 firefighters when the pair became trapped on the 14th floor of the building after being overcome by blinding concentrations of dense smoke after their air supply was depleted during the course of combat fire suppression operations.
Post incident investigations, providing insights into fire department operations, physical building conditions, risk profiles, hazards and deficiencies. The fact that the Deutsche Bank building was being dismantled floor by floor- that it was undergoing “Deconstruction” meant that the building was a primary target hazard containing significant operational vulnerabilities, hazards and dangers posing life threatening risk to unsuspecting firefighting personnel. The fact that this building was undergoing asbestos abatement further compounds the degree of risk present.
Following preliminary investigations, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated that “The failures have many owners, and they are both in the private sector and in the public sector.”
Mayor Bloomberg further stated failures of oversight, responsibility and judgment may have contributed to the deaths of the two firefighters at the former Deutsche Bank AG building at Ground Zero.
Preliminary investigations, interviews and reviewed transcripts of radio transmissions made by the hundreds of firefighters who responded to the multiple alarm incident, identified faulted lapses in pre-incident planning and preparedness, mandated periodic inspections by the fire department and documented building hazards and operational recommendations, identified by a fire commander that may have been neglected to be acted upon by upper command. In the wake of the tragic events, three New York Fire Department officers were relieved of their commands, pending further investigation two weeks after the incident. Three particular failings were cited, which New York City officials stated were “simply not excusable”:
- First, FDNY Engine Company 10 had responsibility for inspecting the Deutsche Bank building but stopped inspecting it in the year 2006. The reasons for the lack of periodic inspections are pending further investigation.
- Second, city regulatory requirements mandated the Fire Department conduct inspections of the building standpipe every fifteen days when a building is being demolished. This had not been performed at all since demolition began in March 2007.
- Third, and finally, despite the hazards concerning the Deutsche Bank building, which were well publicized and documented following the events of September 11th, senior FDNY fire officers did not act upon creating a unique pre-fire plan for the building. Published documents that were released to the media apparently identified that a Battalion Chief had recommended doing so on three separate occasions to a Division Commander.
New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta stated careless smoking was attributed as the caused the fire. Smoking was prohibited in the building during the asbestos abatement and deconstruction efforts. However it was discovered that smoking was allowed to take place unabated on the 17th floor of the building. Additional published reports by City officials stated that the incident commanders acted appropriately, considering what they knew at the time. But it’s what they didn’t know that contributed to the enormous difficulties they encountered: specifically, a broken standpipe, a non-functioning sprinkler system and building deconstruction and decontamination operations that exacerbated the fire and caused unacceptably hazardous conditions.
Its these types of unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces that demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences that require a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation.
You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.
Operational factors present at the Deutsche Bank building fire;
(Please note; any of these factors may be present in any building or occupancy undergoing deconstruction and demolition.)
- Deconstruction; the high-rise steel frame structure was being systematically dismantled from the top down.
- Structural assemblies, systems and components were being removed as part of the asbestos abatement and decontamination efforts, creating varying levels of system integrity, exposures and vulnerabilities.
- Various deconstruction stages throughout the building created exposed structural systems, incomplete or compromised structural & building components/ features that posed significant safety risk to personnel.
- The building’s exterior was shrouded in a scaffolding system, with limited accessibility and worker travel volume and unprotected external scaffold support systems that were present.
- Asbestos Abatement Plans created; Abatement Zones, Buffer Zones and Deconstruction Zones- Each Asbestos Zone with significant operations risks and hazards.
- Interior abatement zones were constructed that created undefined and maze-like conditions.
- Due to the Asbestos Abatement work, internal HVAC/ ventilation system operations may have been modified in such a manner to contribute to the migration and distribution of smoke and products of combustion to impact fire operations.
Officials said that in addition to the nonfunctioning stand pipe, fighting the fire was made difficult by the asbestos abatement, which created “maze-like conditions.”
- Many areas were partitioned off with plastic, and hallways and walls one would find in other buildings had been torn out.
- Enclosed exterior window walls that were replaced with plywood sheathing creating impenetrable enclosures, limiting egress paths, ventilation paths and providing susceptible fire loading and flame sp
- Introduction of significant transient combustible loading, i.e., plywood sheathing and panels, poly sheeting and plastics and the introduction of other Class A materials.
- Access and egress systems were changed or removed, creating no level of certainty in movement and travel paths, access and exiting routes and ability to “read” area profiles and configurations during limited visibility operating conditions
- Stairwells were eliminated, boarded-up or enclosed. Deconstruction and Asbestos abatement zones and buffers created sealed areas that could not be readily accesses without labor extensive forcible entry and extrication.
- Compartmentation, enclosures, fire separations and fire barriers were compromised, dismantled or removed, creating undefined open areas, extensive horizontal and vertical voids, plume ways and travel paths.
- Workers stated they had been stripping asbestos from beams that created gaps and voids in the structural assemblies and systems that fire officials stated may have contributed to the rapid fire spread through these unprotected gaps and holes in the structure.
- Designed active and passive fire protection and suppression systems, coatings, enclosures and features were in varying stages of removal, dismantling or non-functional.
