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Reporting on fire during the construction phase

  • 1.  Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-29-2018 17:42
    Edited by Emma Tucker 01-29-2018 17:48
    We've had the following inquiry come in from a member:

    I am an architect involved in a project in the construction phase that had a small fire in one of the units. The fire was extinguished by the fire sprinkler system and the fire dept. I am trying to assist the general contractor in providing a fire report. Do you know or aware of a fire report template?

    What advice would you offer to this architect?

    Have you faced a similar situation, and come away with lessons learned for future projects?

    Emma Tucker
    Manager, Knowledge Communities
    The American Institute of Architects
    Washington DC
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  • 2.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-30-2018 17:30
    Maybe I am not understanding the nature of the request, but a fire report (or an incident report) would, typically, have been prepared by the responding fire department or a fire investigator.

    If the GC is looking for a report on fire-related damage and recommendations for remedial work, that is a different task that I would do as a report of site visit.

    I am a historic preservation specialist and a volunteer firefighter, so this request is close to the intersection of those two hats I sometimes wear.

    Peter Franks AIA
    The Franks Design Group, P.C.
    Glenwood IA

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  • 3.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-30-2018 17:46
    I had this scenario come up on a project that caught fire during construction (a torch being used by a roofing contractor was left lit and on the roof at the end of the day).  It was a relatively small fire, and as it was a Type II-B building, there wasn't a whole lot of combustible material to catch fire.  Anyway, the Owner and General Contractor came to me and asked for guidance as to what installed materials could remain and what had to be removed and replaced.  It was pretty clear that anything on the roof with burn/scorch marks had to go, but the tricky part came below the roof at the exterior walls, and determining how much of the installed exterior gypsum sheathing had to go because of damage from fire hose water and fire foam extinguisher.  My response was that I'm not a forensic materials analyst, and do not want the liability of allowing materials that may be internally (but not visibly) damaged to remain.  Who knows what the long-term effects could be, and if/when they may start to show in the project?  The Owner accepted this logic, and we found a forensic fire specialist who was brought on as an independent third-party to review and make recommendations (that the Owner wound up following) as to which materials needed to be replaced versus which would be allowed to remain as installed.

    The big lesson learned was to bring in the experts to deal with their field of expertise, and to avoid increasing liability exposure for things that are well outside the normal scope of experience.

    David Bell AIA
    PJHM Architects, INC.
    Laguna Hills CA

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  • 4.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-30-2018 18:10
    I'm an  not  sure  this is really your obligation unless this is a Design Build  Contract.

    This was a construction  related issue  and the report should come from the General Contractor  and their insurance carrier whom should be well versed in fire reports.

    If you must submit something it should go to your client the owner.  The report could be similar to a conditions report done during construction that could be appended to the report.   It should be dry and not about making conclusions as to the cause.

    That's my opinion on this.

    David R. DeFilippo AIA
    Construction Administration

    David DeFilippo AIA
    Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, Inc.
    Boston MA

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  • 5.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-31-2018 06:39

    Emma, in my opinion, this is the Contractors responsibility and not the Architect to file any required reports.  The Contractor owns the construction site from the time he executes a contract to the time when the Owner formally accepts the final product.


    Herman Schmidt, AIA Emeritus

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  • 6.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-31-2018 18:04
    Thanks for your contributions @Peter G. Franks AIA, @David A. Bell, @David R. DeFilippo AIA and @Herman Schmidt AIA (and those who have reached out directly)!​​ You've brought up some great points for the original inquirer to consider.

    Emma Tucker
    Manager, Knowledge Communities
    The American Institute of Architects
    Washington DC

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  • 7.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 01-31-2018 18:28
    Others have touched on what I'm going to say, but the GC's insurance company should be weighing in on what they consider to be damage beyond repair.  We had a fire station under construction that was vandalized - a backflow preventer for hot water was ripped off the wall, spewing a weekend's worth of hot water and humidity into the second floor of the building.  The insurance carrier had to (effectively) warrant that the work that they allowed to remain was not going to be defective later.  We anticipated that finishes, wall board, ceilings, and carpets would have to go, but they insisted that any electrical that was in contact with water - switches, wiring, devices, lights, etc - be replaced also.  Another project had a similar outcome.  If you have specific observations as to rejection of damaged work, go ahead and make those as "at a minimum" type statements, but direct the contractor also to the insurer's inspection report and requirements for additional scope.

    John Thompson
    Production Coordinator
    Dore & Whittier Architects, Inc.
    Burlington VT

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  • 8.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 02-01-2018 17:50
    At risk of repeating some of what has been posted:

    A fire event is covered by the contractor's insurance and/or the Owner's course-of-construction insurance.  Those policies dictate what is and what is not covered, limitations of coverage, and specific protocols for submitting claims.  It is the policies that will dictate how any 'loss' is evaluated and how the insurer will process any claim.  Insurers may rely on damage reports from the fire department, consultants of the contractor or owner, or on their own commissioned damage-assessment experts.

    The Architect has NO role in this unless the Owner separately engages the Architect to perform inspections/investigations.  The Owner can authorize additional services by the Architect in connection with assessing fire damages, BUT, as a caution, most Architects are not professionally qualified (by education, training, experience or skills) to investigate and opine on what construction components have been damaged, the extent and significance of damage, what remedial steps must be taken, and what the cost of remediation is likely to be.

