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In Wake Of Fire That Killed Larchmont Police Captain, Light-Weight Construction Homes Under Scrutiny

Blaze That Killed Thomas Sullivan, Most Of His Family A Catalyst For Change?
The remains of the Sullivan home in Carmel, N.Y., destroyed earlier this year by fire. (credit: CBS 2)

The remains of the Sullivan home in Carmel, N.Y., destroyed earlier this year by fire. (credit: CBS 2)

LARCHMONT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It takes just a few minutes — and everything and everyone you love could be gone.

CBS 2’s Lou Young has obtained a dramatic new video demonstrating the dangers of a popular new type of house construction.

One spark becomes a firestorm, but there is a solution.

Forty miles outside her jurisdiction, the mayor of Larchmont wants answers.

“When you smell smoke you should have time to get out of your house,” Ann McAndrews said.

Police Capt. Thomas Sullivan was her employee, a cop in the tiny Westchester County village who died with four members of his family at his home in Carmel up in Putnam County back in early May. It was a fast-moving fire fed, the professionals said, by the popular light-weight material used in the home’s construction.

“To me, it’s horrible. It amazes the amount of firemen we have in this country and we haven’t done something about that before,” said Fran McCarthy of the Lake Carmel Fire Department.

They were discussing what do to about the building technique that uses glued press board and pre-fab trusses held together with metal plates.

Engineers vouch for the stuff. It is light and strong, able to bear weight, able to stand up to stress. Superior, many people say, in every way to standard stick construction.

That is, except when on fire.

Live fire tests tell the tale, with light-weight roof sections and floors failing four times faster than traditional construction, and usually gone in minutes, just like at the Sullivan home. The man who conducted these tests told CBS 2’s Young firefighters are less likely to attempt interior rescues when light construction is present.

“Once the fire extends and gets to this light-weight construction, it can and very likely will fail in a matter of minutes and without warning,” fire science instructor David Walsh said.

The movement has now begun to retro-fit homes with sprinklers and more sensitive smoke detectors. Mayor McAndrews said she’s also ready for a fight over building codes.

“Your house should not be a torch. You simply have to have enough time to gather your thoughts and run, and that wasn’t the case here,” McAndrews said.

Experts estimate the Sullivan home could have been retrofitted with a sprinkler system for $15,000 on a home that cost $350,000.

If you’re interested in buying a sprinkler system for your home, the latest estimates indicate that it shouldn’t cost you more than $4 per square foot.

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