American Wood Council

The American Wood Council (AWC) is an independent organization providing information about wood products to builders. Working in association with the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), the International Code Council (ICC), and other knowledgeable stakeholders, the AWC has created a set of guidelines to help reduce life and property loss from fire in buildings under construction based upon preexisting codes and standards. Today, let’s examine why these guidelines are necessary and why the most efficient way to adhere to them and keep your construction site safe is by implementing the award-winning WES3 Wireless Evacuation and Emergency System from Ramtech Electronics.

Most firefighters will tell you that one of the first things that must be understood about a building fire is the type of construction that makes up the structure in question. There are five types to consider. Type I, Fire Resistive, is composed of concrete, concrete mixes, and coated steel. Type II, Non-Combustible, is usually made of masonry, tile, and metal. Type III, Ordinary, is a combination of materials. Type IV, Heavy Timber, is not used much anymore. Type V is Wood Framed. Type I is the sturdiest and most fire resistant. Each subsequent type is a little less so, with Type V being the most vulnerable to fire. The vulnerabilities largely lie with the use of wood and wooden materials.

The most common type of construction today is Type V. Whether commercial or residential, the standard set-up often includes a lightweight wood frame covered by brick or block façade to give it the appearance of heavy-duty concrete, masonry, or steel. Single- and multi-unit homes, restaurants, shopping malls, and many other buildings are erected cheaply and quickly using this method, so it’s not going away anytime soon.

But there are many sources of heat, flames, and sparks such as brazing, cutting, grinding, soldering, thawing, and welding taking place on a construction site. Coupled with multiple sources of fuel like debris and flammable liquids in large quantities, this makes a building site rife with opportunities for a full-scale blaze if adherence to important guidelines is not carefully considered. For a building composed of concrete or steel the risk of a fire spreading is minimal, but wood tends to be the perfect fuel.

You may be asking, but isn’t wood used in construction required to be fire treated? The answer is yes, but it isn’t a perfect solution. Fire retardant treatments (FRTs) do limit the spread of flames on wood’s surface, but they are unable to limit how quickly wood breaks down when exposed to fire and heat. FRTs don’t raise the fire resistance rating of the material. Treated wood doesn’t meet the standard for noncombustible materials, in other words, but its low flame spread is the loophole that allows it to continue to be used where noncombustible materials would otherwise be required.

While it may be difficult for a fire to start, once it begins time is your worst enemy. Early detection is the key to getting the fire department onsite in time to eliminate the fire and save your most valuable resources. A few air horns and fire extinguishers may not be enough to mitigate a fire before it gets out of control. Having an emergency alert and evacuation system in place can save lives.
In its comprehensive fire safety manual, which specifically addresses the unique challenges of fire prevention during building construction, the AWC acknowledges that traditional detection and alarm systems may not meet the ever-changing and increasing safety needs of a construction site. In these cases, manual devices are recommended; however, they must be “distinctive and clearly audible above background noises in all areas.” Case studies have shown that on large sites where multiple floors are nearing completion, workers on the higher levels are unable to hear an air horn used on lower floors, or are unable to distinguish it from other typical construction noises.

WES3 units placed at strategic points as the building rises are the best way to ensure that everyone on-site is aware of an emergency alert. Being wireless allows the system to function independently of cables or hardwiring. The sensors are tough, rugged, and dust-resistant to eliminate loss of productivity due to false alarms. At the first sign of unexpected smoke or heat, the units will alert the appropriate personnel via a clearly audible siren and strobe lights, and a text message for those off-site. “All staff and inducted visitors are trained/instructed so that they can recognize the fire/emergency alarm and understand what action to take,” the AWC manual states. WES3 streamlines this process. Not only are the units simple to install and use, but training and support are additional benefits provided with this system.

A fire can start in any type of building regardless of the materials used to construct it, and care must be taken and codes adhered to in order to keep workers safe and costs down. WES3 alarm units are used all over the world because they offer the most practical way to monitor the constant changes of construction and remodeling sites. Visit for more information.