In the 2003 International Fire Code, section 912 refers to the fire department connection (FDC). Section 912.1 reads, “Fire department connections shall be installed in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard applicable to the system design.” How well do you know the FDC locations in your response district? More important, do you know where they are located in your assisting districts or mutual-aid assignments? Will your engine company be responsible for making the connection to the siamese while the first-in engine is making the attack? A quick review of the fire code regarding FDCs might be helpful.
Location (912.2). “… FDCs shall be so located that fire apparatus and hose connected to supply the system will not obstruct access to the buildings for other fire apparatus. FDCs must be readily accessible and easily accessed.” A policy from the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) will address issues such as location on the outside of the building and proximity to fire hydrants (photo 1).
Photos by author.
Visibility (912.2.1). “Fire department connections shall be located on the street side of buildings, fully visible and recognizable from the street or nearest point of fire department vehicle access or as otherwise approved by the code official.”
Existing buildings (912.2.2). “On existing buildings, wherever the fire department connection is not visible to approaching fire apparatus, the fire department connection shall be indicated by an approved sign mounted on the street front or on the side of the building. Such signs shall have the letters ‘FDC’ at least 6 inches (152mm) high and the words in letters at least 2 inches (51mm) high or an arrow to indicate the location. All such signs shall be subject to the approval of the code official” (photo 2).
Access (912.3). “Immediate access to fire department connections shall be maintained at all times and without obstruction by fences, bushes, trees, walls or any other object for a minimum of 3 feet (914mm).”
Signs (912.4). “A metal sign with raised letters at least 1 inch (25mm) in size shall be mounted on all fire department connections servicing fire sprinklers, standpipes, and fire pump connections. Such signs shall read: AUTOMATIC SPRINKLERS or STANDPIPES or TEST CONNECTION or a combination thereof as applicable” (photo 3).
LOCATE YOUR FDCs
As a former driver/engineer, I know there is nothing more terrifying than looking for a hydrant or an FDC and not finding it where it is supposed to be. I may have thought I knew where it was and didn’t check the map (which had been updated to show that the hydrant was relocated), or the map wasn’t updated or the FDC is hidden behind bushes or a parked vehicle. I know it’s there, but where?
Firefighters can locate these connections using a few different methods. Start by driving to each FDC and memorize its location, nearby landmarks, and possible obstructions.
MAKE SURE TO KEEP A RECORD OF THE LOCATION OF THE FDC
Once you have this information, pass on these tips to your peers.
Check prefire plan. The FDC should be clearly noted on the prefire plan so the location can be relayed to incoming fire units; use compass directions such as “the northeast corner of the building.” For the directionally challenged, try “The siamese connection is on side D of the fire building.” Keep the prefire plans organized in the engine’s cab.
Take a picture. Using a digital camera, first take an overall picture of the building with an arrow pointing to the FDC location. Second, take a close-up shot of the building’s FDC. Take a third picture from the front of the structure where the engine may be positioned; include the street view and hydrant locations. Build a PowerPoint® training presentation and have firefighters identify each location and the corner of the building to which the FDC is related. Make a copy of the program, and send it to your surrounding engine companies and request the same information regarding their FDC locations in return.
Obstructions. Your department’s fire marshals and inspectors are responsible for fire code enforcement, unless your department has trained you sufficiently to conduct engine company building inspections. Regardless, as firefighters, it is our job to be an extra set of eyes out there to identify problems that affect our ability to act safely and efficiently and to report them to the AHJ. If you encounter these obstructions, remember that it may not be your engine company making the connection at 2 a.m., but another. Will those firefighters see that connection and be able to deliver water to your standpipe system or sprinkler system (photo 4, circle)? Obstructions include overgrown vegetation covering or hiding the FDC and vehicles parked in front it. Yellow-painted markings and properly marked fire lanes must convey to the public that those are our primary methods of getting a water supply to the standpipes and sprinkler systems.
(4) This fire department connection (circle) will be extremely difficult to locate after nightfall. Inspect all the FDCs in your response district to identify obstructions and verify visibility from the street.
