Just Open The Floor For Discussion...

New construction in single family dwellings. Open floor plans: a floor plan without fully enclosed spaces for distinct rooms. (i.e. living room, dining room, kitchen)

Open Kitchens: kitchens that are not walled off from the living space.

Both of these are a staple in new construction and it's tough these days to find many houses being built that don't have at least an open kitchen. Below is a couple pics of "Google Trends" which are a record of how often people searched for open floor plans or open kitchens on Google in the United States over the last 10 years. The interest is only climbing and shows no signs of slowing down. (The Blue Line represents searches for "Open Floor Plan", the Red Line represents searches for an "Open Kitchen".)

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What does this mean for firefighting? A lot of things we already know, smoke and fire spread being the most poignant. Age of structure should be a consideration in our size ups for search and fire attack. Couple open floor plans or kitchens with open staircases to the 2nd or 3rd floors and it just compounds the issue.

(pic below: bedroom above an open floor plan with an open staircase, smoke to the floor)

Photo Feb 05, 8 48 12 AM
Photo Feb 05, 8 48 12 AM

With Open Kitchens (Red Line) remember: The Kitchen is not only the most common area of origin for all structure fires (43%) but also for fires that cause a civilian injury (39%) and 3rd leading area for civilian fatalities (16%). Expect victims to be trapped in bedrooms (area of location of 50% of civilian fatalities and 33% of civilian injuries) by smoke/fire and expect victims either near the seat (may have tried to extinguish the fire 34.9% of civilian injuries) or in the path of egress (trying to escape 25.2% of civilian injuries, 36% of civilian fatalities).

With Open Floor Plans (Blue Line)remember: Living Rooms are tied (with bedrooms) as the leading area of origin for civilian fatality fires (24%) and 3rd leading area for civilian injuries (10%) and 3rd leading area of origin for structure fires overall (4%). Living rooms can often be the areas with the greatest fuel load, causing (enhanced by the open floor plan and open stairs) rapid smoke/fire progression. Again, expect victims to be trapped in bedrooms (location of 50% of civilian fatalities) or trying to escape (25% of civilian injuries and 36% of civilian fatalities) through the smoke and fire.

Photo Feb 05, 8 52 10 AM
Photo Feb 05, 8 52 10 AM

(pic above: fire in an open floor plan where the living room, dining room and kitchen flashed over.)

There may be times Open floor plans can aid fire attack (if conditions are less than ideal we can use the reach of our stream on the interior to reach more areas than in a divided floor plan) and vertical ventilation (open floors plans can often be coupled with vaulted ceilings being able to vent smoke/heat/fire from a larger area).

(pic below: 4x8 vert vent hole cut above an open floor plan, not a vaulted ceiling but the hole aided tremendously in removal of smoke and steam in the largest area of the house. Tall attic space, a 160 gpm smooth bore can often "pull" a lot of ceiling...)

Photo Feb 05, 11 51 03 AM
Photo Feb 05, 11 51 03 AM

Just a few thoughts and numbers...nothing ground breaking...just open the floor for discussion.

(All statistics taken from NFPA and U.S. Fire Administration civilian fatality and home fire reports.)