- The fire standpipe system was non-operational, compromised and disconnected. An entire of piping was found missing
- The fire sprinkler system was non-operational
- There were no apparent controls of potential ignition sources as mandated by regulatory codes and standards: i.e., evidence of discarded cigarette butts in non-smoking areas.
- The cause of the fire was determined to be careless smoking based upon published reports.
- This was a known problem based upon worker practices and lack of compliance controls.
Staging of compressed gas cylinders, flammable and combustible liquids; i.e. Acetylene, oxygen, oils, diesel and gasoline fuels etc.
- Temporary power distribution and lighting systems, devices and equipment
- Construction machinery, equipment, motorized apparatus, tools and devices.
- The state of the building, the asbestos abatement hazard and heavy smoke made conditions especially difficult for firefighters
- Firefighters had to resort to using ropes to haul hoses up from the street to support the fire attack. The lack of an operational sprinkler or standpipe system contributed toward deployment of extensive manpower to implement operational water supplies and suppression lines.
- Firefighters were forced to operate without the protection of handlines in rapidly changing and unpredictable building conditions due to configurations.
- Getting out was no easier than getting in. Only one of the two construction elevators was working and could carry only five or six men at a time, sources said. Yet dozens of firefighters were inside.
- The fire apparently started in the 17th floor according to workers who first reported the fire. The worst of the fire was on floors 14 though 19, but construction holes and vents created unchecked condition that allowed the fire to travel unabated up and down through the floors, igniting floors 20 through 26 as well.
- Firefighters on the 14th floor thought they were safely below the blaze – and in a prime position to tackle it – when they were suddenly surrounded by fire and dense black smoke.
- The two firefighters became trapped in the building and died from exposure to carbon monoxide.
- The two firefighters were found on the 14th floor close to a hose line after numerous Mayday alerts were communicated and rapid intervention rescue efforts initiated by command.
Side Note; Deconstruction work was halted for a week in May, 2006, when a 22-foot-long section of pipe fell from one of the 35th floor and went through the roof of a neighboring quarters of FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10. It was determined at the time the subcontractor responsible with bringing the building down had little experience in bringing down large towers in urban settings
Bottom line, buildings undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations can pose significant risk to suppression operations and lead to firefighter injuries and fatalities. This can not be stressed enough.
The unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences, requires a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation. You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.
The National Fire Protection Association- NFPA Standard 241 for Safeguarding Construction, Alternations, and Demolition Operations provides fire service personnel with good insights into what constitutes planning, preparedness, prevention and mitigation methods to prescribe minimum safeguards for construction, alteration, and demolition operations in order to provide reasonable safety to life and property from fire during operations.
Command and company officers should consider a number of crucial factors in accessing and determining acceptable risk management profiles, situational awareness management profiles (SAM) and operational deployment modes that may lead to the most error likely tactic (MELT) that may require the most needed change in incident command management or tactical deployment.
Assessment consideration for Structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations
The following are assessment considerations that may provide insights in the assessment, risk profile and development of pre-fire plans, operational procedures and field directives to prevent history repeating events (HRE) such the Deutsche Bank with similar conditions and attributes;
- What is the construction type or mixed application? How does this affect suppression, rescue, special operations and typical daily operations?
- Stage and/or Phase of construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations
- The Stage and/or phase of construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovation has, SIGNIFICANT impact on firefighter safety and operational integrity.
- Understanding these stages and phases can provide mission critical decision-making considerations to incident management teams and company officers.
Site conditions and accessibility
- Considerations for both horizontal, vertical and grade conditions.
- Considerations during changes in stages and phases. Expect changes
- Conduct periodic command and company level inspections and walk-through’s
- These will be specific to the commonality or uniqueness of the structure and occupancy.
- Do you have enough of what’s going to be needed? Plan for it now, before you’re in the street needing it “yesterday”.
- Think BIG, as the adage goes, you can always send the companies back. Don’t under estimate the types and kind of resources needs, based upon the structure profile and the potential of undetermined conditions. (reinforces need for pre-planning)
- Share the Knowledge, Situational Awareness and Pre-planning inf
ormation with other agencies (resources) you may call upon to support escalating or multiple alarm events.
Again, response and operations at these types of structures demands that pre-fire plan considerations, dialog, discussions, communications and what ever else is appropriate to you organization is identified and disseminated BEFORE an alarm response occurs. Take advantage of pre-gaming and table top a target occupancy, to increase preparedness and reduce risk potential.
- Conduct periodic command and company level inspections and walk-through’s
- Update the plans as conditions change
- Share the information with other agencies (resources) you may call upon to support escalating or multiple alarm events.
Knowledge and Situational Awareness
- Understand, explore, research and obtain ALL the necessary information on the structure(s) undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations
- Conduct periodic command and company level inspections and walk-through’s
- Communicate the observations, findings, conditions and considerations.
- What ever you identify- COMMUNICATE this throughout the organization.
Share the information with other agencies (resources) you may call upon to support escalating or multiple alarm events.
Special and Unique Conditions
- Identify and plan for the Special and Unique Conditions that may exclusive to you jurisdiction’s structure undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations.
