Title:
Building simulating apparatus and method for training emergency personnel
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention provides an apparatus and method for simulating a building environment through which emergency personnel may be trained by practicing search and rescue. The present invention provides an apparatus including a plurality of wall panels which can be joined together and simulate a floor plan of a building. The wall panels preferably are modular prefabricated wall panels adapted to be assembled and disassembled permitting the same wall panels to be adapted for use to provide different floor plans. Thus, a modular kit incorporating a plurality of different wall panels may be arranged and subsequently rearranged into as many different floor plans as desired thus providing a variety of different floor plans which will provide challenging training in search and rescue.



Inventors:
Rivet, Robert (Barrie, CA)
Application Number:
12/219621
Publication Date:
07/30/2009
Filing Date:
07/24/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
52/127.7, 52/220.1, 52/656.1
International Classes:
E04C2/30; A62C99/00; E04B1/61; E04C2/38; E04C2/52
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
DEMUREN, BABAJIDE A
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
RICHES, MCKENZIE & HERBERT, LLP (SUITE 1800 2 BLOOR STREET EAST, TORONTO, ON, M4W 3J5, CA)
Claims:
1. A building simulation training apparatus comprising: a plurality of modular rectilinear wall panels capable of movement by one or two persons, the wall panels adapted to be releasably coupled to adjacent wall panels to form a simulated floor plan of a building, each wall panel being adapted for removable coupling to adjacent of the wall panels both in line with any one adjacent of the wall panels and perpendicular with any other adjacent of the wall panels to form a free standing structure, each wall panel having a plurality of identical coupling mechanisms, one proximate each of the upper and lower corner of each end of the wall panel and adapted for releasably coupling with the identical coupling mechanism of adjacent wall panels both in inline and perpendicular configurations.

2. An apparatus as claimed in claim 1 wherein each coupling mechanism includes a catch rod with an end segment disposed horizontally along the end of the wall panel and two side segments, each disposed horizontally along a respective side of the wall panel, each coupling mechanism also includes a latch member movable from a retracted position within the confines of the wall panel to an engaging position in which the latch member extends from an end of its wall panel for engagement with either the end segment of a catch rod of an adjacent wall panel in line therewith or a side segment of a catch rod of an adjacent wall panel perpendicular therewith.

3. An apparatus as claimed in claim 1 wherein said wall panel comprises an interior framework having a top rail, a bottom rail and a plurality of vertically extending studs, extending between the top rail and the bottom rail, the framework being clad on each side by a sheet member.

4. A wall panel as claimed in claim 3 including wires extending through the wall panel to simulate wires in the wall of a building.

5. A wall panel as claimed in claim 4 including conduit pipe extending through the framework to simulate conduit pipe in a building.

6. An apparatus as claimed in claim 1 wherein the wall panels comprise a wooden framework clad with cladding materials selected from gypsum board and plywood and each panel has a construction substantially the same as the construction for a wooden building wall with a top rail, a bottom rail and a plurality of spaced vertical studs extending between the top rail and the bottom rail, the apparatus being supported on a floor.

7. An apparatus as claimed in claim 1 including additionally, for any specific floor plan to be simulated by the apparatus, an information package comprising at least a partial description or representation of a building which the floor plan simulates, which information is to be received by a person in advance of entering the simulator having the specific floor plan.

8. An apparatus as claimed in claim 2 wherein said wall panel comprises an interior framework having a top rail, a bottom rail and a plurality of vertically extending studs, extending between the top rail and the bottom rail, the framework being clad on each side by a sheet member.

9. A wall panel as claimed in claim 8 including wires extending through the wall panel to simulate wires in the wall of a building.

10. A wall panel as claimed in claim 9 including conduit pipe extending through the framework to simulate conduit pipe in a building.

11. An apparatus as claimed in claim 2 wherein the wall panels comprise a wooden framework clad with cladding materials selected from gypsum board and plywood and each panel has a construction substantially the same as the construction for a wooden building wall with a top rail, a bottom rail and a plurality of spaced vertical studs extending between the top rail and the bottom rail, the apparatus being supported on a floor.

12. An apparatus as claimed in claim 2 including additionally, for any specific floor plan to be simulated by the apparatus, an information package comprising at least a partial description or representation of a building which the floor plan simulates, which information is to be received by a person in advance of entering the simulator having the specific floor plan.

13. An apparatus as claimed in claim 8 wherein the wall panels comprise a wooden framework clad with cladding materials selected from gypsum board and plywood and each panel has a construction substantially the same as the construction for a wooden building wall with a top rail, a bottom rail and a plurality of spaced vertical studs extending between the top rail and the bottom rail, the apparatus being supported on a floor.

14. An apparatus as claimed in claim 8 including additionally, for any specific floor plan to be simulated by the apparatus, an information package comprising at least a partial description or representation of a building which the floor plan simulates, which information is to be received by a person in advance of entering the simulator having the specific floor plan.

Description:

SCOPE OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to an apparatus and method for training emergency personnel such as fire, police and military personnel to perform search and rescue within closed structures under conditions as may be experienced in emergencies involving fire, smoke, power outages and the like.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Emergency personnel, such as firemen, have the difficult task of moving into, through and out of structures, such as buildings, under conditions in which they have no visibility or limited visibility as, for example, when navigating through a building with very heavy smoke conditions where there may be little or no ambient light and emergency lighting such as headlamps and flashlights may penetrate only limited distances such as not more than a few feet. Similar conditions arise as in rooms which have no ambient light and in which the firefighter may not have access to any emergency light. In such situations, the firefighters adopt techniques by which they carefully move through a building using largely by touch and feel the location of various structures such as walls, doorways, windows, banisters, steps and the like to move through the building as, for example, in and out of different rooms towards identifying the rooms and attempting to locate persons within the building and/or to exit safely from the building.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides an apparatus and method for simulating a building environment through which emergency personnel may be trained by practicing search and rescue.

The present invention provides an apparatus including a plurality of wall panels which can be joined together and simulate a floor plan of a building. The wall panels preferably are modular prefabricated wall panels adapted to be assembled and disassembled permitting the same wall panels to be adapted for use to provide different floor plans. Thus, a modular kit incorporating a plurality of different wall panels may be arranged and subsequently rearranged into as many different floor plans as desired thus providing a variety of different floor plans which will provide challenging training in search and rescue.

The preferred wall panels or partitions include wall panels which incorporate doorways, and wall panels which incorporate windows. Preferably, the windows simulate actual windows to assist emergency personnel in entering or exiting via the windows.

Certain of the wall panels preferably have a construction which simulates actual walls as found in buildings to assist in training personnel in breaking through any type of wall as, for example, to break through a drywall covered wall and in moving through a wall in spaces between studs, wiring, plumbing, duct work and the like.

