This year, seven major new-construction fires at four- to six-story wood-framed residential sites caused property loss exceeding $400 million, says the National Fire Protection Association. The fires have “blown away” the recent annual average property-loss figure of $176 million, says Robert Solomon, an NFPA fire protection engineer.
Less than 1% of all fires occur during construction, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Still, each year during the 2010-2014 period, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 3,750 fires at construction sites and 2,560 fires at renovation sites, according to NFPA. Cooking is the leading cause of fires in new construction, accounting for 27%. Heating equipment is the leader in renovations, accounting for 15%.
To raise awareness and disseminate free information about safeguards and best practices, the American Wood Council, which promotes wood products, formed the Construction Fire Safety Coalition, with partners Davidson Code Concepts LLC, FireForceOne, the International Code Council (ICC), the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Fire Marshals, the National Fire Sprinkler Association and a representative of the Cambridge, Mass., fire department. Within their teams, “builders need to heighten awareness of jobsite fire prevention,” says Kenneth Bland, AWC’s vice president for codes and regulations.
NFPA supports the new group but is not a member. “We look at this as a site-safety issue, not a materials issue,” says Solomon.
NFPA 241: Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations dates to the 1930s. Since 2006, ICC’s International Fire Code also has addressed site fire prevention.
ICC is trying to get its 22,000 building-official members to enforce its code. “Many aren’t even aware of the requirements,” says Robert Neale, an ICC vice president.