Included on this page are several articles of interest to emergency responders, written by the staff of Fire Planning Associates and our friends for your education and use.If you would like to submit an article for distribution on this page, please contact us. We’re especially interested in personal experiences as they relate to preplanning. Smaller pieces may end up in our newsletter as well.
NEW ARTICLE October, 2014, By Greg Jakubowski, PE, CSP, FSFPE !
Oct 1, 2014 Greg Jakubowski, P.E., FSFPE | Fire Protection Engineering
Firefighters are often trained in generalizations. Because of the constant variety of threats they face, they are often trained to fight fires in a general sense, and they learn about building construction and features in a general sense. They receive training and instruction manuals on their equipment – but rarely do they have a “user’s manual” specifically designed for emergency response to the buildings in which they are expected to work.
They may get some sort of walkthrough training on the building and its fire protection features and equipment, but they are often expected to document or perhaps just remember the building functions and performance in a fire or other emergency situation.
Things were simpler when building construction and fire protection features typically followed prescriptive codes and firefighting tactics could be standardized. As the performance-based design concept has grown in popularity, and building design and fire protection features have become more tailored to the specific building, there are increasing expectations on fire department performance when responding to these buildings. Even prescriptively designed buildings can present challenges to firefighters, such as pressure vessels that may relieve upon exposure to the heat from a fire, or doors that may have alternative locking mechanisms. Firefighters also have concerns that lightweight construction elements may be subject to early collapse.
Engineers are designing structures, stadiums, transportation facilities, and a host of other venues, using sophisticated tools that allow them to more finely tune the fire protection and safety features of a building to its specific construction and occupancy. Some firefighters and building officials understand those sophisticated tools, but some do not.
Firefighters are taught to “size up” the building or facility where an emergency is occurring based upon any prior knowledge they may have, and their observations of the building when they pull up to an emergency. This look may be skewed depending upon if it is day or night or if smoke or something else limits their full view of the building. They may make general assumptions about the building and its construction based upon this assessment, and these assumptions directly translate into fire attack tactics.
If they have little or no preincident knowledge of the facility, they are at a disadvantage when they develop their tactics. Buildings with unusual features are not just limited to city environments; even in the suburbs, small medical office buildings can hold sophisticated medical equipment that uses gamma radiation requiring concrete shielding walls and doors – with a building exterior that looks like any other office building.
The gap in knowledge of a facility and its protection/safety features may, at the least, result in one or more of these features being ignored or used incorrectly, potentially leading to a more damaging fire than what might have occurred if that gap did not exist. If no or ineffective preplanning is done, the responding personnel will have little to no knowledge of the building’s protection features and they will not have been properly prepared to use those features properly.
For example, one common fire service generalization is that if a building is sprinklered, the sprinkler system will handle a fire, making their efforts in that building easy. Many firefighters may not be aware that different densities are needed for different heights of storage, and be unable to differentiate between different commodity classifications when viewed in the field. There are many communities where code enforcement and inspections are limited, or even non-existent, which then limits the oversight to verify that the installed protection will work properly when it is needed.
There are many obstacles to effective preplanning, which can include a lack of interest by both the emergency responders and the building owner, and limited technical knowledge in completing the preplans. This is where fire protection engineers can help.
A firefighter’s world changes regularly. Companies may be out-of- service due to staffing issues, training, or on another emergency. It is not unusual in city departments for companies to respond to 10 or more runs per day. Even if resources are adequate and available, traffic jams and severe weather events can impede the provision of rapid service.
Severe storms can topple trees and power lines, completely blocking roads that provide access to various buildings. EMS responses and training can be a major focus of a fire department due to the demands of providing that service effectively, but this can limit the time available to study buildings and the protection features, provided in them along with how those features work.
Not only does custom building design present new challenges, but building operation and management concepts have changed over the years as well. No longer does a facility manager stay with one building for the life of that building. This responsibility is often contracted to a third party, and these facility managers often deal with multiple buildings across a wide area. It is difficult to expect them to know about every intricacy of every building they cover.
During evenings and weekends, the experience and knowledge level of those facility managers may further deteriorate from that which is available during normal working hours. Buildings also may change ownership, which may cause a change in the facility manager, thus losing the institutional knowledge that is so critical when an emergency occurs. Essentially, the fire service can become the de facto historian of buildings in their response areas, and the facility managers might find the fire service preplan information quite useful as well.
