Fire Prevention & Protection, Systems

Awareness and Tracking of Critical Fireground Assets

By Frank R. Myers

Writing for PSTrax

Above photo courtesy of Tim Olk

The issue of equipment and apparatus reliability goes far beyond the walls of the firehouse. One key to high performance in an emergency is knowing the location of your territory or first response area’s hydrants, standpipes, and sprinklers are. How do you track and stay on top of these critical assets to make sure they’re working properly?

There is no doubt that some logical process for documenting and routing needs to be in place when flushing hydrants, painting hydrants, hydrant testing, performing sprinkler and standpipe inspections, or handling other tasks assigned to response personnel.

One of the most important aspects is to have a rotating schedule. In other words, each route needs to be inspected by every shift. This way everyone assigned to the station will eventually see every hydrant, standpipe, and sprinkler connection. This is especially important for the driver/operators of fire apparatus.

In my former department, before I retired, it was a rules and regulations policy that anyone assigned to a station for more than six months had to know the locations of all the standpipe and sprinkler connections in their first-alarm territory. Some senior driver/operators told me that “back in the day,” as part of the exam/checkout process, they had to mark where every hydrant was on a map. They recounted driving around their first-alarm territory in their private vehicle while off duty to familiarize themselves with the actual locations. Although this is still valuable today, computer-generated dispatch information automatically lists the recommended hydrants by their location, main sizes, gpms, etc. This tendency, however, leads to firefighters becoming reliant on these systems instead of acquiring firsthand knowledge.

The fact remains that when there is an issue that occurs— a hydrant, standpipe, or sprinkler connection is damaged, leaking, or missing any caps, for example—it needs to be reported right away to pertinent personnel. The water supply officer, dode enforcement inspectors, the water company, and such key stakeholders need to be made aware of such situations. It’s critical to keep track of these issues to ensure that front-line personnel are aware right away of non-functioning items.

Make sure to account for extra items carried on front-line apparatus such as hydrant caps, lubricants, paint and brushes, and perhaps temporary replacement standpipe and sprinkler caps. These will need to be replaced, if necessary. Put in place a process to have supplies reliably accounted for—keeping a standard inventory on the apparatus and for re-supply—to ensure availability when needed.

As we all know, the inevitable can happen at any moment. A hydrant can be hit by a car, a water main can break requiring a hydrant to be shut off, or kids just that are just playing around flow water for kicks or to cool off. Regardless of what the situation is, firefighters need expedient notification about such issues and status updates when the repairs are resolved.

Besides doing regular maintenance and inspection of these critical assets, performing these duties in the public eye helps build a great image for the fire department. People are usually fascinated when a fire hydrant is opened and water is flowing. Help instill confidence in your citizens by explaining to curious people what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Technology today can allow for all this. Rapid or near instantaneous systems and programs are available to put all the moving parts in place. This type of technology not only helps to streamline the process, but gains “brownie” points for ISO ratings, accreditation, and seeking better insurance classifications for your department.

We need to move forward as we advance in the fire industry. Buildings are getting taller and becoming more complex and urban areas are becoming denser. More and more, we have become dependent on the engineers that design the suppression systems in high-rise buildings. Yet mishaps and malfunctions occur. These systems are not perfect. Backing up these resources are the pumpers and the water supplies at the ground level that are feeding into the buildings if a building’s fire pumps or systems fail.

At some point, the “big one” will occur. Firefighters need to be prepared for anything that is thrown at us. Preplanning, knowledge, familiarization with the layouts of the building and how to access the necessary systems is of the utmost importance. Knowing our territories and the locations of the hydrants, standpipe and sprinkler connections can save us precious minutes or seconds—and save a life when it counts.

Frank R. Myers is a retired lieutenant with the City of Miami (FL) Fire Rescue, where he served 32 years. Before his retirement, he served at the Training Center for six years as the driver/operator instructor. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.com, provider of an automated digital system that schedules, tracks and documents vehicle, station, PPE, SCBA, drug and critical assets checks for fire departments. For more information: toll-free 888-330-6006; [email protected].