In accordance with the preferred apparatus, coupling mechanisms are provided so as to fixedly couple the modular wall panels together where they abut and optionally secure the panels to a floor or other structure.

In accordance with a preferred method of use of the apparatus, pictorial representations are provided to the emergency personnel before they enter the building simulator which representations show an exterior of a building which the simulator is intended to simulate. The pictorial representation can provide clues and input to the emergency personnel as to the possible layout of the building. The pictorial representations would approximate the information to be received by an emergency worker on visually surveying a building to be entered. Similarly, in respect of high rise apartments, any particular floor plan for the simulator may have accompanying information and representations such as information which emergency workers could gain from adjoining apartment units which would assist the emergency worker in determining the nature of the floor plan to be encountered.

Preferably, a floor plan is constructed using the modular wall panels in accordance with the present invention as, for example, on a flat planar, preferably, concrete floor. Subsequently, furniture and other props may be placed within the floor plan. Subsequently, the structure may be either filled with smoke or the emergency worker may be required to perform a search and rescue operation as with a face piece or mask of a self-contained breathing apparatus completely covered which would simulate heavy smoke conditions. The apparatus may merely be used in the dark with a minimum of light.

Insofar as buildings in any particular geographic area may have consistent floor plans, such floor plan arrangements can be selected to be a floor plan to be simulated.

The building simulator permits for various floor plans to be constructed and removed in a minimal of time. This facilitates construction of a training floor plan anywhere as, for example, on an existing floor within an existing building such as on the main floor of a fire hall or garage or on an existing cement pad outside of a building, to be used and, subsequently, to be dismantled and stored in a comparatively small space. For use over various surfaces such as over dirt, gravel or grassed surfaces surface modular flooring panels may also be provided. Similarly, as a roofing structure such as demountable flexible roof such as from canvas or Nylon fabric may be provided as to keep smoke in the structure, to minimize light egress and/or to protect the other components of the simulator from the elements such as rain. The simulator could be mounted inside a collapsible tent-like enclosure. The entire simulator may be stored and moved inside a trailer for ease of transport as well as storage. The wall panels may also be used in conjunction with pre-existing walls, doorways and windows in an existing fire hall or training centre.

The modular wall panels preferably are individual wall panels which are adapted to be manipulated for assembly and disassembly by one or two individuals. In this regard, they preferably are made of standard wall construction materials such as formed of a framework of metal or wood studs and carry plywood sheeting or panelling-type material, alternately, drywall sheeting with or without baseboard or the like. Towards rendering the individual wall panels more lightweight, they may alternatively comprise, for example, a core of lightweight foamed material with thin metal or fibreglass protective sheeting. The modular wall panels may also comprise a plastic-type material formed by injection molding and/or extrusion.

The individual wall panels may be coupled together by various methods, preferably, in a manner which provides for quick connection and disconnection.

One preferred configuration is to provide male and female latching mechanisms at corners of each panel to permit each panel to be connected to all other similar panels. Preferably, the male and female latching mechanism will permit rectangular panels when orientated vertically with a designated top as the upper end to have its ends joined in-line, that is, end to end, with other similar panels without regard to which end of one panel may engage the end of another panel. Such latching mechanisms not only render the panels ambidextrous for coupling end-to-end in a straight line but also preferably permit the end of any panel to be coupled to another panel proximate its end to extend perpendicular thereto. Preferably, a single configuration of the latching mechanism is provided at each of the top and bottom corners at each end of each panel permitting in-line and/or perpendicular coupling at the end of each panel to other similar panels.

The latching mechanisms are preferably accessible from the front and rear faces of each panel and when not activated for coupling are retained within the confines of the panel, that is, within the end faces, front and back faces and top and bottom faces so as to not extend therefrom or increase the overall dimensions of the panel during storage or movement.

The latching mechanisms are preferably modular elements which can be manufactured separately and installed within the corners of each panel.

Preferably, the panels when coupled together provide a sufficiently strong self-supporting structure with in-line panels and panels extending perpendicular to other panels that there is no need for coupling of the structure to the floor or another building structure.

Another preferred configuration is to provide flat brackets which are to lie on a floor surface bridging two or more wall panels and provide vertically extending pins to extend vertically into holes in the wall panels. Similar such brackets may be provided at the top of the wall panels to bridge between two or more wall panels. The floor brackets need not be secured to the floor, however, could be secured to the floor by various means such as pins which extend from the bracket vertically downward into the floor or, possibly, Velcro brand touch fasteners which are removably secured to the floor at desired locations as by adhesive and the like. Such floor brackets preferably engage the floor having regard to the relative weight of the wall panels so as to resist movement under normal forces to be experienced under search and rescue conditions such as having emergency personnel forcefully urge themselves into portions of the wall panels. Cross braces may be provided at the top of adjacent wall panels extending between adjacent wall panels at a height which will not interfere with emergency personnel during training.

The modular wall panels preferably provide relatively full height walls as, for example, six to eight feet high to mimic the walls of a normal building, however, this is not necessary. Preferably, the wall panels are sufficiently high so as to accommodate normal full sized windows as can be used in an exercise to enter or exit via the windows. This is also not necessary and the wall panels, for example, which are three feet to five feet high can be useful to simulate conditions to be experienced by emergency personnel as they typically crawl on the floor about the periphery of the floor plan.

Preferably, the modular wall panels are assembled such that they are open upwardly and supervisory personnel can view the progress of any personnel in the simulator possibly recording the progress which can be used towards assisting and/or developing improved techniques for teaching or simulation. Thus, in accordance with one preferred embodiment, an observatory station is provided above the floor plan to observe and/or record personnel's activity as with time.

The modular wall panels preferably are adapted to be stored stacked horizontally or vertically on their ends or sides.

Preferably, where a doorway is to be provided, the door is provided within a single modular wall panel providing both sides and the top of framing for the door with a relatively thin bracket or plate to extend across the bottom of the door simulating a low height sill and assisting to keep the sides of the door in fixed locations.

Preferably, where windows are to be provided, a unitary wall panel is provided carrying the entirety of a window including the sill, two sides and a top. Windows may be provided with depths to simulate an actual window in a home and, therefore, to simulate the exercise of emergency personnel passing outwardly or inwardly via the window.

In accordance with the present invention, the apparatus may comprise a kit providing a plurality of identical modular wall panels together with suitable quick attach connection means for connecting the wall panels together into different floor plans and with the kit including a plurality of suggested floor plans which can be adopted. Preferably, the kit would also include visual representations showing exterior details or other details which would indicate to the emergency personnel in advance of entering any simulated floor plan some clues as to the nature of the floor plan. In addition, specific information could be given in different exercises such as the exiting of smoke from a particular window or areas, information as to the date, time, nature of the persons which may be expected inside the simulated building and/or information about location of persons within the simulated building.

