When it comes to fire response, every second counts, and each fire comes with its own unique set of challenges -- including how old the structure is.

But, how does the age of your home determine how much of a fire danger there is? The Grand Rapids Fire Department says it does, but the reasons why might be surprising.

Believe it or not, according to tests, old construction is typically safer than new construction.    

The Grand Rapids Fire Department is in the middle of developing a new cutting-edge fire prevention program, after getting one of the biggest federal grants of its kind.

One of the goals is to get into 2,000 private homes to do a fire danger assessment, which includes installing smoke detectors free of charge.

The department is targeting five “high risk” neighborhoods with older homes. This would lead most people to think the newer the home, the safer. But that isn’t the case.

"It’s not that easy," says Brad Brown, GRFD Strategic Planning. "Based on the building construction, the flammability of everything in there, it’s not as safe as older homes in some aspects."

In tests between legacy construction and modern construction, people would have far less time to get out alive. In the older home, built with hardwoods, heavy beams, and 2x4's, it takes almost 30 minutes for the fire to "flashover." Meanwhile, in a modern home built with plywood, glued trusses, and lighter weight materials, the fire only takes three and a half minutes to flashover.

"This is huge in how we respond to fires,” says Brown. "Our incident commanders, our battalion chiefs, have to think differently: 'Am i really going to put a crew up on the roof?"

There's also the content of the home to think about.  These days, there are far more plastics, computers and TV’s, and foam-filled furniture covered in polyester and microfibers, which increases the synthetic fuel loads.

Inspectors say building codes try to catch up if they pinpoint a risk.

"For instance, the engineered beams now require, they used to be in the basement you could have them exposed,” says Ric Dokter, fire prevention inspector. "Now you can only use them in a layer of drywall underneath."

However, one of the biggest safety improvements for new construction got pulled from the building code by the state -- residential sprinklers. GRFD says it's a upgrade that costs about the same as granite counter tops, but can save lives.

Without it, just remember these fire prevention tips: keep furnishings away from heaters, have a working smoke detector, and don’t leave cooking food unattended.