    It is the role of the contractor to address any damages, and to provide the Owner with a project consistent with the construction contract.  How the contractor does that is in the contractor's sole control.  The Architect only observes the work as it progresses to ensure it is in general conformance with the contract, unless there is a separate agreement that states otherwise.  In the event of fire/damage, the Architect protects the Owner by making sure the contractor issues certifications or other documents attesting that all damage has been mitigated and that the work in place has been made 'new' (as that is defined in the contract).  That places the burden of contract conformance on the contractor, where it belongs.

    Although you may sympathize with the Owner or contractor, do not let that guide your actions, for which you will be responsible to both of those parties.  Before getting involved, I would consult with an attorney (and your own insurer) regarding drafting of language in any additional service authorization, so it is clear you are not providing any warranty or guarantee that exposes you to a risk, and to ensure you are not practicing outside of the realm of services for which you are professionally qualified.  Agreeing to an unusual risk, or promising something that is not customary, likely is something that will not be covered by your insurer.


    Howard I. Littman, AIA, Emeritus
    Forensic Architect, Expert Witness
    Agoura Hills, CA

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  • 9.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 02-02-2018 17:31

    Thank you, Mr. Littman. I agree. Having been involved in a similar situation that involved an arson fire in a project that was 90% complete, I learned the limits of an architect's duties. The insurance company or companies that will pay for the reconstruction are in the driver's seat. Their investigators and appraisers will likely make the determination. As an architect, I'd be very careful of saying anything that might end up harming the Owner's interests. There are specialists who can represent the Owner better than an architect.


    Steve Davis, AIA




    Architecture  Planning  Interior Design


    129 S. President Street

    Jackson, Mississippi





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  • 10.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 02-05-2018 18:16

    This is a truly fascinating topic in that it focuses squarely on the perception held by Owners (when they are our clients and even when they are not) and many Builders that the Architect is some sort of Final Arbiter on just about any topic associated with the built environment and especially on a project for which they happen to be the Architect of Record.  And Architects take the bait almost every time.  My additional two cents goes hand-in-glove with most of what's been written, but I'll say it anyway:


    The Builder (e.g.: General Contractor, Construction Manager At-Risk, Design-Builder – whatever they may be) would customarily be required by the building Owner to carry Builder's Risk and General Liability Insurance prior to starting construction.  In the event of a casualty loss, the Insurance Underwriter may request of the Insured that they hire a design professional (architect, engineer, contractor) to recommend a remediation approach and substantiate the cost of that approach.  Or, they might bring in their own subject-matter experts.  Keep in mind that the long-term effectiveness of any casualty remediation plan contains as much professional liability risk as the original design.  I would argue that (1) if the Insurer requires a Remediation Plan from the Insured for any reason, including for the purpose of determining the Claim Amount, and (2) if the Insured needs Third Party expertise to provide that Remediation Plan and (3) the Insured asks their own Architect of Record to prepare that Remediation Plan then (4) the Architect of Record should perform such services under a stand-alone Agreement (not as an Additional Service) and that Agreement should be reviewed by an attorney familiar with Insurance Claims and the legal risks accompanying such a professional opinion, and that Agreement should require the Insured to agree to a broad Indemnification Clause.  Keep in mind that it is quite possible that the Architect-of-Record's E&O Insurance carrier might define a Remediation Plan provided by their Insured in any circumstance where their Insured is also the Architect of Record as an Exclusionary Event – in other words, not insurable for any subsequent claim of Error or Omission emanating from the remediation.


    All of the above would be true regardless of whether the Architect's Client is a "typical" Owner using a CMaR or Design-Bid-Build Agreement or is the Builder under a Design-Build Agreement where the Builder is the Architect's actual Client.


    Lastly, the observation that the Builder "owns" the construction project during construction is correct, otherwise the building Owner would carry and obtain and pay for the Builder's Risk and General Liability.  The only time this arrangement is not in place is when an Owner opts to use a ROCIP or OCIP insurance program and takes responsibility for buying the Builder's Risk and General Liability insurance and listing the Builder as a Named Insured.


    And no, I am not an attorney, although I spent a decade as an Arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association, served as an Expert Witness for the Technical Advisory Service to Attorneys and taught AIA Construction Documents to seniors in the Technology Division of the University of North Florida.  I've also been a licensed Architect for 42 years during which time I was variously a VP for a General Construction Company, a partner in an MEP Engineering firm, a Real Estate developer and a licensed Real Estate Sales Agent.


    I am happy to be corrected on any errors of fact.     




    Phil L. Scott, Jr., AIA

    Principal / CFO

    GSC Architects

    3100 Alvin DeVane Blvd

    Bldg. A, Suite 200-B  |  Austin, TX 78741

    C: 512.423.1944   |   T: 512.433.2513  |  F: 512.477.9675


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  • 11.  RE: Reporting on fire during the construction phase

    Posted 02-06-2018 08:47
    Several years ago, we had a "substantially complete" classroom addition burned down by students smoking on the roof.
    I recall the CA on the job saying it was "deja vu" to do the punchlist twice after it was reconstructed to the same drawings and specifications.

    Frank Marshall
    EI Associates
    Harrisburg PA

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