As we go about our daily lives, we often take for granted the safety and security of our homes, workplaces, and communities. Yet, behind the scenes, dedicated men and women of our local fire services work tirelessly to ensure that, in times of crisis, they are ready to respond swiftly and effectively to protect lives and property. The key lies in proactive preplanning, a collaborative effort that brings communities and fire services together to prepare for emergencies before they strike.
In this article, we delve into the importance of preplanning with your local fire service, exploring the steps to help you preplan for fires and natural hazards.
Pre-incident plans, or pre-emergency plans, are not just abstract concepts; they are comprehensive documents that provide essential information for responding firefighters, helping them make informed decisions and respond effectively to protect life and property.
Here are key steps to help you preplan with the fire department:
Identify Fire Service Contacts
- Contact your local fire department to initiate the preplanning process. Find out who the relevant personnel are, such as the fire marshal or a designated fire prevention officer.
Schedule a Meeting
- Arrange a meeting with the fire department personnel to discuss your preplanning efforts. This meeting can take place at the commercial property.
Provide Property Information
- Share detailed information about the commercial property with the fire department. This includes building plans, floor layouts, site plans, and any relevant blueprints.
- Conduct a walkthrough of the property with fire department representatives. Highlight key features like site construction, hazards, fire protection systems, and fire access points.
Emergency Action Plans
- Develop and review emergency action plans with the fire department. Ensure that all parties understand the responsibilities of the site and the responding fire service(s).
Fire Drills and Training
- Conduct regular (e.g., annual) fire drills and training exercises in collaboration with the fire service. This helps ensure that employees and occupants know what to do in case of a fire, and that the fire department is familiar with the site’s response/layout.
Compliance with Fire Codes
- Stay informed about best practices, local codes, and regulations. Conduct regular loss prevention surveys and make necessary updates or modifications to remain in compliance.
- Maintain records of all communication and agreements with the fire department, as well as documentation of safety inspections, drills, and updates.
Updates and Follow-Up
- Regularly revisit and update your preplanning efforts in coordination with the fire department. As your property changes or evolves, ensure that safety plans and procedures are adjusted accordingly.
What Should be Included in a Pre-incident Plan?
Now that we reviewed how to make and maintain a pre-incident plan, let’s take a closer look at what such a plan could include:
- Property address and location, including GPS coordinates of key points.
- Building name(s), description(s), and use(s) (e.g., commercial, residential, industrial).
Utilities and Shut-offs
- Identify and label shut-off valves for gas, water, and electricity.
- Procedures for the safe shutdown of utilities and equipment.
Access and Egress
- Locations and descriptions of evacuation routes for occupants.
- Information about keyholders or access codes that can assist firefighters in gaining entry to the building.
- Description of the operation and storage details.
- Information about the storage and handling of hazardous materials; including the type, amount, location, and safety data sheets.
Alarm and Sprinkler Systems
- Details about fire alarm systems, including locations of control panels, alarms, and pull stations.
- Information about sprinkler systems, including the design and location of risers/control valves.
- Locations and details of fire extinguishers, fire hoses, hydrants, fire pump(s), and fire department connections.
- Locations of nearby water sources (hydrants, reservoirs, tanks, ponds, lakes, rivers).
- Information about water availability and pressure.
Building and Structural Information
- Building layout, including floor plans, exits, and access points.
- Property size, height, and construction materials.
- Structural integrity information (e.g., firewalls/barriers, load-bearing walls, construction types).
- Locations of structural hazards or weaknesses.
- Contact information for key personnel who can be reached in case of an emergency, including building owners, managers, and maintenance staff.
Fire Department Contacts
- Names and contact information for key fire department personnel who should be notified in case of an emergency.
- Procedures for evacuating occupants and individuals with special needs.
- Locations of assembly areas.
- Outline the emergency response team’s duties and the expected response by the fire service.
- Any special instructions or considerations for firefighting operations.
Obstacles and Hazards
- Identification of obstacles or hazards that may impede firefighting efforts, such as narrow access roads, overhead obstructions, or low-hanging wires.
Photos and Diagrams
- Visual aids, including photographs, diagrams, or maps, that help firefighters familiarize themselves with the property and the Building Information Modeling (BIM) if provided.
Additional Notes and Observations
- A plan for recurring joint training (e.g., annually). The training could be a desktop review to a full walkthrough.
- Any additional notes, observations, or recommendations that could aid firefighting operations.
- Regularly consult with a risk engineering firm to assess facility risks.
For facilities exposed to natural hazards, the following should also be included:
- Seismic assessment that details the vulnerabilities of the construction, occupancy, fire protection systems, and exposures.
- Emergency communication channels.
- If a freeze-up of water within fire sprinkler piping is imminent and the piping must be drained to avoid damage, utilize the fire protection impairment management program and notify the fire department of the impaired system(s).
- Wildland Fire
- Site assessment detailing the property’s vulnerability to wildland fires. Consider factors like vegetation, proximity to forests or grasslands, and potential ignition sources.
- Emergency communication and warning channels.
- Firefighting resources onsite and those expected from the fire service.
- Other scenarios where evacuation is required
- Safely shut down and secure the site.
- Notify emergency services that the facility is vacant/idle.
Remember that being prepared for emergencies is an ongoing process. Regular communication and collaboration are key to maintaining a safe commercial property and ensuring a rapid and effective response in the event of a fire or other emergencies.