From a design engineer’s perspective – will that valuable work during the design phase be for naught when something happens in that building years later? Will someone really know the intent of how that building was designed to perform when the emergency occurs? Preplans can prepare firefighters for success.
There are a variety of code requirements for preplanning. The International Fire Code1 (in Chapter 33 – “Fire Safety During Construction and Demolition”) places the responsibility for fire prevention on the owner, and the owner is required to designate a fire prevention program superintendent who is responsible for developing and maintaining a preplan in cooperation with the fire chief. There also are various requirements for fire safety and evacuation plans for a variety of occupancies outlined in Chapter 4 of the International Fire Code.
These plans have several required items, almost all of which are included in a pre-fire plan that meets the requirements of NFPA 16202. NFPA 13 – also requires pre-fire planning during construction, alteration, or demolition. There also are requirements for emergency plans for a variety of occupancies outlined in NFPA 1. NFPA 1620 encourages cooperation in preplanning between building owners, occupants, designers, insurers, and firefighters.
Besides preplans for buildings, other facilities and occupancies can be preplanned successfully. Confined spaces are a key interest to OSHA; the openings and access information can be preplanned, listed and provided for emergency responders. Rail, vehicle, and other types of tunnels with limited access and ventilation also can be preplanned. The rail lines and highways – particularly interchanges – can be preplanned, even accessing cameras and other tools to help provide intelligence for responders. Cameras in schools and other buildings can similarly be embedded into electronic preplans. NFPA 1620 provides a standard for the data that is needed for an effective preplan.
Once a preplan is developed, there are many schools of thought on how to disseminate it. Many find hard copy preplans to be reliable and effective under most conditions. However, these copies are only as accurate as the last time they we re update d , copied, and disseminated. PDF or similar electronic systems also require an effective dissemination plan.
A cloud-based system allows changes to be made at almost any time. Cloud-based preplans also can be shared with users located almost anywhere – essentially everyone that might need to access the information will have it when needed. However, this requires each user to have a working connection to the cloud system.
An additional concern is change management in the preplans – i.e., who is authorized to make changes. It is important to balance the need to make the preplans as current as possible with the technical accuracy of the plans – making sure that changes are done correctly.
Preplans are most effective when they are used to train personnel before incidents occur. Facility managers can take them in the field and validate the information, and verify that shutoffs are correctly identified and located, and verify that any changes that may have occurred are addressed. Firefighters can take the preplans, and using different available apps, conduct simulations of various incidents and discuss options for handling those incidents. If they have handled the incident before, even virtually, it will make it easier when they are faced with it in real-time.
FUTURE OF PREPLANS
Preplans should be available to initial arriving company officers, as well as to incident commanders and planning chiefs at the command post immediately when needed. Preplans, when linked to wearable personnel tracking devices, will allow identification of the locations of firefighters operating in the buildings right at the command post or for the operations chief or safety officer. This concept is under development and may be available in the near future.
In the not-too-distant future, preplans may be provided in displays in the masks of firefighters – allowing them to identify where they are in the building, and what hazards, exits, or other concerns are around them. At some point, fire modeling of buildings that determine how long the environment is tenable in a fire situation could be tied to building sensors and alarms that will enable fire officers to more effectively predict how long firefighters can safely operate in buildings. In all of these cases, fire protection engineers can be a huge asset to firefighters by helping to develop and maintain preplans, as well as the tools necessary to facilitate these concepts.
Gregory Jakubowski is with Fire Planning Associates, Inc.
1. International Fire Code, International Code Council, Washington, DC, 2012.
2. NFPA 1620, Standard for Pre-Incident Planning, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2010.
3. NFPA 1, Fire Code, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2012.
4. Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, Insurance Services Office, Jersey City, NJ, 2013.
Preplanning & Incident Management Trends
Technology leads the preplanning and incident management trends shaping the fire service
By Greg Jakubowski
Published August, 2013, on FireFighterNation.com
Incidents continue to get more complex each year. Even as populations grow, new technologies are developed, and people find new ways to create emergency situations, firefighters and other responders are expected to turn chaos into order. And it can feel overwhelming. Mass shootings, chemical fires and explosions with multiple casualties and evacuations, tanker fires disrupting major transportation routes and even larger events seem to be happening more and more often, and demand effective incident management from firefighters.
