Fire Prevention Applications for the Company Officer, Part 2

by Brett Lacey and Paul Valentine

When fire department personnel respond to an incident, the actions of the first-arriving company affect how the incident unfolds. Likewise, fire prevention efforts can keep a small fire from becoming larger and, in turn, prevent injury and additional property loss. These efforts also reduce the chances of firefighter injury, fire equipment damage, and time out of service for assigned response companies, freeing them to respond to other emergencies.

Who are the customers of fire prevention efforts? Just like much of the corporate world, our customers are both external and internal. The external customers are the citizens we serve. They are homeowners, renters, business owners, visitors, and the occasional pet. The internal customers are our very own emergency response personnel. We use the term “emergency response,” because, as you will learn, your efforts can impact EMS and special team operations, as well as fire operations. In the interest of importance, we propose establishing responders as our primary customers. This lays the foundation for operations to support and protect themselves through the performance of fire prevention activities.
Following are a few examples where fire prevention supports fireground operations:
  • Fire department access.
  • Fire suppression systems (manual and automatic).
  • Storage practices.
  • Building construction, fire spread, smoke management.
  • Technical support to the incident commander (IC).
Fire Department Access
To better explain the concept of fire prevention’s interaction with fire operations, the best example might be fire department access. In some instances, fire apparatus have been unable to negotiate tight turns and thereby unable to gain access to burning buildings and effect rescue. Progressive fire prevention efforts coordinate traffic engineering and roadway design with developers, public works officials, and the fire department to provide reasonable fire vehicle access. Sometimes political decisions override a fire department’s recommendation and we end up not getting everything we would have liked. However, efforts are generally made to address this access before we are left to discover an untenable situation and react to a potential disaster. This also provides opportunity for operations personnel to plan for and strategize how to deal with narrow roadways and poor access points.
Fire department access and water supply issues can also be a problem in locations such as a wildland urban interface (WUI). Proactive fire prevention efforts will result in adequate roadway width, grade, and surface; adequate water supplies; and workable, survivable space between the structure and the vegetation. If caught early enough in the development phase, hardening of the structures may also be provided, playing an important role in enhancing the survivability of structures possibly even without any suppression intervention. This benefit provides significant safety to crews assigned to structural protection.
Access also includes the ability to secure a water supply. Fire hydrants usually do not just appear on the sides of streets, popping up indiscriminately. They should be strategically located with respect to buildings, intersections, fire access roadways, and landscaping. Familiarity with fire codes and fire suppression operations is critical for proper placement and flow. Progressive fire prevention combines efforts of water purveyors, developers, engineers, and fire prevention staff to coordinate appropriate water supply, fire hydrant location, and access. Nothing can provide a sinking feeling quite like hooking up to a dead hydrant when you are trying to set up for your reactive fire attack.
Good fire prevention efforts ensure you can rely on available water supplies not only for suppression efforts but for the continued protection and safety of firefighting crews. Once the building is constructed, very few opportunities present themselves to improve fire department access and hydrant placement.
Fire Suppression Systems
Good fire prevention work includes thoughtful code-compliant installations of fire alarm systems. These tools can provide a wealth of information to responding companies, particularly in response to large or high-rise structures. Clear and concise alarm notification and planning of how and where the annunciation will take place must be considered during the construction document-review stage. When done correctly, the fire alarm can provide suppression forces with accurate information as to where a fire may be and where the fire plume (smoke) is traveling. This can save countless minutes in the discovery and attack of a hostile fire. Without fire prevention interaction, operations crews can obviously respond to the building where the alarm is going off, but how long might it take them to locate and extinguish the fire? Thoughtful installation and location of anunciators and panels can save a lot of time and physical exertion for crews. Consistent placement of fire alarm control panels will aid in locating them in buildings. Unfortunately, we have all likely encountered fire alarm panels hidden in closets and other unexpected places. Wouldn’tit be great if they were all located in the same place such as by the front door?
Storage Practices
