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Fireproofing Faulted in Trade Center Collapse...
June 27, 2002 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Fireproofing Faulted in Trade Center Collapse... Fireproofing failures -- rather the impact of the plane crashes -- probably caused the World Trade Center towers to quickly collapse, architects and engineers told a federal panel today.

"The insulation is going to turn out to be the root cause," said James G. Quintiere, a professor at University of Maryland's Fire Protection Engineering Department who analyzed the fireproofing in the two towers.


Also worth reading is NY Fire Chief Vincent Dunn's assessment, "Why the World Trade Center Buildings Collapsed".
posted by zerolucid (16 comments total)

 
credit to the Progressive Review email newsletter.
posted by zerolucid at 3:22 PM on June 27, 2002


I've not read Chief Dunn's piece (thanks for the link, zerolucid) but I should point out that the excellent, incredible cover story in The Atlantic, "American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center" touches on the fireproofing issue. The author dismisses the claim, though I can't remember the details. He says a more likely cause is fire fuelled by the immense amount of paper in the building. The World Trade Center was brought down by paperwork, he concludes.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:39 PM on June 27, 2002


Dunn's site says that firemen reached the 79th floor (wow), and that the jet-fuel fire had burned itself out by then (double wow). Really, that fact alone says it all. I've defended the idea that no structure could be expected to survive this kind of deliberate ramming by a fuel-laden jet, but that was on the basis that the fuel was creating a fire beyond normal limitations.

This doesn't mean anyone could have been saved -- it still would have been nearly impossible to fight the fire if they didn't have climbing equipment and a way to get water past the impact damage. It's very tempting to think that better fireproofing would have kept the towers from collapsing, but in the end I don't think so. But Dunn is probably right that this is a warning for us that skyscrapers aren't as fire-safe as we've thought, and that a lot of cities will have to rethink their codes.
posted by dhartung at 4:09 PM on June 27, 2002


I know "Why the World Trade Center Buildings Collapsed". Some fundamentalist islamists flew *two fucking planes* into them!
posted by dagny at 4:15 PM on June 27, 2002


dagny, you beat me to it.
posted by schlaager at 4:16 PM on June 27, 2002


Dunn's site says that firemen reached the 79th floor (wow), and that the jet-fuel fire had burned itself out by then (double wow). Really, that fact alone says it all.

Uhh, dude, that's the Empire State Building he was writing about. It got hit by a plane, once, and he was noting that the concrete construction caused the fire to harmlessly burn out.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:07 PM on June 27, 2002


I seem to recall reading an interview last fall, almost right after it happened. The son of the engineer who oversaw construction of the buildings related a discussion he'd had with his father on why the collapse occurred...and this is pretty much what the father/engineer said was responsible.
posted by dorian at 9:51 PM on June 27, 2002


The jet fuel burned off quickly. The inferno was the carpets, furniture, computers, curtains, and office paper that the fuel ignited. So if there had been ideal fireproofing, it would have protected the steel long enough for the fuel to burn out.

But the fireproofing was (according to the Nova special) shredded off by aluminum fragments as the planes broke apart within the buildings. Could any existing adhesive have held fireproofing onto the steel under those conditions?

Even if the North Tower had stood for another hour or two, there was no means of evacuation because the stairwells were all destroyed (the Atlantic piece makes this point). So almost as many would have died. The disaster has many facets, it seems too simple to look for 'the' cause.
posted by crunchburger at 10:14 PM on June 27, 2002


pk: my mistake, I was about fifteen minutes away from a nap when I wrote that.

In any case, my further thought is that Dunn makes a strong case, but there may well be pushback from the design engineer community on his points. Dunn seems to be gunning for legislative action, though.
posted by dhartung at 11:48 PM on June 27, 2002


"The insulation is going to turn out to be the root cause," said James G. Quintiere, a professor at University of Maryland's Fire Protection Engineering Department who analyzed the fireproofing in the two towers.

