Fire safety seminar aimed at adapting to new building materials

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COLUMBIA- Tech Electronics hosted a fire safety seminar Wednesday to educate members of the fire safety and construction community on how lightweight building materials affect the burn rate of fires.

The lightweight materials are more green, cheaper, and quicker to build with, but Rich Walke, an engineer for underwriters laboratories said there are major problems with structures made with the materials.  

"There's a lot of upsides, but the downsides are that the fires can burn within 5 minutes instead of 30 minutes.  They're more petroleum-based."

Tech Electronics said its goal is to alert fire safety professionals in order for them to have a better understanding of the fires they're putting out.

Jim Pasley, the assistant fire marshal in Columbia, said the information is something crews always need to have with them at the scene.

"We need to have that time clock in the back of our head with these different materials.  If they meet the code that's fine, we just need to be aware of how the materials speed up the fire." 

Pasley said, however, firefighters can't be sure if lightweight materials were used until they enter the fire.

"Sometimes we can get an idea from the smoke progression before we enter, but once we get inside we can use our tools to figure out how sound the materials are."

Chris Wilhelm, the executive director of construction for Tech Electronics said more construction companies are becoming aware of the risks.

"Slowly the word is getting out that there are risks with these materials," he said.

Wilhelm said, although there are considerable risks with lightweight materials, the green movement will take priority over concerns about potential hazards.

"They're here to stay," he said.