Construction of a building can significantly impact occupants’ ability to evacuate in case of a fire. Non-combustible concrete and masonry construction resists fire, does not burn, and provides fire containment through compartmentation or division of units. It does not produce smoke, fumes, or gases. These inherent features of concrete and masonry are valuable benefits for allowing safe egress, the act of exiting, from a building and reducing the amount of flame, gas, and smoke an occupant must pass through when a fire occurs.

The occupants and their property may be protected from fire by minimum two-hour non-combustible concrete and masonry walls between living units. During evacuation, such walls between living units and public spaces can provide a structurally sound, fire resistant escape route. This escape route also provides access for emergency responders to safely assist in evacuations and effectively attack the fire.

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) has publicized concern about fire deaths among the aging U.S. population. The USFA identifies individuals 65 years of age and older as one of the highest fire risk populations. They estimate that this segment of the population will grow from  to 20 percent (nearly 80 million people) by 2050, with most of the growth and need for housing occurring between 2010 and 2030.

This older population often seeks living conditions such as apartments and condominiums which require limited or no occupant maintenance. Many reside in assisted living, nursing homes, or other care-providing facilities. These individuals often have developed physical, mental, vision, and/or hearing impairments that slow or prevent self-evacuation. In addition, many of the elderly take medications which may limit their ability to self-evacuate in the event of a fire.

Memory loss and other disabilities common among the elderly can lead to more cooking fires, unattended candles, and similar hazards. These limitations heighten the potential for fires to occur, as well as the inability to escape from fire. Any multi-family dwelling unit intended to house members of this aging population as permanent or temporary residents should be constructed as fire safe as possible.

Concrete and masonry construction can contain fires, provide safe havens, and assure that exit routes remain intact to allow for slower egress and to provide time for emergency responders to locate and assist individuals who cannot self-evacuate.

All such structures should be constructed with minimum two-hour non-combustible concrete and masonry between living units and between living units and public spaces. Minimum one-hour non-combustible concrete or masonry exterior walls will reduce the potential for fires to spread from one structure to another.

When it comes to building construction and safe egress routes, there is no comparison to non-combustible concrete and masonry construction. For more information about combining smoke detectors, fire sprinklers, and passive fire protection visit the Pennsylvania Fire Safety Construction Advisory Council