MA Fire Chief Wants Decals on Truss Construction

Originally published by: Salem NewsApril 6, 2012

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DANVERS — Some selectmen are questioning a proposed new bylaw that would require owners of homes and buildings that use truss construction to post decals warning firefighters of the possibility of a sudden roof or floor collapse in case of a fire.

During a meeting Tuesday, Selectman Gardner Trask held up a piece of paper with a 6-inch circle drawn on it to illustrate the size of the decal that would be put on homes if a new bylaw is approved. He and other board members asked if the Fire Department has some sort of database it could draw upon, rather than using decals and imposing fines for noncompliance.

Fire Chief Kevin Farrell said the department has some information on commercial buildings, but not on homes. The time it takes to relay that information from the station to firefighters in the field could mean the difference between life and death, Farrell said.

Lightweight truss construction systems are popular and are used in about 60 percent of buildings and homes in the United States built since the mid-1970s, Farrell told the board, which did not vote on the proposed article for Town Meeting. Selectmen plan to discuss the rules at their next meeting April 17.

Farrell said truss systems for roofs and floors are lightweight and structurally sound, except when they are exposed to fire. Then, they can fail and collapse without warning, trapping or killing a firefighter inside a burning building.

Farrell is proposing that the decals be posted at all entrances to a home or building to warn firefighters of the collapse hazard.

Farrell said firefighters would identify truss-constructed buildings during their routine smoke detection system inspections. Firefighters may also identify these buildings on their normal calls.

Selectmen lamented that building codes have weakened to favor developers at the expense of public safety.

"It's almost criminal what they are allowed to put in these building codes," said Selectman Bill Clark, who said he supports Farrell's proposal.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, put out an online alert in 2005 recommending that fire departments review their procedures when working around buildings with trusses, and suggested building owners "consider posting building construction information outside a building to advise firefighters of the conditions they may encounter."

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