JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New homes are being built using compressed wood for floor joists. While this normally would not mean much to the typical homeowner, it means a lot to firefighters.
Oriented strand board, commonly referred to as OSB, is made of wood pieces that are compressed together and then glued. They are being used as support beams.
Underwriters laboratories, UL, an independent testing company, says it has discovered that these OSB beams burn 800 percent or eight times faster than solid wood beams, which were used to build older homes.
News4Jax put these beams to the test to see how quickly they burn. At the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department's training academy, firefighters set a controlled fire under two solid wood beams and two OSB beams. They were simulating a second-story fire.
After just 3½ minutes, the OSB beam collapsed. The solid wood beam was charred, but still intact.
"By the time they wake up and they call us and we get on scene, 4 to 6 minutes passed, this failed in less than that time," said Lt. Tracey Davis after observing the quick collapse.
Davis said the fire melts the glue holding the compressed wood together, causing it to collapse sooner than the solid wood beams.
This is no surprise to Davis, who is a veteran firefighter with JFRD.
"The old-fashioned lumber (referring to the solid wood beams), they will start to sag. The new engineered lumber (OSB beams), doesn't fail until it's gone. It doesn't give you any warning. It doesn't start to sag; it's just gone," he explained.
Which is why he says it is so important that if a fire ever starts in your home, you get out immediately.
"They need to evacuate themselves because we may not be able to get there in time to get them out," said Davis.
Firefighter dies when floor collapses
On Feb. 12, a firefighter in Macon, Georgia, was killed when he fell through a floor into the basement of the home. Three other firefighters were also injured, one of them critically.
"It's basically because the lumber failed. That's how dangerous our environment we work in is," Davis said.
We do not know if OSB beams were built into the home in Macon where the floor collapsed. In general, Davis said floor and roof collapses are considered widow-makers for firefighters, and they know from experience that OSB burns fast.
Have an escape plan
Since most homeowners have no way of knowing if their home has OSB beams, the best protection is early detection. Smoke alarms are the best line of defense to alert homeowners to smoke from a house fire.
Few families, however, have a plan in place that teaches everyone in the household what to do if there were ever a fire.
Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Firefighters' Association, said all families should have a plan that is practiced every month by every single person who lives in the home.
"Show your children where the entire family should meet outside the home if ever there is a fire," said Wyse.
He said the most important thing to remember is to get out of the house immediately. Children should not try to find their parent. They should just get out of the house.
Other ways to survive a fire:
Fire alarm program
The Red Cross is currently working with local firefighters in the state to provide fire alarms and fire escape planning to communities not able to afford them. It's made possible thanks to sponsorship from Wells Fargo.
Interested families may call the Northeast Florida Chapter of the American Red Cross at 904-358-8091 ext. 1803 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm their eligibility and schedule an appointment.