The training apparatus may comprise but a simple maze of the wall panels, however, preferably furniture, floor coverings, appliances and the like placed in suitable locations. Various other props and enhancements may be provided as, for example, loud speakers, lights, heaters, devices to provide smoke and/or flame or the like to simulate actual conditions.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Further aspects and advantages will become apparent from the following description taken together with the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is a pictorial front view of a simulated building training apparatus in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a plan view of the apparatus shown in FIG. 1;

FIGS. 3A and 3B are pictorial front and rear views of the building shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 4 is a pictorial view of a frame for a basic wall panel used in FIG. 1;

FIG. 4A is an exploded view of an assembled basic wall panel whose frame is shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 5 is a pictorial view of a frame for a window wall panel used in FIG. 1;

FIG. 6 is pictorial view of a frame for a door wall panel used in FIG. 1;

FIGS. 7 through 11 are pictorial views of brackets, namely straight, corner, extended T, simple T, and extendable brackets, respectively, used to join the tops and bottoms of panels of FIGS. 4 to 6 together.

FIG. 12 is a schematic pictorial top view illustrating the use of the brackets shown in FIGS. 7, 10 and 11 to join basic wall panels of the type shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 13 is a schematic top view illustrating the use of brackets shown in FIGS. 7, 8, 9 and 11 to join basic wall panels of the type shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 14 is a pictorial view of a frame for a basic wall panel as illustrated in FIG. 4 but modified for use in breeching;

FIG. 15 is a pictorial view of a frame for a basic wall panel as illustrated in FIG. 4 but modified to provide restricted through openings;

FIG. 16 is a pictorial view of a frame for a basic wall panel similar to that shown in FIG. 14, however, modified to provide smoke simulation and lighting;

FIG. 17 is a pictorial view of a frame for a window wall panel similar to that in FIG. 5 but modified to provide an exterior window covering;

FIG. 18 is a pictorial view of a frame for a door wall panel similar to that in FIG. 6, however, modified to provide a spring-loaded door for tactical breeching and forcible entry;

FIG. 19 is a pictorial view of a second simulated building training apparatus in accordance with the invention;

FIGS. 20 and 21 are pictorial views of brackets, namely a straight and a corner bracket, used to join the bottom of wall panels to a floor or to a wall panel below the wall panel;

FIG. 22 is a schematic pictorial view illustrating the manner of securing floor joist members for the floor of a second story room shown in FIG. 19;

FIG. 23 is a schematic pictorial view illustrating one manner for connection of an enclosed stairway in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 24 is a plan view similar to that of FIG. 2 of a third simulated building training apparatus formed by use of the panels of FIGS. 4 to 6;

FIG. 25 is a further plan view of a fourth simulated building training apparatus formed using the wall panels of FIGS. 4, 5 and 6;

FIG. 26 is a floor plan of another simulated building training apparatus, however, utilizing the wall panels illustrated in FIGS. 27 to 31;

FIG. 27 is a pictorial view of a four foot wide basic wall panel used in FIG. 26;

FIG. 28 is a pictorial view of a six foot wide wall panel used in FIG. 26;

FIG. 29 is a pictorial view of an eight foot wide wall panel used in FIG. 26;

FIG. 30 is a pictorial view of an eight foot wide wall panel with a door used in FIG. 26;

FIG. 31 is a pictorial view of an eight foot wide wall panel with a window used in FIG. 26;

FIG. 32 is a pictorial view of an eight foot wide wall panel formed from two sub-panels;

FIG. 33 is a pictorial view of a fully assembled wall panel in accordance with a second embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 34 is a pictorial view of the wall panel of FIG. 33 with its cladding layers removed so as to show its internal framework and corner coupling mechanisms;

FIG. 35 is an enlarged pictorial view of one of the corner coupling mechanisms shown in FIG. 34;

FIG. 36 is a pictorial view showing two wall panels of the type shown in FIG. 33 arranged end to end in line;

FIG. 37 is a partial cross-sectional plan view along section line P-P′ in FIG. 36;

FIG. 38 is a schematic pictorial view showing merely the two coupling mechanisms illustrated in FIG. 37 in abutment in an uncoupled condition;

FIG. 39 is the same view as in FIG. 38 but showing the coupling mechanisms coupled together;

FIG. 40 is a plan view identical to that in FIG. 37 but also showing two additional wall panels extending perpendicular to one of the wall panels and coupled thereto;

FIG. 41 is a schematic pictorial view of a second embodiment of a corner coupling mechanism in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 42 is a schematic exploded view of an uppermost corner of a wall panel for use with the corner coupling mechanism of FIG. 41;

FIG. 43 is a pictorial assembled view of the uppermost corner of a wall panel shown in FIG. 42;

FIG. 44 is a cross-sectional plan view along section line Q-Q′ in FIG. 43;

FIG. 45 is a schematic cross-sectional plan view of the coupling mechanism shown in FIG. 44 but showing four wall panels coupled together, two end-to-end and two side-to-side;

FIG. 46 is a schematic front view of a wall panel with a configuration having similarities to that shown in FIG. 43;

FIG. 47 is a schematic front view of a wall panel similar to that shown in FIG. 46 but with a friction fit removable window;

FIG. 48 is a schematic front view of a wall panel similar to that shown in FIG. 46 but with a doorway therethrough;

FIG. 49 is a schematic front view of two wall panels similar to that shown in FIG. 46 ready for end-to-end coupling;

FIG. 50 is a schematic front view showing three panels, one as seen in FIG. 47, a second as seen in FIG. 46 and a third as seen in FIG. 48 ready for coupling end-to-end;

FIG. 51 is a schematic front view showing a panel similar to that shown in FIG. 46 but with a mechanism for simultaneously latching and unlatching both coupling mechanism on one end of the panel;

FIGS. 52, 53 and 54 are pictorial views of a plan view of a layout for simulated buildings with the same floor plan as constructed with the wall panels of FIGS. 46, 47 and 48;

FIGS. 55, 56 and 57 are plan views of the floor plans shown in FIGS. 52, 53 and 54, respectively;

FIGS. 58 to 64 are plan views of different floor plans for simulated buildings constructed with the wall panels of FIGS. 46, 47 and 48;

FIG. 65 is a schematic pictorial view of a corner post for use in accordance with the present invention;

FIG. 66 is a cross-sectional view of the corner post of the FIG. 65 along section lines Z-Z′;

FIG. 67 is a schematic pictorial view of the internal bracket member provided within the corner post shown in FIG. 65;

FIG. 68 is a plan view of a floor plan utilizing four corner posts as shown in FIG. 65;