- Plan of the unexpected and have contingent plans in place.
The magnitude and complexity of an incident involving a structure undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations will be directly proportional to the size of the building/construction site and corresponding age profile (vintage) of the existing building, if under renovation, and degree of construction. Operational deployment and the Incident Action Plan- IAP must be addressed during strategic and tactical incident management, risk profiling and pre-incident and on-scene intelligence, reconnaissance and planning considerations:
- Degree of exposed construction, systems, assemblies
- Degree of incomplete connections, systems, assemblies
- Transfer and integrity of structural dead loads and support systems
- Civilian Occupancy Load/ or at risk
- Numbers of exposures and vulnerability
- Transient Combustible Fire loading
- Flammable/combustible materials
- Compressed gases and vessels
- Exposed electrical and utility services
- Unprotected openings
- Accessibility, movement and transport
- Lighting Conditions
- Fire protection suppression system integrity
- Availability of internal and operable standpipe systems
- Availability of water supply sources
- Degree of Compartmentation
- Presence of temporary structural support systems
- Construction equipment, appliances and apparatus present
- Presence of fire zone separations or fire cut-offs
- Presence of Special Hazard Operations; i.e., asbestos, lead or toxin abatement
- Environmental and Weather factors
Proactive engagement, preparedness and planning can offer safe and effective success paths when addressing structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations. The key here is not to assume these buildings and environments can be managed strategically and tactically under the same premises as other day-to-day occupancies and structures.
If recognition primed decision making (RPDM) gives us one truism that is predicable, it’s the fact that fire suppression operations in structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations are;
- High Risk/ High Consequence,
- High Degree Situational Awareness Based
- Operations in these types of structures can and will kill firefighters
- Are Predictably- Unpredictable, BUT Manageable
- Demand competent incident management
- Require effective company officer leadership
- Necessitate skilled Firefighters
- Can be (under circumstances) written-off
- Assume rapid and unchecked fire travel
- Assume unpredictable transient combustible fire loading
- Assume increased fire flow demands for suppression effect
- Assume rapidly changing
- Consider hose stream deployment time in the absence of supporting fixed standpipe or sprinkler systems.
- Other internal building systems such as HVAC/ Ventilation may be compromised or function in an unexpected manner.
- Require Pre-Planning Awareness and Pre-incident Knowledge
- Demands Air Management Considerations
- Timely deployable resource; manpower and equipment
- Mobilization/ Reflex Capabilities of Response Companies
- Incident Command Flexibility
- Conservative Risk Management Profiling AND Conservative Tactical Deployment
- Situational Awareness Management – SAM
- Identification of the Most Error Likely Tactic- MELT
Take a look at what’s going on in your first or second due area. What about your battalion, the adjacent district or community or area? Chances are there’s a lot in the way of structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations.
- Are you prepared? If not, what needs to be addressed?
- What can you implement to reduce the risk & increase the safety margin for your personnel?
- Are your personnel adequately trained to deal with these types of situations and occupancies?
- How can the training gaps be closed?
- Are Skills sets, Situational Safety Awareness and knowledge adequate?
- What are the Most Error Likely Tactics (MELT) that you think would be deployed if you responded to a incident involving structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and Renovations?
- What needs to be implemented, changed or communicated?
- Identify and Discuss your local risk factors and what can be done strategically & tactically
Take the time to look at structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations. The message is clear;
- Their unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks
- Create consequences that requiring a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation.
- You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures.
- Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.
- Pre-plan, inspect, predict and plan
- Firefighter survivability and Incident Safety demands it.
Post Script; In light of the preliminary investigation in the weeks following the Deutsche Bank building fire and line-of-duty deaths, FDNY Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta ordered the following actions implemented on August 27, 2007 in connection with the fatal fire at the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty Street in Manhattan:
· Deputy Chiefs in the Department’s nine Divisions have been directed to order surveillance by every fire unit in their respective administrative areas of all buildings under construction/demolition.
· The purpose of these inspections is to insure that all rules and regulations regarding fire protection and p
ublic safety are being adhered to.
· Divisions are also ordered to review all existing pre-fire plans in their respective administrative areas, and to have units and Battalions canvass their areas for any potential structures that might require the creation of such plans.
· Borough Commanders are ordered to oversee and coordinate all field fire inspection activities in their respective boroughs.
· The Chief of Operations will conduct a review of the Department’s field inspection program with emphasis on insuring accountability at all levels and making recommendations to strengthen and improve the quality and frequency of inspections by field units.
Vacant or Idle Properties or Properties Under Construction or Demolition or RenovationNational Fire Protection Association- NFPA Publications August 2001Selections from the U.S. Overview Report on structures that are vacant or under construction, renovation or demolition, Occupancy Cause Tables, and selected published incident descriptions.
New York Times Photos of Deutsche Bank Deconstruction Work http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/08/16/nyregion/20070817_BANK_SLIDESHOW_17.html
Power point program on Operational Safety and Awareness at Deonstruction and Demolition Sites, HERE
PDF file of the PPT program Power point program on Operational Safety and Awareness at Deonstruction and Demolition Sites Structural Anatomy Safety OPS at Demo Sites