Marking Five Years of Advancing Construction Site Fire Safety

Raymond O’Brocki

March 13, 2023

This month marks my five-year anniversary with the Construction Fire Safety Coalition, and as is typical upon reaching milestones like this, it’s hard not to look back and assess the impact of our work and what the future holds in store.

This coalition started with a simple yet important mission: To educate the public and private sector on strategies and best practices for reducing the frequency and severity of fires during the construction phase. The goal was to educate those in the construction industry, along with building and code officials and the fire service – all partners really when it comes to preventing fires on construction projects.

On a personal note, signing on to be the Manager of Fire Service Relations for the American Wood Council, which collaborated to found CFSC, was an ideal fit with my background and interests. My resume at the time included stints as a city building official, assistant fire chief and Fire Marshal for the City of Baltimore.  For so many reasons it made sense to step into this role and work to build partnerships and educate on the fire codes and best practices designed to prevent construction site fires.

The last five years haven’t been without challenges. From the start, we all recognized the significant differences and roles of developers, the construction team, municipal building departments, code inspectors and the fire service. But we have made significant progress in terms of getting more of these entities working together on projects in communities across the country.

Initially, we struggled for opportunities to present to fire service organizations and building and code associations to talk about fire safety. But in the past two years, the dynamic has changed, in part because the message that common sense prevention resonates.

As of this month, we’ve presented at conferences and government agency meetings connecting with fire officials in all but five states across the country. Last fall, I had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand and present to a fire service conference on Tall Mass Timber, the engineered wood product that is paving the way for taller towers and other multi-story projects using wood.

Last year also provided an opportunity to engage a whole new audience for us – the insurance industry. During a conference in Chicago, I encouraged insurance executives to get more involved in preventing construction fires. An interesting takeaway was how many in the audience were surprised to learn about the building and fire codes that govern construction projects.

We’ve also done important work in the last five years to curate a comprehensive library or resources focused on fire prevention, best practices and applicable codes. We’ve worked to become a one-stop shop for safe practice codes, fire prevention checklists, fire watch policy, identifying risks and hazards, site housekeeping tips, hot work safety and so much more.

We’re excited about the next five years. Our mission remains the same, but the goal is to continue working with builders, code officials and the fire service to get everyone working together and partnering to reduce the risks and damage cause by fires at construction sites.