Although we can’t know exactly where or when the next event will occur, many incidents are quite predictable, meaning we can—and should—prepare for them. I am proud to say that I’ve conducted many classes and tabletop situations with a wide variety of groups, and later found that the groups had responded to a similar incident, and the training we went through together better prepared them to handle the event. We focused on planning for credible scenarios, and sure enough, it paid off.
I don’t claim to have magic powers to see into the future, but I do think a lot about where we are in the fire service today and where we might go. So let’s take a look at some preplanning and incident management trends that we should consider when preparing to manage the credible incidents of today, and tomorrow.
Trend #1: Tablet Computers
Laptops are nice, but they can be bulky and lack the functionality of tablet computers. I use an iPad, and it has some excellent features and great apps, most of which were free. Tablets feature multiple means of communication, including email and instant messaging apps. The photo app, standard with the device, allows you to easily send pictures via email, Facebook or Twitter, allowing others to see what you’re seeing in the field. Real-time information can be quickly communicated to decision-makers or to the troops in the field to guide them on what to do. One great app is WISER, which can tie in your location and weather, and help determine where a chemical plume is going—right now. I also use the Iamresponding app, which allows me to track who’s on duty and who’s responding, right in the palm of my hand. And I can use it to quickly update my own availability. There is an extrication app for hybrid vehicles called Hybrid Vehicle Extrication Guide, which points out these vehicles’ unique hazards. Multiple apps allow me to track weather radar for planning purposes, and the Google Earth app shows street views of buildings and other site information. I’d like tablets to ultimately replace our MDTs and, fortunately, tablet technology is only getting better.
Trend #2: Drones
It’s called the “fog of war” for a reason, and it applies to fire/rescue operations almost as much as the battlefield. We try to glean as much information as possible about what’s going on in order to make good decisions (situational awareness), but it’s often challenging to understand the big picture of what’s occurring around us from a position on the ground. Incident commanders have used helicopters for recon, gone up on roofs and aerials, and employed other creative means to get that big picture, but we may now have a better option. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) are being marketed to the fire service. Some were on display at FDIC this year. Much like how unmanned bomb and SWAT robots give law enforcement a closer look at dangerous situations from a remote location, UAVs can provide firefighters a better view of an incident scene—and without placing personnel at risk or having to rely on helicopters, which come with a much heftier price tag. UAVs are becoming more and more simple to use, and can provide both video and infrared imaging to the command post and other operating units. Are there concerns about privacy and “eye in the sky” issues? Certainly, and they need to be addressed through department SOPs/SOGs and effective supervision.
Trend #3: Simulation Training
The best way you can prepare to handle an incident is to have gone through the incident previously, critiqued your performance and learned from it to be even better the next time. However, in our business, there are few or no “do-overs.” If we burn a building down, it’s gone. The next best thing is to study a building, transportation location or other place where an incident may occur and run simulated incidents there. There are several groups that are making very good simulation software to help with this, including CommandSim, Digital Combustion, Action Training Systems and others. To be most effective, the software should allow you to load your own preplan information on buildings/target hazards in your own coverage area. It makes it “real” for the participants, and they will take more away if they go through the motions of managing something in their coverage area. Of course, an even better training exercise is to take the simulation to the next level and do a full-scale drill!
Trend #4: Importance of Preplanning
As we sit here and contemplate how to manage incidents in the future, entrepreneurs, engineers, architects and others are thinking about new materials to use in buildings and new ways to construct those buildings. We must continue to monitor what is going on in the building industry, and what is being built in our own community. Get out and take photos of buildings being constructed in your area—at least weekly. You become the de facto historian of the buildings in your coverage area, and those photos may pay big dividends later. I have an outpatient cancer center in my coverage area that looks like a simple office building, but behind the windows at one end are 4-foot-thick walls that protect a room with 8,000-lb. doors. Those doors lead to two more rooms that house equipment that uses gamma radiation. We were able to get photos of the building during construction, which was great because we never would have been able to get photos showing those walls again. Further, those photos are included in our Web-based preplan software that we share with mutual-aid companies and the police, who might also find that information useful. Check out my friend Chris Naum’s website, http://buildingsonfire.com, which includes a lot of useful information about building construction and other key issues that we can incorporate into our preplanning.
Take a few moments to think about how these trends might affect you and your department, and see what you might do today to start working in that direction to be a bit ahead of the curve.
