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3 The Towers, Fire- Induced Collapse, and the Building Codes


An interpretation of the evidence and analysis of the cause of the large loss of life and
collapse of the World Trade Center Towers & and recommended code changes to mitigate
the chance of a recurrence, in high-rise office buildings.

Nov. 21,03 #25

By: Arthur Scheuerman, Battalion Chief FDNY (Ret.), Former Instructor Nassau County Fire
Training Academy and high-rise Fire Safety Director NYC.-.

There is increasing evidence that the fire was the main cause of the collapse of the WTC
Towers and there were serious design, construction and fire protection deficiencies that
made the building unusually susceptible to fire. This report is my contribution to determining
the fire induced causes of the large life loss and building collapse in the Towers, in hopes of
developing design parameters and code changes to mitigate such hazards. Some of the
conclusions on the collapse mechanisms in this report are tentative pending verification by
real scale testing to be done by NIST. Many N.Y. City codes have been already changed but
there remain many questions of a fire safety and an engineering nature and any input is
welcome. E-Mail,

New York City has been, over the past century, a leader in high-rise design and code
development and has been copied by many other cities. When the new 1968 NY City
Building Code came out, I was in the Fire Dept. studying the 1938 code. We naturally
thought this "new" '68 code would be an improvement over the 'old' code and were looking
forward to studying it as advancement in construction practices. Gradually, as we waded
through the increasing complexities, we realized that several requirements had been 'left
out' of the new regulations and others weakened. The regulation requiring hardened,
smoke proof, ventilated stairways (called 'fire towers') in high-rise buildings was missing
along with the requirement for a fire hose impact test, for fire doors, walls and floors, after
they had undergone the furnace test. The hose impact test was to assure structural stability
during extinguishment, the integrity of fireproofing and the prevention of fire and smoke
passage out of the room or area. Various other code changes were made reducing the fire
resistance for walls and floors and increasing the area between fire separation barriers.

The story we heard from the building industry was that the 'old' regulations were
unnecessary and the older buildings were "overbuilt" because of 'old time' engineer's
ignorance of the real capabilities of steel frame construction. The previous builders were
'putting too much weight in their buildings using heavy steel and concrete' and 'wasting time
and money in the construction process'.

Well, if this was ever true to begin with, it appears the pendulum has swung too far in the
opposite direction towards relaxatation of the regulations, and using cheaper, lighter weight
materials, for steel frame, high-rise buildings. The city is continuing the process of
upgrading the Building Codes in the wake or the World Trade Center disaster and this essay
is my perspective, as a retired NYC Fire Chief, in furtherance of that process.