Good prevention work regarding hazardous material storage, use, and processes is a critical service to firefighters. Without inspections in these locations, hazardous occupancies and locations may go unnoticed and undiscovered, which could pose a catastrophic threat to first responders. The regular inspection and monitoring of these processes provides familiarity for technical support as well as training and education to the assigned responders. Technology is changing very fast, and the number of chemicals, processes, and manufacturing techniques is driving more and more unique hazards. Without regular visits and inspections, fire crews may not become familiar with all these changes until they make that one fateful response. It is in operations’ best interest to regularly visit and preplan these facilities to mitigate, prevent, and prepare for any potential dangerous issues.
Building Construction, Fire Spread, and Smoke Management
Large and high-rise buildings can be very hard to manage smoke in or from. Good fire prevention work can preengineer reasonable solutions for smoke evacuation and control. Typically, in advanced fire plan reviews, when smoke control or management systems are required, fire prevention personnel can do a phenomenal job of prearranging where, how, and when to begin a managed smoke-removal process. This can lead to great stress relief for truck companies tasked with trying to get rid of smoke that is collecting in the middle of a 25-story atrium or large 20-acre warehouse. Again, this prevention and mitigation work goes a long way toward assisting operations in the task of fire suppression in buildings that are potentially difficult to deal with. In essence, strong prevention involvement provides operational solutions before workarounds become necessary.
Fire prevention personnel and building officials take great pride in securing and managing the installation of fire barriers, partitions, and walls. These are used to break up the building area and provide protected means of egress. Managing setbacks between public ways or other structures also plays a critical role in preventing conflagrations by protecting exposures. Through all of our fire prevention education programs, we frequently teach that having a physical barrier between you and the fire is one of the most important things you can do. This is a critical safety feature not only for citizens but for fire crews as well. The segregation of a building into fire areas limits the amount of combustibles, thereby decreasing the amount of potential fire that crews must fight or protect. There are times when this physical separation has stopped the spread of fire without fire suppression intervention. Various industries and the military use this as a strategy in firefighting and suppression planning and activities. This is another example of an operational tactic performed through prevention well before an incident occurs.
Technical Support to the IC
In larger fire prevention bureaus, you typically find well-seasoned inspection personnel and maybe even degreed fire protection engineers. These individuals are frequently highly trained, skilled, and familiar with various unusual hazards, fire protection suppression techniques, and extinguishment methods. Use these individuals regularly to provide operational technical support. It can be a huge benefit to operations personnel when a technically savvy person can provide accurate calculations for amounts of foam, foam solution flow rates, and methods of application during a large petroleum storage tank fire. Fire suppression crews may have limited experience fighting tank fires because such fires are so rare. However, because of the types of systems required and the technical aspects of foam application, your bureau staff may be an invaluable educated and experienced resource.
As the economy recovers, it may be some time before we regain the resources we have lost. In fact, many believe the fire service may never fully return to the way it used to be. Operations divisions hopefully will remain engaged in fire prevention activities. Fire prevention functions are not only an essential part of operations activities but should be a permanent element of all company officer tasks. Today more than ever the company officer has a tremendous opportunity to positively impact fire prevention services. Through their leadership, experience, and technical knowledge, fire company officers are in the best position they have ever been to properly support fire prevention and mitigation solutions to an ever-demanding and exposed community.

Brett Lacey is the fire marshal for the Colorado Springs (CO) Fire Department. He is a professional engineer and certified safety professional. He is co-author of the FPP text Fire Prevention Applications. He has served on various technical committees including NFPA 1031, IFSTA Committee for Inspection Practices, and Fire Detection and Suppression Systems and the Colorado Fire Marshal’s Association Code Committee. He has been an instructor for two community colleges and has been employed in the private sector as an HPR loss control representative and safety engineer. He has more than 27 years of experience in the fire service in a career and volunteer capacity as a nationally registered paramedic, firefighter, and fire protection engineer.


Paul Valentine is a 14-year veteran of and fire marshal for the Mount Prospect (IL) Fire Department. He previously served as the fire protection engineer. He has five years of fire protection engineering experience at a Department of Energy research laboratory and as a loss control consultant in the insurance industry. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire protection and safety engineering technology from Oklahoma State University and a master of science degree in management and organizational behavior from Benedictine University. He is a graduate from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He is also a principal committee member of the NFPA 1037 Fire Marshal Professional Qualification Standard and co-author of Fire Prevention Applications (Fire Protection Publications).

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