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Firefighters warn about the dangers of open floor plans

There are many pros to open floor plan homes, however firefighters believe fewer doors and walls with more combustible materials makes for a dangerous combination.

Cleveland — 17 minutes - that's how long you had to escape in a house fire 30 years ago.

Now - you have three to four minutes.

A company that conducts fire safety testing says part of the reason is the trend of open floor plans, which cause homes to burn faster.

But there are so many “pros” to open floor plans that across the country and right here in the CLE, they are catching on like wildfire.

A perfect case in point is in the prime real estate area between Tremont and Ohio City.

7 townhomes on the way, called Duck Island 7, make up one of the latest hot spots to live in this city on the rise.

They are just shells for now, but they smack of See The Possible in the world of Cleveland development.

Duck Island 7 developer, Sam McNulty, stands in what would be the kitchen of one, and gestures through what is the entire depth of the 3rd floor.

"We have a completely open floor plan, so the kitchen, dining, living rooms, all have unobstructed views of the West Side Market, Ohio City and more. People want to be in this free form kind of free flowing space," McNulty says from the experience of the demand he’s seen.

But firefighters, from experience, want you to consider what they see more and more.

"But in an open format like the ones you're describing, there is nothing to stop that fire from spreading throughout the entire floor," says Lt. Mike Norman.

He’s the spokesman for the Cleveland Fire Department.

Norman says even more and more older, traditional homes are getting an open floor plan facelift, being gutted to open up their rooms.

Fewer doors, fewer walls and more combustible materials, Norman says, is a dangerous combination for families AND firefighters.

"That lightweight construction collapses quicker and they are more prone to catastrophic collapses. It’s what we call pancake collapses. The entire floor comes down at one time,” says Norman.

He adds that firefighters are trained differently to tackle those fires.

McNulty, on our tour of Duck Island 7 points out, "We're actually going beyond national building code here”.

He explains they essentially have a complete firewall doubled up on each wall that can withstand a fire at least for 2 hours.

Standing in the middle of his open floor space, Sam McNulty sees: "A wide open space where the smoke can, as it does, rise to the ceiling, trip the alarms and then we have plenty of time to get out of the building," says McNulty.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 30 years ago, on average, families had FOUR TIMES longer to get out of a home on fire.

That’s why Norton says, “We advocate for developers to make these as safe as they can. Both for the residents who are living there and for the firefighters who have to respond to these emergencies."