News 18 Special Report: Hidden Dangers

Some building materials are not meant to withstand a fire. In a News 18 Special Report, we identify which ones are more likely to collapse in flames. Right now, there's a bill moving through the Statehouse that would require builders to disclose whether they're using these materials.

Posted: Feb 21, 2018 6:58 PM
Updated: Feb 21, 2018 7:05 PM

WEA TOWNSHIP, Ind. (WLFI) — Some building materials are not meant to withstand a fire.

Right now, there's a bill moving through the Statehouse that would require builders to disclose whether they're using these materials.

Firefighters and families of those who have fallen to this issue are rooting for the legislation to pass.

"I don't consider days normal anymore," said Bob Smith as he stared at pictures of his brother inside the Wea Township Fire Department.

"I think it makes me close to him again," said Smith. 

There are signs of his brother, Steve, around every corner inside the department. 

"They always made fun of him because of the size of the boots he wore," said Smith. 

But they always loved Steve for the size of his heart.

"He was always outgoing, he was always laughing, he was always smiling he was always caring," described Smith. 

Steve Smith was killed in June of 2006 while trying to rescue someone he thought was inside a burning home.

"He might have died in vain because there was nobody in there," said Smith. 

But Bob believes his death could still save lives, if Indiana lawmakers are willing to listen.

Steve died after falling through a burning floor made of advanced structural components.

"It's a safety issue for Firefighters," said Professional Firefighters Union Vice President Mike Whited.

He said these advanced parts are great for building. They're lighter, stronger and cheaper than traditional wood, but when they catch fire the collapse rate is so much greater. That's because of weak points like fast burning glue or metal holding the products together.

"All we want to know is if it's in the roof or in the floor or both," said Whited. 

Whited also lost someone close to him due to these materials.

"I was actually at the fire," said Whited. 

While trying to put out a church fire in Muncie, the roof collapsed on him and broke his back.

"I just recently had my third surgery," said Whited. 

He's spent the past several years lobbying for legislation to help firefighters learn more about what they're walking into. It hasn't been easy.

"The people who were opposing it felt like this may devalue the product it may make people not want to live in buildings that have this in there and that is by far not the reason we are doing this," said Whited. "We're not trying to say that this is inferior product, it's a superior product in many ways except when it catches on fire the collapse rate is so much greater."

Senate Bill 393 requires people to disclose the use of these advanced materials when they apply for a building permit. That information would be given to local 911 dispatching systems.

"Every fire truck going to the scene will get the same exact information," said Whited. 

Wea Township Fire Department Public Information Officer Samuel Shell said the bill could help firefighters and potentially save lives.

"It would make us go back to the drawing board as far as what we do and our procedures," said Shell. "We would take a little more of a cautious approach to those type of structures."

Whited is confident it will pass this session but Bob Smith wishes this law existed when his brother was alive.

"I believe it would have been different," said Smith. 

Smith hopes it is different for the sake of others but unfortunately for him, he's left remembering, honoring and forever wondering what could have been for his brother.

"I think someday he would have been chief because that's what he wanted to do," said Smith. 

The bill already passed through the whole Senate and so far, a House committee.

If it passes and is signed by the Governor, the law would go into effect after June 30th.

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