Signs. To assist apparatus drivers in identifying FDCs, your department or AHJ may require placing signage on all FDCs in your community. This was successfully done in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Signs must conform to your area’s fire code and be installed at the owner’s expense. Signs can be useful for areas where parking congestion may be a problem. We know, but they don’t (photo 5).
(5) A blocked FDC. Be diligent and get out into your response areas and identify these obstructed/blocked FDCs so later-arriving engine companies can locate them easily.
Road markings. Thermoplastic adhesive reflective road markers are another method of identifying FDCs. They are very effective, especially after dark when it is even more difficult than usual to locate FDCs. Markers can be applied to asphalt or concrete roadways, and they are impact resistant.
However, roadways frequented by snowplows must be etched and the reflector imbedded below grade to allow the snowplow to pass over it but still maintain the reflector’s visibility. Isle of Palms, South Carolina, successfully accomplished this: Every FDC was identified and clearly marked with a red reflective marker in the middle of the roadway lane.
Roadway markings fall under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. However, traffic-control devices, other than signage, shall be placed within the highway right-of-way only as authorized by a public authority or AHJ. So, before attempting to place any road markings, refer to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/.
According to the MUTCD, only nine of a total of 12 colors have been identified as appropriate for use in conveying traffic-control information. Roadways markers use yellow, red, blue, green, and white. In 2002, the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department conducted an experiment using these reflective markers in an industrial park (photo 6). More than 25 reflective, self-adhesive green roadway markers were applied on the street in front of the FDCs. The engine companies immediately returned with positive feedback-every roadway marker could be seen hundreds of yards away.
Blue markers. Blue roadway markers have been used to identify fire hydrants for decades and have assisted engine drivers tremendously in quickly locating the hydrant. However, to eliminate confusion, do not use blue for FDC identification. I recommend using one uniform color such as red; the AHJ determines the color.
If you want to pursue this viable project, do the research first so you have the information ready for the AHJ.
- Identify the total number of FDCs in your response district, town, or city.
- Locate manufacturers of roadway markers, secure salespersons’ contact numbers, and ask for a sample roadway marker. Obtain the approximate cost per unit (CPU) and prices for ordering in bulk. Our price was $1.81 each.
- Compare above-grade vs. below-grade roadway markers; costs will vary. Above-grade markers are of two types: One has a self-adhesive backing and is very simple to install; the epoxy glue type needs more effort to install. To install below-grade markers, you must use a machine to etch the road surface so the marker can be set into it and be protected from snowplow damage. This process may be omitted if your local highway maintenance division uses on its snowplows a flexible rubber blade instead of a steel blade, which will damage raised markers.
- Once you have all your facts, prepare a document outlining the problem, the solution, the CPU and total cost, the time frame to complete the task, and its impact on the community. Use your chain of command, and allow the heads of the fire department, fire inspection division, and street/highway division to determine the impact and feasibility of the project. Be prepared with diagrams, photos, and samples. Consider trying the idea out in a remote area, such as an industrial park where traffic is low but FDCs are prevalent.
- Make this a shift or station project, and tell the appropriate people that you will provide the staffing to complete the project. Organize a fund-raiser, if needed, to offset the cost of the reflectors and the epoxy adhesive.
Remember that anything you do that may influence traffic is subject to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. Refer to the most current issue of the MUTCD, or contact the local highway administrator for your municipality or district.
This is one way to take ownership in your fire department: See a need, and act on it.
MARTIN C. GRUBE is a 29-year veteran of the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department, assigned to Engine Co. 6. He is a master firefighter, a Virginia-certified fire instructor, and the department historian and photographer.
(7, 8) After discovering this obstructed FDC and hydrant, a fire marshal simply asked the property owner to create 36 inches of clearance around the hydrant and FDC.
- Always assign one member to direct traffic during operations occurring in the street. Wear a traffic vest; turn on apparatus warning and traffic direction lights on the rear of the truck.
- Remember, FDCs have female couplings; inspector’s test gates have male couplings.
- Every FDC must have caps over the intake valves. If you discover caps missing from the FDCs, contact your local fire inspector so they can be reinstalled. The caps prevent the public from stuffing foreign objects into the FDC, which will jam the impellers in the fire pump (see photo 3).
- Keep an eye out for obstructed FDCs and fire hydrants (photos 7, 8).