Building Homes to Recover from Fire

05/28/2015 09:50 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016

The aftermath of a home fire can make those affected feel helpless. As people run to desperately make sure that the personal safety of everyone has been accounted for, they find themselves looking on as years of memories, and personal artifacts turn to ash. Family heirlooms, baby photos, these are items that cannot be replaced. Personal records necessary to initiate claims and continue livelihoods may also be lost. And it could be any of us facing this situation. In 2013, the U.S. fire loss clock reported a fire department responded to a fire every 25 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

It is usually in the aftermath that the questions start to collect. Why did this happen, how could we have prepared for this, and could this have been avoided?

While every fire is unique, and we cannot always account for all of the elements that accelerate a fire, we can build our homes stronger, more robust in order to minimize as much damage as possible.

We shouldn't be building our homes in ways that allow for these precious memories to be engulfed in a matter of minutes. We should build to protect our loved ones, and all the memories we cherish within those walls.

Earlier this year, the rapid destruction at the Avalon at Edgewater complex gave a clear example of what can happen when resilient building materials are not utilized in the construction of a home, or multiunit housing complex. While fires may be unavoidable, stricter building codes can reduce building damage and ultimately save lives. The fire in New Jersey, which displaced nearly 1,000 residents, spread quickly throughout the building due to the wood-frame construction used throughout the complex.

With concrete and masonry construction, as well as appropriate sprinkler application, most fires would not have the potential to spread this rapidly. So why do we build in a way that allows for a fire such as this to take place? Some developers might be tempted to save on initial costs by using cheaper building construction, instead of using materials such as concrete, masonry or steel to minimize the damage that could be caused in an emergency.

This May, during 2015 Building Safety Month, gives us an opportunity to raise the need for stronger, resilient construction. The Portland Cement Association (PCA) is urging states and local decision makers to make the appropriate enhancements to better assure disaster resistance and safety of homes and buildings.

Leaders across the United States can make a difference by continuing to adopt programs for sustainable development. At the top of that list can be durable construction for our homes and most critical of services, such as hospitals. We know we cannot stop every fire, and that sometimes that best approach when an active burn occurs may be to focus on the larger issue of fire containment. Concrete and masonry construction can provide fire containment by compartmentalizing multi-family homes so that each living unit is protected from the spread of fire through adjoining walls and floors.
In 2015, shouldn't we know that the place we call home will try to fight against a fire, or allow us a better chance to return to it after a disaster occurs? We need our leaders throughout the U.S. to call for stronger, more resilient homes for us all.