Source: ESO Solutions
By Shelley Koegler
A strong preplan system within a fire department can save both property and lives in an emergency situation; however, many times preplans are overlooked as mere paperwork, another item to check off on the “to-do” list. Properly performed, preplans can benefit not only property and occupants, but also providers who arrive on scene. Below we review five strategies you can use to strengthen your preplans and improve provider safety:
Preplanning Needs a Plan
As the old saying goes, “fail to plan, plan to fail.” Implementing a solid preplans program requires planning and buy-in from staff in advance of deployment. Begin by identifying which staff members are most appropriate to lead a preplans program. This could include pairing fire marshals from the inspections division with both company officers and field firefighters to demonstrate the value of preplans for those within the company.
After selecting the appropriate staff, create a training program which includes department policies on preplans (frequency, data collected, jurisdiction) as well as hands-on training for using preplans software. By offering training in advance, users will feel confident in developing preplans and using the tools at-hand for conducting them.
Finally, you should review your preplans program periodically to ensure staff can provide feedback and stay in the loop regarding any departmental changes or updates.
Keep Track of Property History and Changes
Buildings frequently change ownership and usage. In the fire service, those changes can have an adverse impact on provider and even occupant safety. Leftover chemicals from a manufacturing warehouse turned into residential apartments can be a hazard to occupants and leave residual chemical traces which effect firefighting strategies. Even new construction can be a good place to establish structure history. Outline potential hazards, locations for fire suppression systems, and lock box locations. Although no one can predict every element of a fire, it’s important to document and track changes over time with structures so firefighters are as prepared as possible when arriving on scene.
In addition to tracking structural changes, occupancy records are also important to maintain. Shifts in ownership can leave firefighters struggling to find the primary contact for a commercial unit. When preplans are in place, firefighters have accurate and updated records with key contact information in case of emergencies.
Understand Your Occupants
There is a big difference between a non-occupied commercial building and a 150-bed skilled nursing facility during an emergency response. When developing a preplans program, take care to note occupancy types and needs to reduce risk for both occupants and providers.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, people over the age of 65 are twice as likely to be killed or injured by fires compared to the population at large. Specialized populations such as those over 65, people with disabilities, and children need advanced preplans documentation to ensure the appropriate response is granted during an emergency.
Providers will benefit from avoiding being caught off guard by unexpected search and rescue operations while occupants can have a plan of action in place for emergencies.
Document Preplans Visually
Photographs can help with visual memory of responders and establish locations of key fire safety elements prior to emergency response. When conducting a preplan visit, use photographs to highlight essential protection features such as standpipes, lock boxes, stairwells, and occupant shelters.
A best practice is to use software that allows you to visually document safety components, so photographs stay attached to the specific preplan you’re developing. By attaching images to pre-plans, you’ll create a visual memory response which can trigger during emergency calls and get providers to the places they need to be more quickly.
Share and Distribute
Preplans are only truly useful if they become an active part of response plans. Rather than storing preplans in spreadsheets and binders, use software which allows you to easily capture and share notes with everyone in the organization. Software can also help make preplans accessible through features such as keyword search, fire code look-ups, and checklists. Updates to preplans can also be expedited through software which tracks any changes and shares them out to the department. Additionally, preplans can be shared with EMS and 911-dispatch centers to help coordinate efforts across first response teams for a safer response by all parties involved.
By sharing preplans in advance and hosting reviews of the collected data, you’ll have insight into developing vehicle needs and crew assignments during an emergency response so providers can be safe on the job and offer the best protection possible.
Preplans are an excellent tool for community risk reduction and provider safety. By developing and institutionalizing an active preplans program within your department, you can enhance safety, minimize risk, and increase awareness during emergency response.
Shelley Koegler is the Vice President of Fire for ESO. She can be reached at Shelley.Koegler@esosolutions.com.