Residential Building Construction

Frank Brannigan always stressed that "the building is your enemy. Know your enemy." Every firefighter should read Brannigan's book "Building Construction for the Fire Service" in their career. Today we are going to get to know one of our most common enemies, the residential structure. Residential fires account for 74% of all structure fires and since we will spend a lot of time fighting fires in them we should discuss some of the most common types. We will cover the colonial, split level, rancher, split foyer, cape cod, and trailers. Please feel free to comment and add some of your personal knowledge to help us all learn!

Colonial: One of the most popular houses in America. Front door is located in the middle and the interior stairs are usually in line with the front door. Windows are on directly on top of each other and the same size. Downstairs usually consists of living and dining areas near the front and the kitchen in the back. The second floor has all the bedrooms. The master bedroom will have it's own bathroom but the other bedrooms will have a shared bathroom at the top of the stairs.

Split Level: This is a combination of the colonial and the rancher. They're named different things in different places. Open floor plans where the front door leads to the kitchen/dining/living areas. Kitchen is usually in the back in line with the front door. You will usually find stairs that lead down to a basement or garage near the kitchen. Off the living area you will find a few steps that will lead up a shared hallway where you find the bedrooms. The bedrooms are usually found in the "upper level". The hallway will usually have attic access as well.

Rancher: simple rectangular home that offers an open floor plan. Front door is usually in the middle or off to one side. It is usually a one story home with low gables roofs and large windows. Kitchen as well as living and dining areas are usually on one side and the bedrooms are on the other side (usually branched off of a shared hallway). The living/dining room area is typically indicated by the larger windows on the front of the house. The open floor plans allow travel of smoke and fire.

Cape Cod: Smaller house with low ceilings. Front door located in the middle of the house. House is usually symmetrical and typically has the master bedroom plus a dining/kitchen area on the first floor. Second floor has two smaller bedrooms. The staircase is in the middle of the house that is usually right inside the front door. Roof has a steep pitch (originally to keep snow from accumulating on it). Roof may have dormer windows in them. These dormers create knee walls on the second floor that may allow fire to spread with out you knowing.

Split Foyer: The front door is located in the middle of the house and is in between two sets of full size windows. The two most identifiable features are the door being off set between the two levels and the full size windows on the basement level. The front door leads to a foyer between floors. There are stairs that lead up and down. The lay out varies greatly but downstairs usually a family room or extra bedroom (which is sometimes used as the master due to it's size). Upstairs houses the kitchen/living/dining areas and the bedrooms. Like the rancher the kitchen/living/dining areas are on one side and the bedrooms are on the other off a shared hallway.

Trailers: There are two basic designs that most of us have in our districts. The distinction is the location of bedrooms and living/dining areas. Some trailers have a large window at the end and that usually means that room is a living/dining area and the bedrooms are on the opposite side (the image on the right). The other design has no large window at the end and bedrooms are located at both ends (the image on the left). Normally the "front door" is the one that opens up into the living room and that usually puts the kitchen directly to your left. The "back door" usually opens into a hallway. Obviously people change rooms to fit their needs and manufactures change things so these rules don't always apply. I hear a lot of people say they don't go interior on trailer fires, which is doing your community a disservice. Yes they propose challenges and they can be more dangerous than a normal house, but life still hangs in the balance. One end may be fully involved but that doesn't mean there isn't someone to save in the other end. You can safely enter, to a quick search and get out before things get bad. Know the layouts and plan accordingly.