Conn. city may require signs to help firefighters identify building structure

If the proposed ordinance passes, Norwalk will join other municipalities in using building signs to identify structural concerns behind buildings' skins


Abigail Brone
The Hour

NORWALK, Conn. — By the fall, retail buildings and multi-family homes in the city may be required to post signs detailing the type of structure to aid firefighters if a blaze breaks out.

The Common Council's Ordinance Committee has moved forward with plans to require mixed-use, apartments or homes with three or more family units to post signage with the makeup of the building.

If the ordinance is passed, Norwalk will require that small, circular signs be placed on the fronts of some buildings or near where the sprinkler system is located. Buildings are separated into five categories.
If the ordinance is passed, Norwalk will require that small, circular signs be placed on the fronts of some buildings or near where the sprinkler system is located. Buildings are separated into five categories. (Photo/Norwalk Fire Department)

"It pertains to firefighters when they're entering nonresidential buildings," Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian Candela said. "There's a sign that can be placed on the front part of the building that will identify to firefighters. They'll be able to read it and understand the construction type of the building and that's important because it lets them know how long they have inside before potentially the building is unsafe."

The new ordinance has been in the works since about mid-March, months before a 7-year-old girl was recently killed in a house fire.

While the signage will protect the firefighters, public and building integrity, the signs would not have made a difference in the Nelson Avenue fire that caused the death Summer Fawcett, Sawyer said.

"The signs would have had no bearing on this fire. The home was wood frame, like most single-family homes, which we generally recognize when responding," Sawyer said. "There are a lot of variables in our strategy and tactics at a structure fire. The Firefighter Safety Building Marking System signs help identify floor and/or roof truss construction."

Building owners can contact the fire marshal's office for help determining which sign is suited for each building, Candela said.

The small, circular signs will be placed on the front of the buildings, or near where the sprinkler system is located, Fire Marshal Broderick Sawyer said.

Buildings are separated into five categories, based on the type of structural frame and its composition, Sawyer said.

Type one is "fire resistive," type two is non-combustible, type three is "ordinary" and type four is heavy timber, Sawyer said. Type five is a regular wood frame commonly found in single-family homes or duplexes.

"Heavy timber holds up well under fire attack. Take a building like 25 Grant St., over the years it was a factory, heavy timber, there was a lot of renovations and now it's a mix of construction," Sawyer said. "So, we like to identify what a building like that would be."

Ordinary construction includes strip malls and storefronts, often with apartments above the stores, Sawyer said. Those types of buildings often have concerns with collapse as well.

"It changes our tactics. If we know how long the fire's been burning, are we putting someone on the roof? How are we going to attack this fire?" Sawyer said. "It's a pretty good way to keep not only firefighters safe, but the public."

The signs won't be required for single- or two-family homes because they do not fall under the fire marshal's jurisdiction under state statute, Sawyer said. The fire marshal jurisdiction in regular homes is for smoke alarms and means of egress, Sawyer said.

The city's property database includes the construction type of building and can be publicly searched, but the signs will help firefighters identify the type of building immediately.

"Some questions we may have when we arrive are: Is everyone outside? How long has the fire been burning? A decision is then made. Is this an interior or exterior fire suppression effort?" Sawyer said. " The Norwalk Fire Department is well trained in interior fire suppression, so we go in to put the fire out at its seat. This firefighter safety marking is really another tool in the toolbox for first responding fire personnel."

The signs cost about $40, and if the ordinance is approved, will take effect on Nov. 1.

The ordinance requiring the signs is set for a public hearing at the next ordinance committee meeting in June.

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