In structure fires, time is of the essence. Minutes count. Seconds count.

Concrete masonry structures afford you significantly more seconds and minutes than wood-framed structures in a fire, giving occupants more time to safely exit the building. In large buildings such as apartments, hotels, condominiums and senior living communities, block can be the difference between life and death.


A lot of it comes down to furnishings. Many private rooms are furnished with modern furniture, drapes, pillows and carpet made of synthetic materials, which burn much hotter and faster than natural materials. This can create a deadly scenario very quickly as the flames spread from room to room with little warning. 

Because residents’ furniture is beyond the control of the builder, it’s important for builders and architects to be mindful of the safety features that are within their control. Walls built of block help contain fires to the room where the blaze originated, greatly extending the time it takes for a fire to spread throughout a structure. 

This video from the National Institute of Standards and Testing provides a clear look at the fire-repellent nature of older furnishings (legacy room) and the highly combustible nature of a more modern room. 

The Southeast Concrete Masonry Association reminds you that fires kill more Americans than all other natural disasters combined – each year, an average of 374,000 resident blazes kill more than 2,600 people. Fires also cause nearly $7 billion in property damage annually.

Those living in wood structures are more at risk due to the material’s combustibility. The video shows that the flashover point – the point when a room gets so hot that it ignites all of its contents – is about 3:40 into the blaze in the modern room. In the CMU room, flashover doesn’t occur until nearly 29:30. That’s almost 26 extra minutes for occupants to flee the building and for firefighters to battle the blaze, potentially saving hundreds of lives and the structure. 

Concrete masonry is the best building material when it comes to compartmentalizing a fire. If it starts in one room, it’s going to take a lot longer to reach a second room – even with modern furnishings. 

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