FIG. 69 is a schematic pictorial view of another embodiment of a coupling mechanism 800 which has similarities to the coupling mechanism 100 shown in FIG. 35 as adapted to be a replacement.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Reference is made first to FIG. 1 which illustrates a training apparatus 10 in accordance with the first embodiment of the present invention. The training apparatus illustrated is formed in its entirety from a plurality of modular wall panels generally indicated 12. The wall panels 12 preferably are selected from the basic wall panel 14 of FIG. 4, a window wall panel 16 of FIG. 5 and a door wall panel 18 of FIG. 6. The modular wall panels preferably have identical height, width and thickness and are adapted to be coupled together on a supporting floor so as to provide interrelated walls which define a particular floor plan of a building to be simulated. FIG. 2 illustrates a plan view of a training apparatus 10 of FIG. 1 and includes written designations of the various areas contained within the floor plan as being different rooms within a three bedroom house and particularly indicating areas designated as a kitchen, living room, bedroom 1, bedroom 2, bedroom 3 and a washroom.

Referring to FIGS. 4, 4A, 5 and 6, each of the wall panels 12 preferably comprise an internal framework 20, preferably covered on both sides by cladding layers 22 and 23. The framework 20 preferably comprises a plurality of vertically spaced studs 24 and horizontal top and bottom rails 25 and 26. The framework 20 may preferably comprise wood as, for example, two by four inch lumber as is commonly used in construction, however, the framework 20 may also comprise standard metal stud framing. The cladding layers 22 and 23 may comprise a wide variety of materials including gypsum board, plywood, plastic sheeting, fibreglass, laminate, panelling, sheet metal and particle board which is secured to overlie the framework 20 on each side of the framework. The basic wall panel 14 of FIG. 4A has the entirety of its surfaces covered by the cladding layers 22 and 23 so that each of the basic wall panels 14 would appear as illustrated in FIG. 1.

The window wall panel 16 illustrated in FIG. 5 has a framework 20 similar to that in FIG. 4, however, with a window 28 opening therethrough and the cladding layers 22 and 23 would cover the sides of the frame of the window wall panel other than over the window. The door wall panel member 18, shown in FIG. 6, also has a similar interior framework 20, however, has a door opening 30 provided therethrough with the door opening opened through the lower rail 26. Preferably, a low height metal plate 33 may extend across the bottom of the door opening 30 to simulate a door threshold and to assist in maintaining integrity of the door wall panel. As with the other wall panels 12, the door wall panel 18 has its. surfaces covered by cladding layers 22 and 23 other than over the door opening.

The door wall panel 18 preferably has a door 32, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 2, received in the door opening and pivotally coupled at one side thereof to the framework 20 such that the door 32 is adapted for opening and closing in a standard manner of a conventional door in a household. As well, a door wall panel 18 could be used without the door provided so as to provide a mere passageway therethrough.

As best seen in FIGS. 1 and 2, the wall panels 12 are arranged vertically end-to-end and in abutment to each other at right angles so as to define by suitable location and selection of the various wall panels 12, a desired floor plan for the training apparatus.

Reference is made to FIGS. 7 to 13 which illustrate a number of brackets which may be used to secure the wall panels 12 together. As illustrated in each of FIGS. 4, 5 and 6, the wall panels 14, 16 and 18 are provided with a plurality of vertically extending holes 34 which extend through the top rail 25 and the bottom rail 26 forming their framework 20. The various brackets indicated in FIGS. 7 to 13 each comprise a flat metal plate 36 from which a plurality of pins 38 extend perpendicular thereto. The pins 38 are sized to be received within the holes 34 of the wall panels and the pins 38 are spaced so as when located within the holes 34 of the wall panels to suitably space the wall panels from each other.

FIG. 7 illustrates a straight wall bracket 40 adapted to secure two wall panels 12 together when extending end-to-end in a straight line as, for example, illustrated in each of FIGS. 12 and 13.

FIG. 8 illustrates a corner bracket 42 adapted to secure two wall panels together at a corner as illustrated, for example, in FIG. 13. FIG. 9 illustrates a T bracket 44 to couple a wall panel 12 to extend perpendicularly from wall panels at a junction between two inline wall panels as illustrated in FIG. 13. FIG. 10 illustrates a T bracket 46 for coupling a wall panel 12 to extend perpendicularly from one or more other wall panels as illustrated in FIG. 12. The bracket members are, for example, to be located underneath each panel. In assembly, a selected bracket is placed on the floor and then desired wall panels are manually manipulated and lifted so as to have a side wall panel 12 sit upon the bracket with the pins 38 from the bracket received in the holes 34 of the wall panel. After the wall panels 12 have been engaged on the bracket on the floor, a complementary bracket is placed and lowered down into the holes 34 at the top of the wall panels such that the wall panels are securely held together both at their lower rail 26 on the floor and at their upper rail 25. Preferably, assembly is commenced at a location where two wall panels 12 extend at right angles to each other. From that starting point, new panels may successively be added to the existing structure coupled together by the various brackets. It is to be understood that, for example, when placing any wall panel 12, preferably, the brackets to be received underneath the wall panel at any location under that wall panel will be located in place prior to the wall panel being positioned.

FIG. 11 shows an adjustable length bracket 48 carrying a pin 38 on each of two telescoping members 50 and 52. The inner member 50 is telescopically slidable within the outer member 52. A locking mechanism is provided to lock the two members 50 and 52 against relative longitudinal sliding and for unlocking. As illustrated in FIGS. 12 and 13, the adjustable length bracket 48 may be extended to desired lengths so as to secure the tops of different wall panels 12 together. In FIG. 12, the bracket 48 is shown as extending diagonally between wall panels disposed at angles to each other. In FIG. 13, the bracket 48 is shown as extending between two parallel lengths of wall panels 14.

The brackets which are provided on a floor may advantageously be secured to a floor for increased security, if this may be desired. As shown in each of FIGS. 7 to 10, each bracket is provided with an additional opening 54 as, for example, may accommodate a fastener to extend through the bracket into a floor structure. For example, a screw (not shown) may be driven into a concrete or wooden floor.

Alternatively, other mechanisms may be provided for securing each of the brackets to a floor. For example, a Velcro brand touch fastener may be adhesively secured to the floor to be coupled with a complementary Velcro brand touch fastener which is adhesively provided underneath each bracket. As another method, each bracket may be secured to the floor as with an adhesive which will prevent laterally sliding on the floor, however, which adhesive forces can fairly readily be overcome by upward lifting of the bracket. Additionally, the floor may be provided with a plurality of holes which extend downwardly into the floor in a grid-like pattern and permit the use of brackets similar to brackets 56 and 58 shown in FIGS. 20 and 21 in which the pins 38, which extend upwardly, have corresponding pins 39 which extend downwardly.

