Understanding Multifamily Dwelling Fires and Building Construction

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In this article, we will explore the topic of multifamily dwelling fires and building construction. We will discuss the importance of understanding the different eras of construction and how it impacts firefighting tactics. We will also introduce a resource, the Payette County Assessor GIS, that can provide valuable information about buildings and their construction history. By the end of this article, you will have a thorough understanding of the topic and be better equipped to handle multifamily dwelling fires.

The Significance of Building Construction Classification

When it comes to fighting fires in multifamily dwellings, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the building construction. In the past, the NFPA 220 classification system was commonly used. However, relying solely on this classification proved to be unreliable, as many buildings did not fit neatly into one category. There was a need for a more accurate and tactically significant way to assess buildings.

Understanding Eras of Construction

To address this issue, the authors of the “Art of Reading Buildings” book, Mittendorf and Dodson, proposed a different approach. Instead of focusing on the NFPA 220 classification, they emphasized the importance of understanding the era in which a building was constructed. Different eras have different construction techniques, materials, and building codes, which all impact how a building will perform during a fire.

The eras identified are as follows:

  • Pre-World War I (1850-1914)
  • Industrial Era (1918-1939)
  • Legacy Era (1945-1960)
  • Modern Era (1970-present)

Understanding these eras allows firefighters to assess buildings based on the materials and techniques used during that time. For example, a historically constructed building from the Legacy Era will perform differently from a code-defined building built in 2020, even if both are technically Type 3 buildings.

The Role of Lightweight Pre-Engineered Roof Trusses

One specific area of focus is the use of lightweight pre-engineered roof trusses. These trusses were patented in Florida in the late 1960s and revolutionized the construction industry. They are faster and more economical to use compared to traditional hand-stacked roofs. By identifying the presence of lightweight roof trusses in a building, firefighters can make more informed tactical decisions.

Utilizing the Payette County Assessor GIS

To determine the construction era of a building, firefighters can use resources like the Payette County Assessor GIS. This online tool provides valuable information about properties, including the year they were built, any improvements made, and square footage by floor. By researching a building’s construction history, firefighters can gain insights into its construction type and potential fire behavior.

Additionally, the Payette County Assessor GIS can help identify target hazards during pre-planning. Firefighters can assess a building’s age and construction type to anticipate potential challenges and adjust their strategies accordingly. The tool is a valuable resource that facilitates informed decision-making on the fireground.


Understanding building construction is crucial for firefighters responding to multifamily dwelling fires. By recognizing the different eras of construction and their impact on fire behavior, firefighters can make more informed tactical decisions. Tools like the Payette County Assessor GIS provide valuable information about properties and assist in pre-planning for potential fire incidents. By leveraging these resources and knowledge, firefighters can enhance their effectiveness and safety in multifamily dwelling fire scenarios.

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