Throw Back to Basics: Building Familiarization

By Brian Zaitz

Building familiarization should be a common practice at the company level; getting inside the buildings in your first-due area allows you to see what you are up against when you get the alarm. Sometimes, this is collaborated with the inspection process or formal preplanning, but it never hurts to take a few minutes to stop into your target hazard locations and take a stroll. This time, however, look beyond the construction and think tactical.

Yes, take a look at the building construction and note it; it is important. Understand how it will react under fire conditions and what hazards are present for your initial attack team, but then take a moment to think about the tactical aspects and layout of the building.


For example, look at the Knox Box—is there more than one? How many sets of master keys are present? The sprinkler connection—is it accessible? Where is the nearest water supply? The alarm panel—what type of alarm system is in place? The sprinkler system—is it wet, dry, or a combination? How do I shut off the system after a fire? All of these elements are items that are built into the structure to assist us in our firefighting efforts. You must be immensely familiar not only with their operation but that they meet your needs (i.e., are there enough keys in the Knox Box?).

Another element that is not often thought of is the elevator; it is not a secret that the majority of our runs are medical. Look at the elevators—are they all the same size?  Is there a freight elevator that can better accommodate a stretcher?  If so, how do we access it? Taking a few seconds prior to the emergency will save minutes when the alarm happens.


Lastly, think about access, primarily the initial line placement for your fire attack. Roleplay a few scenarios with your crews and, if possible, lay some dry line down a hall or two. This will ensure that your crews are proficient in deploying the lines and that the line truly meets the distance needed for attack.


Building familiarization is a key component to company success. You must get into your local buildings, meet your business owners and citizens, learn the fire suppression and alarm systems, and be ready to respond when an emergency occur. The only way to accomplish this is to get out from behind the bay doors of the station and engage. Take time on your next rotation and get into one of your first-due buildings.

Download this training bulletin as a PDF HERE (3.5 MB)

Brian Zaitz Brian Zaitzis a 15-year student of the fire service and the Captain-Training Officer with the Metro West Fire Protection District. Zaitz is also an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC , an instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy, and the Board of Director with the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He has several degrees including an associates in paramedic technology, a bachelor’s in fire science management, and master’s in human resource development. Zaitz is also a credentialed chief training officer through the Center for Public Safety Excellence as well as a student of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.


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