By reason of use of the modular wall panels, the training apparatus illustrated in FIG. 1 may readily be assembled manually on a floor surface.

In addition to providing the training apparatus, persons to use the training apparatus may be provided in advance of entering the training apparatus with drawings, pictures or the like which show a representation of the building which the floor plan of FIG. 1 is intended to simulate. In this regard, drawings such as the front and rear perspective views illustrated in FIGS. 3A and 3B, may be provided to persons who enter the training apparatus 10 prior to their entry. From the external pictorial view of the building, the persons to be subjected to the training can surmise various things such as expected floor plan and layout giving the locations of doors 32 and windows 28 and the possible location of the fire given, for example, the appearance of a plume of smoke 60.

Each of the wall panels 12 preferably is constructed to be of a size, shape and weight to permit handling by one or more individuals and to permit stacking as by standing vertically or horizontally. The modular wall panels 12 may readily be assembled into a training assembly 10 as illustrated in FIG. 1 and may be disassembled and assembled into different training assemblies. In this regard, FIGS. 24 and 25 illustrate two additional floor plans for single storey training assemblies. Each of the floor plans illustrated in FIGS. 2, 24 and 25 are formed using identical width building panels. Such building panels may preferably have a width of approximately four feet and a height in the range of about eight feet such that a basic wall panel as illustrated, for example, in FIG. 4 may be clad by a standard 4 feet by 8 feet sheet of gypsum board or plywood. Preferred dimensions of a basic wall panel 12 include a width of 4 feet and a height of 7.5 feet providing a height approximate that of walls in many building constructions.

The wall panels illustrated in FIGS. 4, 5 and 6 illustrate preferred forms of the wall panels. FIGS. 14 to 18 illustrate additional modular wall panels 12 for substitution of those wall panels shown in FIGS. 4, 5 and 6 and which such additional wall panels have additional features.

Reference is made to FIG. 14 which illustrates a basic wall panel 14 which has vertical studs 24 at 16 inch centers as is standard with some forms of construction. In addition, a metal pipe 62 is provided to extend horizontally through the interior of the framework 20 simulating water, gas and other piping typically found in walls. Further, a length of electrical wire 64 is also provided to extend through the framework 20 to simulate electrical wiring. At least the lower portion of the framework is clad with gypsum board. The wall panel of FIG. 14 is intended to be a breeching wall panel, that is, one which in a training operation, a person is to pass through as by cutting away the covering gypsum board and attempting to pass through the wall between the studs avoiding the wiring 64 and/or pipe 62.

Reference is made to FIG. 15 which illustrates another wall panel 14 which is pre-provided with restrictive openings 65 and 66 and which is intended to have the surfaces of the framework 20 entirely covered but for the restricted openings 65 and 66 indicated as being a circular opening 65 and a square opening 66. The restricted openings 65 and 66 provide openings through which trainees can practice passing and which can involve some difficulty especially when trainees are carrying self-contained breathing apparatus.

Reference is made to FIG. 16 which illustrates a wall panel 14 which is provided with firstly, lights 67 which can be connected to an electrical source as, for example, to illuminate portions of the training apparatus and may, for example, be provided as infrared lights or lights which emit red or yellow colours as may simulate heat and/or lighting conditions in a fire. The light 67 may be provided with male and/or female plugs 68, 69 at each side of the wall panel 14 for easy electrical connection with similar modular plug connections from other panels which may be connected to an electrical source. The wall panel is also illustrated as being provided with a pipe 70 which extends longitudinally therethrough and is adapted to be connected in sealed arrangement with similar pipes which extend through adjacent wall panels. The pipe 70 has a vent 71 which extends through one or both sides of the wall panel and is adapted to vent real or simulated smoke or other gases. For example, smoke may be discharged from a smoke machine, fog generator, dry ice or liquid carbon dioxide to impair vision. Alternatively, real smoke may be introduced into the structure.

Reference is made to FIG. 17 which illustrates a window panel 16 similar to that shown in FIG. 5, however, with a covering 72 provided on a simulated exterior side of the window. The window covering 72 may be transparent or non-transparent material such as Plexiglass which may be secured in place by various flexible fasteners 73 to permit forcible removal by prying or striking action with use of forcible entry type tools such as axe, sledge hammer, pry bar, pike pole or halogen bar and to better simulate “Forcible Entry” practices for smoke removal, victim rescue and/or personnel moving into or out of a structure through a window. Another means of securing and attaching a removable window covering 72 may be by use of magnetic fasteners affixed to the window covering and both front and rear faces of the wall panel permitting attachment and removal of the wall covering 72 to or from either face. As illustrated in FIG. 47, another modification to the wall panel for placement of a window pane is by means of friction fitting a window material such as LEXAN-type sized and framed to a dimension that would permit placement and removal thereof within the window opening to both front or rear faces of the wall panel.

Reference is made to FIG. 18 which shows a door wall panel 18 similar to the door wall panel of FIG. 6, however, including a door 32 having a number of features to assist the practice of techniques involving forcible breeching of the door and/or penetration with explosive charges. This door is preferably reinforced by plywood on the door and may have an opening provided through the door which more readily will become destroyed upon tactical breeching with explosive charges. The door may be secured by self-closing hinges which, while under the application of forces, be able to be biased open in forcible entry conditions without undue damage to the door. As further illustrated in FIG. 48, to better simulate forcible entry or breaching of a door structure, the wall panel could comprise a functioning door mounted and secured to one side of the door jamb by use of self-closing hinges (not shown) and in the closed position, secured and locked to the other side of the door jamb by means of a locking door knob assembly with latching mechanism and catch plate affixed to the doorjamb. The doorjamb side affixed with the catch plate to receive the latching mechanism to the door knob, could be constructed, secured and supported as such with spring-type devices positioned between the door jamb and wall panel stud member in a hollow cavity or void. Such design would permit the flexible characteristic or “bending” of a doorjamb comprising of a flexible material such as wood, plastic, thin-gauge steel or other material with flexible properties. The door jamb could then be pried outwardly or away from the door without damage by use of forcible entry-type tools such as axe, halogen bar or pry par and thus separating the catch plate and latching mechanism permitting the locked door to be swung in the open position allowing personnel to move into, out of or within the structure through locked doors. The flexible door jamb would then instantly return to original vertical positioning without flex or bend by the opposing forces of the supporting spring devices without damage permitting the door assembly to be secured and locked again in the closed position for further simulations of forcible entry practices.

Reference is made to FIG. 19 which shows a training apparatus constructed from same width modular wall panels of FIGS. 4, 5 and 6 in a manner similar to that in FIG. 1, however, including in addition to a first floor arranged on a primary floor level, a second floor disposed supported upon the wall panels forming the floor plan for the first floor.

