FIR 3303, Introduction to Fire Prevention

FIR 3303, Introduction to Fire Prevention

Reading Assignment

Chapter 5:Plan Review Chapter 6:Inspection

Often, a community will base its fire prevention success on its fire suppression capabilities, which includes the number of fire companies and firefighters in the community and the amount and locations of fire stations to provide for rapid responses to fires. The costs of fire protection have exceeded several million dollars for even small communities because equipment such as a fire pumper costs at least half a million dollars and ladder trucks exceed a million dollars. In addition, there is the cost of paying and providing benefits to full-time firefighters who provide fire suppression capabilities. Common sense should indicate that once a fire has begun, the fire department is responsible for preserving life and property, and the fire department’s ability to do this is based largely on how quickly the firefighters arrive at the scene and what tactics and equipment they use to suppress the fire.

The fire suppression model is reliant upon the funding of very expensive manpower and equipment that are geared for tactical operations to extinguish a fire once it has started. In 1973, the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control identified that more emphasis was necessary in the areas of preventing fires in the America Burningreport. Manpower and equipment are vitally important in the fire prevention mission to prevent destructive fires from occurring. Efforts to inspect buildings for fire safety concerns and to educate the public about fire hazards requires the time, commitment, and effort of personnel who are specifically trained to understand the concepts of fire inspection and risk management and reduction (National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, 1973).

Changes in the manning model of fire departments should change towards that of a prevention-based mission, even in departments with suppression responsibilities and departments who provide both services. More lives are saved due to preventing fires from occurring than are saved by responding to and suppressing the fire after ignition has occurred. However, the prevention effort is done with a combination of code enforcement inspections, public education programs, and engineered systems such as early notification and suppression systems. When budgets are cut, often one of the first areas and first personnel cuts occur in the fire prevention areas because fire suppression is determined as the larger need to combat the already-developed fire.

Fire departments will list that they have only “x” number of fire prevention specialists, while they have “x” number of firefighters or operations personnel, and the difference between the two is amazing. It can exceed 75 to 1 or more in some communities, while others may only be 25 to 1.This varies among the staffing, funding and organizational design of each department. However, it simply should be listed as we have “x” number of fire prevention technicians or specialists as every firefighter on every piece of fire apparatus should be an advocate of fire prevention, public education, and doing what is right to prevent unnecessary suffering and damage from fire.

Even the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control (1973) identified that one of the measures to reduce fire losses is to educate people about fire. Americans must be made aware of the magnitude of fire’s toll and its threat to them personally. They must know how to minimize the risk of fire in their daily surroundings. They must know how to cope with fire, quickly and effectively, once it has started (National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, 1973). However, departments and their prevention efforts can be limited in the amount of enforcement, inspection, and education by the demographics and expectations of a department and its capabilities. Even a state fire marshal’s office can be vastly understaffed and underfunded, limiting its ability to highlight the importance of inspection and education.

Almost every fire department participates in National Fire Prevention Week held in October of each year to promote fire safety and education. When you reflect on National Fire Prevention Week, you might envision firefighters in elementary schools with plastic fire helmets, maybe a mascot such as Sparky the Firedog or Smokey the Bear, and a survive alive house. Is this a misguided concept? Is this the only fire education and potentially prevention-based activity that a department engages the community in? Is the fire service missing a greater opportunity to not only educate the public on fire safety but also create safer communities by facilitating more inspections of buildings and facilities throughout the year?

Fire departments are realizing that there is a need to emphasize fire prevention, public education, and fire codes enforcement more often as year-round activities to create smarter, safer communities. These activities might include traditional school trips, promotional booths, safety fairs, block party appearances, community engagement activities, and so much more to improve and promote fire safety. Departments are also concentrating more on specific target hazards and audiences in specific risk groups. This is very similar to those in occupational health and safety who specialize in fire prevention and inspections for a specific target audience. Some of these targets include the elderly population, college-bound and dorm-living students, and high-hazard occupancies.

Fire codes enforcement is still the base model of most fire prevention programs because this creates the basic approach and provides the first step in the creation of risk management within a building or facility to eliminate or manage a potential ignition of fire. This was also discussed in the last unit with the community or state adopting the model fire code such as the Uniform Fire Code (UFC) or NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 (Life Safety Code). The local community may also adopt local ordinances or amendments to strengthen the adopted model code. The enforcement of the fire code is through a combination of education and legal actions.

In some departments, this enforcement of the fire code is assigned to a fire inspector, or it may be assigned to those who have fire inspection duties while assigned to an operations role. Before any person can call themselves, an inspector or conduct an inspection, there are some items that must be considered. Inspections and code enforcement is a people-person job. In short, you, the inspector, are going to interact with people, and these people may not be excited about your presence at their building or company. Having good written and verbal communication skills is necessary for this task.

A good fire inspector must also have the ability to apply the code fairly and firmly along with having a practical and even approach with the inspection and enforcement process. The inspector may have some limited police and enforcement power, but he or she is not a law enforcement officer. This job is more like that of an educator. The inspector, as part of the inspection and enforcement process, is educatingthe fire and life safety value of code compliance. The majority of the occupants and business owners are happy and will comply with fire code enforcement procedures. In many communities, the business or occupancy license is tied to gaining and maintaining compliance with the fire code inspections and lawful corrective orders issued from the fire inspectors.

In other occupancies and buildings, the insurance underwriter requires compliance with fire codes and corrective action orders to maintain discounted or reduced insurance rates. Overall, the majority of people the fire inspector will interact with are compliant with the fire codes and the understanding of the job and requirements that the fire inspector must perform. In some cases, the inspector will need to provide a case example of the importance of compliance from a large loss fire in which the damages from the fire are too numerous for specific details.

One just needs to understand fires and the causes and factors that led to the loss caused by the fire. Then, an extreme example, is the owner or occupant who will refuse to comply with the code and corrective actions. These individuals are the ones that inspectors will have to take action with. They can gain compliance by issuing a notice of violation, stating clearly what is in violation, stating the portion or segment of the code that is in noncompliance, and offering options for how to correct the issues. Also, the inspector will provide a window for the corrective action and a follow-up inspection. Then, if the problem is not corrected, the inspector will issue a corrective action on the issues that need to be corrected with a court order, or the inspector will pursue closing the building on the premise that there is an immediate life hazard. The building will remain closed until the issues are corrected. These actions are clearly spelled out in the municipal charter discussed in the last unit and often highlighted throughout the legal process established by the community. Much like discipline, code enforcement and violations should be progressive.

Unless it is something severe, you cannot cite an owner in court for the first violation without allowing a period to correct the action. Also, you cannot shut down the facility for a small infraction such as a pile of rags not properly stowed. Some fire inspectors may also be involved in the plans review process of construction drawings, sprinkler and smoke detector plans, and life safety evacuation plans prior to construction beginning on a building.

Plan review requires extensive knowledge of the fire codes and the ability to read blue print drawings to ensure appropriate spacing and location of fire protection and life safety features. As important as the plans review process is to ensure occupant life safety, it is just as important for firefighter safety.

The review process ensures that the construction materials meet the requirements for the classification of the structure. In the reality of fire prevention, it takes a village with all hands being active in all aspects of the prevention program to increase the livelihood of the community.

Reference

National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. (1973). America burning: The report of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. Retrieved from https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa-264.pdf

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