Roundtable: Working on Sprinklers

By John "Skip" Coleman

If you stop and think about it, firefighters do a lot. Not only do we put out fire, put on band aids, pull people from the water, and a plethora of other things, we also must know a lot about a lot of different things: The combustion process, hydraulic calculations, chemistry, blood circulation, and countless others.

With all that in mind, we also must understand that we accept a certain amount of liability in the process. Although not an everyday occurrence, fire departments and municipalities do on occasion get sued for negligence or other legalese because of our actions or for our alleged acts of omission.

In some instances, perhaps it would be better not to act than to act inappropriately. As an example, as it pertains to hazardous materials and fire, it might be best to let some things simply burn rather than to extinguish them, only to saddle someone with the "mess" now left behind. I remember being involved in a lawsuit in my department for many years involving a large warehouse fire. This very complicated case, which now serves as a case study at most law schools in the United States, was eventually settled and we were eventually "dropped" from the suit. Still, it cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of preparation and depositions and testimony to prepare for.

Sometimes we do things we are not actually trained for or otherwise "certified" to do, even on uncomplicated, routine runs. That brings me to this month's question: Do you reset sprinkler alarms panels and replace sprinkler heads as part of your normal duties? Register and log in to the Fire Engineering Web site and leave your comments below.

Skip ColemanJohn "Skip" Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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