As illustrated in FIG. 22, joist members 74 for a second floor flooring may extend between wall panels 12 for the first floor and carry support pins at their end which hook over the wall panels forming the floor plan for the first wall. Plywood sheathing 75 may be provided on top of such joist members 74. Wall panels 12 for the second floor may be secured above wall panels 12 for the first floor as by the use of connecting brackets as best illustrated in FIGS. 20 and 21 having pins which extend both upwardly and downwardly. While not shown in FIG. 19, in a manner similar to that discussed with FIG. 1, connecting brackets are also to be used to connect the tops of each of the wall panels 12 forming the second story walls. FIG. 19 shows a stairway 76 providing access from the first floor to the second floor. FIG. 23 shows advantageous construction for such a similar stairway adopting a lower stairway forming portion 76 and having stepped wall panels 78 adapted for enclosing each side and upon which other standard modular wall panels 12 may be attached.

The training apparatus illustrated in FIGS. 1 to 25 use wall panels 12 of substantially identical shape and size. This is preferred, however, it is not necessary. Reference is made to FIG. 26 which shows a plan view of a training apparatus formed using modular panels which are provided to have different widths, preferably, widths of four feet, six feet and eight feet.

FIGS. 27, 28 and 29, respectively, illustrate basic wall panels 81, 82 and 83 used in FIG. 26 of four foot, six foot and eight foot widths, respectively. FIGS. 30 and 31 illustrate a door wall panel 88 and a window wall panel 86 of eight foot widths. As seen in FIG. 26, the use of different modular sizes of wall panels provide for different arrangements and configurations of the floor plans as illustrated.

FIG. 32 illustrates an arrangement of two stacked wall panels 90 and 91, each having a width of eight feet and a desired height. The two wall panels are stackable by the provision of vertically extending pins 38 and 39 to extend into holes 34 in the upper and lower plates of the frames of the wall panels.

Reference is made to FIGS. 33 to 40 which illustrate a second embodiment of a wall panel 12 in accordance with the present invention. The wall panel 12 comprises an internal framework 20 formed as best seen in FIG. 34 with vertical studs 24 extending between horizontal top and bottom rails 25 and 26. The studs 24 adjacent each end of the wall panel 12 are recessed inwardly from the ends of the horizontal top and bottom rails 25 and 26 so as to provide an end space to accommodate at each of the four corners adjacent an end and the top or bottom a connecting mechanism 100. The framework 20 is covered on both sides by cladding layers 22 and 23 with the cladding layers 22 and 23 having slots 102 formed therein approximate each of the corners to provide for access to and operation of the corner mechanisms 100.

Referring to FIG. 36, two identical wall panels 12 are provided arranged end to end in line in which position, the coupling mechanisms 100 at opposed ends of the panels 12 align with each other for coupling to secure the ends of the wall panels 12 together securely.

References made to the FIG. 35 which illustrates a preferred embodiment of the coupling mechanism 100. The coupling mechanism 100 has a housing 104 preferably of metal with two L-shaped side walls 105 and 106 supported and held securely parallel to each other by an inner bridging end wall 107 and an outer bridging end wall 108. The inner end wall 107 has four holes 110 therethrough to permit securing to the outer most stud 24 as by screws, bolts, rivets or like fasteners not shown. A U-shaped catch rod 112 has the inner ends of its two side arms 115 and 116 secured to the side walls 105 and 106 such that the U-shaped catch rod 112 is disposed in a horizontal plane. The catch rod 112 has an end portion 117 extending horizontally and disposed such that its outer surface is in the same plane as the outer surface as to the outer end wall 108. Each side arm 115 and 116 is shown to have a Z-shaped with an inner portion 118 secured inside each of the side walls 105 or 106, an intermediate portion 119 extending laterally outwardly and a side portion 120 which extends horizontally parallel to the side walls 105 and 106 and is best seen in FIG. 37 as having its outer surface in the same plane in the outermost surface 121 of the cladding 22 or 23. The catch rod 112 may preferably comprise a metal rod and may preferably be secured to the metal side walls as by welding.

A latch member 122 is pivotally mounted to the housing 104 or pivoting about an axis 123. A cylindrical axle 124 is journalled to the side walls 105 and 106 by extending through correspondingly shaped circular opening in each of the side walls. The axle 124 has fixedly secured to each of its ends an octagonal engagement nut 126 each disposed outside the walls 105 and 106. The latch member 122 includes an elongate hook element 128 secured at an inner end 129 to the axle 124 for rotation with the axle 124. The hook element 128 extends to a distal end 130 which provides a bight 132 on an inner surface. A coil spring 136 only shown in FIG. 35 for ease of illustration has a first end 137 secured to the inner end wall 107 and an outer end 138 secured to the hook element 128 spaced from the axis 123. The spring 136 draws the hook element 128 to rotate about the axis 123 counter clockwise as shown into a retracted position shown in FIG. 35 in which the hook element 128 engages a stop rod 134 which is secured to extend horizontally between the side walls 105 and 106. When two wall panels 12 are placed end to end as shown in FIG. 36, two coupling mechanisms 100 come to be in opposed abutment as schematically illustrated in isolation in FIG. 38 with each of the latch members 122 in a retracted position under the bias of the spring 136 not shown however in FIG. 38. From the retracted position shown in FIG. 38, by engagement with the nuts 126 which are accessible from of the front and rear faces of each panel 12 through the slots 102 in the cladding layers 22 or 23, each of the latch members 122 may be rotated from the retracted position of FIG. 38 to the engaged position of FIG. 39. In the engaged position of FIG. 39, each latch member 122 engages on the end portion 117 of the catch rod 112 of the coupling mechanism 100 of the adjacent wall panel 12. Preferably on rotating the latch member 122 to the engaged position shown in FIG. 39 the hook member 128 will come to engage the inner side of the catch rod 112 with the distal end of the hook element 128 being required to be forced downwardly over the catch rod 112 such that the catch rod 112 becomes disposed within the bight 132 and will retain in the engaged position against the bias of the spring 136.

As seen in FIG. 37 each of the latch members 122 is preferably disposed marginally to one side of a centreline such that the distal end 130 of the hook member 128 lay side-by-side and do not interfere with each other. Preferably each of the coupling mechanisms 100 are identical such that in any end to end orientation each hook element 128 will have its distal ends disposed on appropriate, opposite side to the hook element 128 of the opposing mirror image coupling mechanism 100.

