Planning well in advance can cast a huge difference in the outcome of a fire. By understanding the occupancy, layout and the construction in advance, the decision-making procedure of the fire department officials become streamlined and significantly more effective. A fire department official summarizes it perfectly. “Operational success is greatly enhanced by information gathered ahead of an incident.”
Usually, the fire department develops pre-fire plans for the bigger commercial buildings in a given area but the quality of such plans can vary significantly. Often with the smaller departments, the written plans containing critical information about a building is out of date and comprises little apart from hastily drawn floor plans and handwritten notes. Some departments do not even come with a plan.
The commercial property owners, especially the ones in smaller communities cannot relax with the assumption that the local fire department can handle a fire in their building with ease. The owners of bigger properties must take the initiative to assure that the fire officers are thoroughly aware of their property and have the necessary details at fingertips to save lives and combat blaze. They need to reach out to the local fire officials, send an invite to visit the building and offer to help, develop or update a given plan.
How can Pre-Planning Help?
Fire can break out even if you have adopted all essential steps of fire safety. If your building, regardless of whether it is a manufacturing plant, a commercial building or a distribution warehouse catches fire, your local fire department may find it hard to access the premises. This is because they don’t know
- The location of your nearest water source
- The layout of the building’s interior
- The place you store the flammable and hazardous materials.
Without these details, the fire department officials won’t have a clue to get the fire completely under control. In the absence of a written and a tested plan, you will find it hard to get your employees out safe and fast, make it easier for the fire department to access the building or ensure a favorable outcome. With an understanding of the construction, occupancy and the layout of the building, the officials gain an advantage when they are given a call to fight a fire. A bit of pre-planning goes really long when it comes to avoiding a disaster.
What are the Components of Pre-Fire Planning?
If put simply, pre-fire planning is defined as the process of gathering information before a fire or a disaster takes place. This helps to remain prepared. However, all the commercial buildings don’t require a pre – fire plan. The smaller buildings with office or retail occupancies may not present any unusual challenge to the firefighters. But the bigger buildings that can cause loss of life benefit of this planning.
A significant part of the pre-planning process is the compilation of a document typically referred to as a pre-incident or a pre-fire plan. This comprises of written information, maps, drawings, and diagrams. For the bigger and more complex buildings, this planning may also include periodic drills.
NFPA defines the pre-incident plan as a “written document resulting from the gathering of general and detailed data to be used by responding personnel for determining the resources and actions necessary to mitigate anticipated emergencies at a specific facility.”
The pre-incident plans are usually in paper form and do not adhere to widely adopted standard template. They vary depending upon building occupancy. However, this information typically includes:
- The layout of building including entrance to the parking lot, the building, building key box and hydrant location and the closeby structures.
- A floor plan of each level of the building; this must include the location of hazardous materials and processes, air conditioning and heating equipment, and elevators.
- Pertinent structural features like building size, height, and the construction.
- Special features like unoccupied floors, nighttime and daytime occupancy loads and occupants having special rescue requirement.
- Hydrant information
- Building fire protection system.
Pre-incident plans need to be a joint venture between the property management team and the fire department. No doubt, the fire officers are experts in firefighting and fire safety but the property management personnel are experts on the building. The planning process needs to be ongoing and collaborative. The building owners must be prepared to play their role in a joint venture and they must expect professionalism and responsiveness from the fire department representatives to develop a plan. Successful collaboration here will preserve property and save lives.
Contributed by Auto Fire & Safety Consultants