That is the stupidest fucking statement I've read in my entire life. Someone needs to inform Professor Quintiere that the "root cause" was two large airplanes which were deliberately flown into the buildings, which then exploded and caused MASSIVE damage in a very short span of time...something that no architect or contractor could ever reasonably be expected to design or build for. Idiot.

Design a building to withstand a hit from a fuel-laden 747, that is just short of complete, blithering stupidity...
posted by RevGreg at 11:50 PM on June 27, 2002


But it was designed to withstand a hit from a fuel-laden 727, at the time of construction the largest plane out there.

You know, they do think about that stuff, and design buildings based on it. And it's not blitheringly stupid, it's actually very smart, and saves lives.

"That is the stupidest fucking statement I've read in my entire life" may be the stupidest fucking statement I've read in my entire life. I hope it's the stupidest fucking statement you've written in your entire life.

All this egregious swearing gets to me. Time to hit the shower and clean the pat off me.
posted by dfowler at 5:57 AM on June 28, 2002


dfowler: I thought it was designed to withstand a 707 hit. 707 being a 4 engine, and larger plane than the 3 engine 727. Now, they(towers) withstood the initial impact of the planes quite well, that is documented(sadly) quite well. The resulting fires and subsequent damage did them in. I think the idea that all the furniture and paper and other office supplies contributed largely to the fires, may finally get us heading towards that paperless office we have been striving for.
Ultimately, the towers are gone. People can look back in hindsight and point out deficiencies until the cows come home. Hopefully we can come away from it having learned a lot. Maybe building codes do need to change. Not for me to say.

It's Friday folks. Take a deep breath and try to relax a bit. Ease off on the hostility. Trying to have a community here.
posted by a3matrix at 6:57 AM on June 28, 2002


It's important to separate some of the governing aims here. Regardless of hostile attack being the ultimate cause, there are reasons to investigate the process of failure. The fire-prevention community wants to lobby for greater passive protections, an area they see as in decline, and which then puts a greater burden on active fire suppression by people who have to risk their lives to do it. The engineering community wishes to understand precisely how the towers failed -- because it has important implications for the thousands of other skyscrapers out there, and precision is important because it means they can counteract the failure mode with the lowest possible cost. The insurance community wants to know how to rate the risk of skyscraper designs. The government community wants to know what regulations it can implement, and the fewer, or more certain, the more painless politically. The victims' families -- those who didn't take the federal payoff -- want to know who, if anyone, they can reasonably sue.
posted by dhartung at 8:15 AM on June 28, 2002


a3matrix, you are right that it was designed to withstand a 707, which is larger than a 727 (but smaller than a 767). However, when they were contemplating an airplane hitting the building, they were thinking of plane lost in fog that might have been coming in for a landing. So they calculated the speed based on 200-300 mph. The 767s that hit the WTC were travelling at full-throttle, nearly 600 mph. According to the engineer (just saw an interview on TLC a few nights ago), when you double the speed you square the amount of force. So the planes that hit had an impact power of approximately four times what they had envisioned. And that's just the power of impact -- no one thought about a fully fueled plane.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:13 AM on June 28, 2002


It's also notewothy on how fireproofing technology changed from the initial construction of the towers. Building on the WTC started 1966, the first flight of a Boeing 767 wasn't until 1981. I'm sure that even if they were tested for jetfuel fire damage back then, it would have been based on existing aircraft styles such as the 707 or 727. (747 showed up in '69)

If we're to improve existing construction technologies, I suppose we'll have to imagine aircraft that is twice the size of existing ones, and atleast ten times more flammible.
posted by samsara at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2002


I don't envy the engineer who has to design a structure to withstand the Airbus A3XX.

[The Airbus] will be a triple-decker aircraft, carrying up to 656 passengers. The first version to be built will fill two full-length decks with 555 seats - one-third more than the most capacious Boeing 747 - and have room in the hold for any thing from a bowling alley to a restaurant or boutiques.
posted by MJoachim at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2002


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