Reference is made to FIG. 40 which illustrate a top plan view identical to that in FIG. 37 however, in additional to showing two left and right wall panels 12 coupled together inline end to end, shows two additional wall panels 12 extending laterally perpendicularly from the left inline wall panel 12. FIG. 40 shows the two laterally extending wall panels as having their latch members 122 engaging the side portion 120 of the side arms 115 or 116 of the catch rods 112. The laterally extending wall panels 12 are shown in a preferred configuration with one outer surface 120 of the cladding 22 or 23 in the same plane as the outer surface of the outer end wall 108.

As seen in FIG. 40, the side portion 120 of each catch rod 112 is disposed relative to the outer surface 120 of the cladding layers 22 and 23, that is, in the front and rear faces surfaces of the wall panel 12 at a corresponding position that then end portion 117 of the catch rod 112 bears to the outer surface of the end wall 108 that is in the end face of the wall panel 12.

In accordance with the preferred embodiment, the coupling mechanisms 100 are fully retracted within the exterior surfaces of the wall panel 12 when in the retracted position and when in the engaged position the latch member 122 extends from the end of the wall panel 12 to engage the catch rod 112 of an identical coupling mechanism of an adjacent wall panel either inline or perpendicular.

The preferred embodiment of FIGS. 33 to 40 illustrates a simple mechanism for rotating the latch member 122 between the retracted and engaged position as for example by access on each face of the panel 12 through the slot 102 to the nut 126 forming part of the latch member 122. Various other mechanisms could be provided for activation of the latch members.

In the preferred embodiment spring 136 is provided to bias the latch member 122 to the retracted position. Additional arrangements could be provided such as pairs of springs one of which biases the latch member 122 to the retracted position and another spring not shown which biases the latch member 122 to the engaged position. Each spring may take dominance over the other on different sides of an intermediate position of the latch member between the retracted position and the extended position such that the latch member from the intermediate position is either bias to assume the retracted position or biased to assume the engaged position.

As seen in FIG. 33 the slots 102 in the cladding panels may be relatively large. Much smaller slots may be provided as for example merely to provide access through an opening in the cladding layers to each of the nuts 126 and to provide a horizontal slot way for the side portion 120 of the catch rod 112 and a vertical slot way for passage of the latch member 122 of a perpendicularly abutting wall panel such as shown in FIG. 40. While the framework 20 is illustrated in FIG. 34 however many modifications will occur to those skilled in the art. For example, additional vertical studs could be provided outwardly of the vertical studs 24 shown in FIG. 34 between each of the coupling mechanisms 100.

As further examples in FIGS. 46 to 50, one such modification for wall panels fabricated substantially entirely from wood could use studs constructed of plywood such as that used for sheathing but of a greater thickness. Such plywood studs would result in a much lighter wall panel and less likely to twist and warp than solid wood used as standard building construction 2″×2″, 2″×4″, 2″×6″ members. Additionally, the top and sole plates could comprise of multiple thicknesses of plywood for increased strength and structural support.

Reference is made to FIG. 41 schematically showing a second embodiment of a coupling mechanism 100 substantially the same as that shown in FIG. 35, however, with the U-shaped catch rod 112 having its side arms 115 and 116 spaced inwardly from the side walls 105 and 106 of the housing 104.

The coupling mechanism 100 of FIG. 41 is adapted for use in a wall panel 12 in which at the end of the panel 12 and end plate 620, preferably of plywood, is mounted to extend vertically covering the top rail 25 as shown and to also cover the end of the bottom rail, not shown. As seen in the exploded view of FIG. 42, the pictorial view of FIG. 43 and the plan view of FIG. 44, the end plate 620 has a thickness the same as the thickness of the cladding layers 22 and 23. A slot 622 is provided through the end plate 620 to provide access to the end portion 117 of the catch rod 112.

The slot 622 through the end plate 620 is similar to the slots 102 through the cladding layers 22 and 23 to provide access to the side arms 115 and 116 of the catch rod 117. FIG. 43 shows a circular opening 624 for access to the engagement nut 126 of the coupling mechanism 100.

FIG. 45 shows in a cross-sectional plan end portions of four wall panels similar to the arrangement in FIG. 40. As seen in FIG. 40 in the end-to-end abutment, the two opposed end portion 117 are each spaced an equal distance from the end of their respective wall panel, the distance being the thickness of the end plate 620. Similarly, in the end-to-side abutment, the opposed end portion 117 is spaced a distance from the end of its wall panel the same as the distance that either the side arm 115 or 116 is spaced from the outside of its wall panel, that distance being the thickness of the respective cladding panels, which is equal to the thickness of the end plate 620.

In the embodiments of FIGS. 41 to 45, the latch members are of the same identical length.

FIG. 46 schematically illustrates a four foot wide by seven foot high wall panel 12 with corner coupling mechanisms 100 similar to that in FIGS. 41 to 45 and illustrating one arrangement for location of framing members and the provision of relatively small sized slots 102 throughout the cladding panel.

FIG. 47 schematically illustrates a wall panel 12 of a size and construction the same as in FIG. 46 but modified to include a window which receives a pane of LEXAN™ Plexi glass in a friction fit relation for forcible removal and replacement.

FIG. 48 schematically illustrates wall panel 12 of a size and construction the same as in FIG. 46 but modified to include a door.

FIG. 49 shows two wall panels 12 as shown in FIG. 46 located end-to-end with their corner coupling mechanisms 100 in position to be coupled.

FIG. 50 shows three panels, one as in each of FIGS. 46, 47 and 48 located end-to-end ready to be coupled.

Each coupling mechanisms 100 preferably is prefabricated unit which can readily be securely in a desired location at each corner of the wall panels 12 as for and simplicity and ease of installation, however this is not necessary.

The preferred coupling mechanisms 100 utilize the inter engagement of a catch rod 112 and a pivotal latch member 122. Various other forms of ambidextrous coupling mechanisms may be utilized which provide for coupling at each of the ends proximate the corners not only for end-to-end in-line coupling but also for perpendicular coupling as shown in FIG. 40.

With the coupling mechanisms 100 being, in a retracted position entirely within the exterior surfaces of the panel, the panel may be readily moved to position and then once in position coupled to adjacent panel members.

The wall panels 12 as illustrated in FIGS. 33 to 50 are adapted to be manipulated by one or more persons into a desired position and easily connected together manually as with a simple tool to engage the nut 126. Alternatively, manual engagement means such as a lever could be provided on the nuts 126 to permit for example rotation of the latch members 122 without the need for any tools whatsoever.

In accordance with the preferred embodiment of the invention, wall panels such as illustrated in FIGS. 33 to 50, could be placed on a floor surface so as to form the training apparatus as illustrated in FIG. 1 without the need for any other connection to the floor or any other structure.

The wall panel 12 in accordance with the embodiments illustrated in FIGS. 33 to 34 and 46 could also adopt any of the other features illustrated, for example, in the various other embodiments of wall panels 12 described in this application as in combination therewith.

