Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Built Like a Brick Outhouse

Let me start out by apologizing to all of you who live/work/play within 100 miles of Mineral, VA. There are few who like earthquakes less than I and I understand how the sensation of the usually stable ground moving beneath your feet can cause a little concern. Having said that, let me now say magnitude 5.8 wasn't all that much.

I suspect the overwhelming majority of you behaved quite normally and, after the initial surprise wore off, did what you needed to do, then went about your business. Of course the media did not portray that image - it isn't very interesting.

Frankly, I'm extremely grateful that the quake wasn't any bigger. I suspect that seismic building standards are not as stringent in that part of the country as they are in mine.  There are probably much bigger issues like ice/snow loading on roofs, R-value insulation ratings and BTU capacity that play a bigger role in the building code. They probably should, those issues are more pressing on a regular basis than the ground moving under one's feet.

As we get measurable snow where I live once every 50 years or so and average 10 inches of rain per year, roof loading isn't as important to us as seismic safety.

When I worked at the Big House, I prayed that I wouldn't be at work when the "big one" hit. Though I was in the building when a couple of good sized temblors occurred, my payers were answered. The Big House is a large brick building, sturdy and well built - though only to the seismic standards in place in 1953 when the building was built.

 The lessons of Northridge, Whittier Narrows, Landers, Sylmar and numerous other quakes have taught us that the codes that were in place in 1953 are not really sufficient to protect "essential" structures like fire stations. The city looked at the cost of upgrading the Big House to current standards and found it excessive, especially when coupled with the modernization that the 50+ yr old station needs.

Thus, a new station is being built, one up to the latest seismic standards. I must say, were I still working, I would want to be nowhere else when the "big one" hit, except maybe Nebraska.

Notice all of the diagonal bracing, colored in gray. According to one of the foremen, they are designed to provide lateral stability to the structure in the event of an earthquake. Barely visible in the right side of the photo, are additional diagonal braces. Even more are out of the photo on the left and several are waiting on the ground to be installed. I was told that the gray diagonals are filled with concrete, the red diagonals are conventional steel beams.

I have to think that the center part of this structure is the place to be during an earthquake. I don't remember the floor plan of the building, but if it were up to me, I would try to ensure that the captain's dorm were located on the second floor, directly in the middle.  Close to the stairs, hopefully when the shaking stopped, I could make it out of the building before anyone on the crew saw me screaming like an adolescent.

The third floor of the structure is going to be the administrative offices, the Fire Chief, Ops chief and support staff will be located there. There will a pole going from the third floor to the apparatus floor, I can't wait to give that a try, though I would likely take the stairs after a quake.

Prevention is located over at city hall. Although a relatively modern building, I doubt that it is built as tough as this one.

Training and disaster preparedness are located at the city's EOC, another essential building that is built "Ford Tough". I think I still would rather be at the building above though - I saw how it was built.

Casa Schmoe is another matter. Though thoroughly remodeled, it is still a house designed in the '60s. I just hope the boyos from the local house can come dig us and the wiener dogs out before we run out of food. I think the dogs would soon tire of Schmoe as a regular diet and I don't wanna know what wiener dog tastes like.

I will post pictures of the new "Big House" over the coming months, it is supposed to be done within the next 12 months. I'm sure it will be impressive.

Thanks for reading,

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