-By Greg JakubowskiI, PE, CSP, FSFPE
Get Started Preplanning Guide from FireRescue Magazine
Understand the Past to Move Forward
I was taking one of my daughters to a soccer tournament this weekend, and passed through the nice little town of Boyertown, PA, population around 4000. Rather typical Pennsylvania small town, and probably typical of many small towns across the US – it is located about 1 hour West of Philadelphia. Signs throughout the town proclaim, “Making History Since 1866,” which was the year it was incorporated.
Unfortunately for Boyertown, one of the ways it has made history was by having what the NFPA lists as the 9th deadliest US single building or complex fire or explosion, with 170 dead at the Rhoads Opera House Fire in January, 1908. Interestingly enough, there is a commemorative plaque on the building that now stands on the location, and one at the local cemetery – one says 171 died, the other says 170 died (one was a firefighter). 2/3 of the victims were reportedly women and children. Regardless of the exact number, you can just imagine the impact on this small community (pop 2500 at the time) this horrific event had. See here and here.
Families were attending a church-sponsored presentation of “The Scottish Reformation.” The room was reportedly packed with a sellout crowd of 312. Kerosene lighting was used (reportedly fed by a 5 gallon barrel) and is blamed for starting the fire, but exits were locked or unmarked, and doors swung inward.
The building was rebuilt after the fire in much the same manner as it was when the fire occurred, and is a rather similar building to many I have seen in my travels across the country – probably similar to ones in your town. It doesn’t take a big building far in the past to have a tragedy – think about the Happy Land Social Club in NY or the Station Nightclub in RI. In my FD’s rural coverage area, we have a meeting hall for the Jehovah’s Witnesses where upwards of 1000 can meet on a weekend – and there isn’t a (wet) hydrant within miles.
You get asked often – “Why do I have to mark this exit?” “Why does the door have to swing outwards?” “Why can’t I have a few more people sit in the aisles to watch this show?” Or sometimes, you don’t and you may be faced with having to tell folks something they don’t want to hear.
Not to pick on Boyertown, but while I was sitting at a traffic light, I looked up at the building on the corner, and noticed this interesting fire escape that doesn’t lead to the ground (pardon the photo, camera phone out the car window…)!
And I happened to remember this recent fire in the very same town where a woman was killed in a residential fire started by cooking just a few blocks from where the Rhoads Opera House burned.
Enforcing the codes isn’t easy – but someone has to do it to prevent the past from being relived. Many of you face this challenge everyday, and you can make a difference by your actions. Making progressive changes in the codes to prevent even further tragedies requires even greater courage. The opportunity is now – let’s prevent fire deaths by putting sprinklers in residences!
I apologize for my rambling, but we need to understand the past to move forward!
— Greg Jakubowski, PE, CSP, FSFPE
By Greg Jakubowski (FireFighterNation, Aug 2013)
Technology leads the preplanning and incident management trends shaping the fire service
By Greg Jakubowski (Fire Rescue, Feb 2006)
Hazards and Tactics for Industrial Fires
from Fire Rescue magazine, Sep 2007
“…After testing Blazemark myself, I can report that the company’s claims about the software aren’t just hype. I took a predetermined data set and created a preplan using the software’s easy plug-ins. Blazemark really works and it’s definitely user-friendly.”
Free publication for distribution to architects, engineers, and municipal officials
A new publication offered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that will help increase the safety of building occupants and emergency responders by streamlining fire service interaction with building features and fire protection systems. This is an excellent document for fire marshals and building officials to share with architects and engineers. FPA Principal and Chief Engineer Greg Jakubowski was one of the technical reviewers of this document.
from FireRescue Magazine, November 2006. Author – Greg Jakubowski
Hazards and tactics of fighting laboratory fires.
from Fire Engineering, June 2005 co-author Bart Krauss
Find out how to do “Acquired Structure Burns’ safely in this article. Upper Makefield Fire Co. has done a great job of getting three homes “donated” to the fire company. This is the smallest of the homes, the two others were 7000 sq ft and 14,000 sq ft.
from Topical Fire Research Series, August 2007
Have a school in your first due? Read this USFA School Fire Report.
From June 2004 FireRescue Magazine. Author – Greg Jakubowski
Handling electrical fires
from FireRescue magazine, September 2007. Author – Greg Jakubowski
Firefighting in Cluster Homes
from FireRescue Magazine, February 2007 Author – Greg Jakubowski
Tactics for handling hotel fires.
from FireRescue magazine, September 2005 Author – Greg Jakubowski
Tactics for fighting fires in large homes