In accordance with one preferred aspect the present invention provides a plurality of wall panels which carry at their ends coupling mechanisms which are adapted for engagement which identical coupling mechanisms in adjacent wall panels either for end to end inline coupling of the wall panels or for perpendicular coupling of the wall panels approximate their ends.

The wall panel as illustrated in FIGS. 33 to 50 illustrate arrangements in which each coupling mechanism 100 must separately be activated. It is to be appreciated that the two coupling mechanisms 100 on each side of any panel 12 may be linked such that activation manually as by a single manually operated activation lever could cause both latch members 122 to move between the retracted and engagement position. One such example of an integral linkage system assembly is schematically illustrated in FIG. 51.

Referring to FIG. 51, an elongate linkage bar 600 extends vertically between the upper and lower latch members 122 on each side of the panel 12. The linkage bar 600 carries at each end a horizontally forwardly extending pin 602 which is received in a short cam slotway (not clearly shown) extending longitudinally of each latch member 122 spaced axially from the ale 124 of the latch member 122. The linkage bar 600 has a central toothed rack portion 604 which engages with a toothed pinion or sprocket gear 606 having a square forwardly extending engagement head 608 which is accessible for rotation as with a suitable tool such as a socket wrench. Manual rotation of head 608 rotates the pinion gear 606, moving the linkage bar 600 pivoting the latch members 122 simultaneously towards or away from a latched position.

Reference is made to FIGS. 52 to 54 which illustrate schematic pictorial views of training apparatus 10 which is constructed entirely from the wall panels of FIGS. 46, 47 and 48 and define different floor plans as seen schematically in plan view respectively in FIGS. 55, 56 and 57, respectively. FIGS. 58 to 64 illustrate alternate floor plans which can be made entirely from the wall panels of FIGS. 46, 47 and 48 and all shown on the same overall square footprints to show versatility, although this is not necessary.

Reference is made to FIGS. 65 to 68 illustrating a corner post 702 in accordance with the present invention. The corner post as best illustrated in FIG. 65 comprises a hollow rectangular member of square cross-sectional with each side of the square having a dimension equal to the thickness of the panels 12 with which it is to be used. The corner post 702 is adapted for use with panels 12 such as shown in FIGS. 33 and 43. As seen in FIG. 68 a corner post 702 is located at each of the four corners of the floor plan as adapted to have a respective panel 12 abut against each of two of its faces. The corner post 702 is to be coupled to each of the panels 12 by use of the coupling mechanism 100 found within each panel 12 as for example as shown in FIG. 33. In this regard, two adjacent faces 704 and 706 of the corner post 702 are provided with slots 705 and 707 providing access to a catch rod 708 which has side arms 709 and 710 extend transversely across the slots 705 and 707. The side arms 709 and 710 are for engagement by a latch members 122 carried by adjacent panels 12 in the same manner that latch members 122 are adapted to engage the catch rods 112 of adjacent panels 12. The corner post 702 is easily formed by having four planar members as for example of plywood secured together forming a hollow rectangular structure and with a bend metal plate member 712 carrying the rod 708 secured internally at appropriate height and proximate to the slots 705 and 707. As seen in FIG. 68, four corner posts 702 are provided one at each respect of corner of the plan.

The use of such corner posts 702 facilitates for example the providing of an interior wall indicated as 714 to be used in substitution for example of an exterior wall 716 or an exterior wall 718. In essence the corner posts 702 facilitates the use of merely identical width panels 12 in most exterior and interior positions.

While the corner post 702 is shown as being adapted for coupling merely on two sides, a similar corner post could be provided adapted for coupling at two, three or four sides. As well the corner posts 702 could be adapted for use with other coupling mechanisms as for example shown in the embodiment of FIG. 4 to 9.

FIG. 69 shows a coupling mechanism 800 adapted to replace the coupling mechanism 100 shown in FIG. 35. The coupling mechanism 800 has a housing 804 preferably of metal with opposed side walls 805 and 806 secured by an end wall 807 and a bottom wall 809. Each of the side walls have similar longitudinal horizontally extending slots 811 and 812 therethrough as well as lock holes 813 and 814. A U-shaped catch rod 112 is secured to and bridges between the side walls 805 and 806 extending forwardly thereof. A latch member 122 has a cylindrical axle 124 fixably secured thereto. The axle 124 extends horizontally through the slots 811 and 812 in the side walls 805 and 806 such that the axle 124 is slidable horizontally together with the latch member 122 away from the rear wall 807 against the bias of a first spring 816 which connects to rear end of the latch 122 with the rear wall 807.

A second spring 818 is coupled between a lower portion of the latch member 122 and the base wall 809 and biases the latch member 122 to pivot about the axle 124 down onto the top of the catch rod 112.

Each end of the axle 124 is accessible from the side of a panel. A user will insert a tool into the end of the axle and using the tool manually pivot the hook end 132 of the latch member 122 upwardly, that is in a direction of the arrow 820 while at the same time sliding the axle 124 and latch member 122 towards the right as seen in FIG. 69 sufficiently to clear a catch rod 112 (not shown) on an adjacent panel at which time the user will rotate the latch member 122 downwardly and slide the hook member 122 back to the left as seen in FIG. 69 such that the catch rod 112 (not shown) of an adjacent panel 12 may become received within the bight of the hook end 132 of the latch member 122. After the latch member 122 has been raised above and moved to left beyond the catch rod 112 of the adjacent panel 12, the springs 816 and 818 will assist in drawing the latch member 122 downwardly and to the left.

The latch member 122 has a lock hole 822 therethrough which when the latch member 122 is engaged on a catch rod 112 of an adjacent panel 12 will co-axially align with the lock holes 813 and 814 in the side walls 805 and 806. A lock pin 824 shown schematically of reduced length in FIG. 69 is adapted to then be slid through the holes 814, 822 and 813 to lock the latch member 122 in engagement on the catch rod 112 of the adjacent panel against release. Rather than use the lock pin 824 merely the resiliencies of the springs 816 and 818 could be used to maintain the latch member 122 in a lock position. Other locking mechanisms could be provided.

The embodiment of FIG. 69 illustrates but a further arrangement of a coupling mechanism to join ends of panels 12. The arrangement of FIG. 69 has the advantage over the arrangement of FIG. 35 of reducing the extent to which the latch 122 needs to rotate. Various other coupling and latching mechanism may be used in accordance with the present invention. Preferred characteristics of these latching mechanisms are that they do not extend beyond the end or sides of a panel when a panel 12 is in storage or being manipulated for use.

While the invention has been described with reference to preferred embodiments, many modifications and variations will now occur to persons skilled in the art. For a definition of the invention, reference is made to the accompanying claims.