Preplanning Incidents at Shopping Malls


The response of the Albany (OR) Fire Department (AFD) to a small fire in the Santa Claus section of the Heritage Mall brought to light the need for preplanning a response to this location and establishing a collaborative relationship with mall management. Santa, his reindeer and elves, and mall employees and shoppers were not injured in the fire call. However, the incident brought the department’s attention to the fact that the mall was difficult to navigate for responders, fire department connection locations were not clearly labeled, and the stores had no visible addresses near the mall’s storefront entrance.

(1) A fire department connection outside the mall clearly marks the zone to which it is plumbed. (Photos by author.)
(2) “Anchor” stores are their own zone. They are signed with the store name instead of a number.

The fire department and Heritage Mall management—Gordon Dobberstein, mall manager; Dave Magdefrau, maintenance supervisor; Deputy Fire Marshal Bob Brooks; and Fire Lieutenant Jamie Smith—began the project of making the mall safer for customers and emergency responders and for increasing responder efficiency for future calls.


The mall erected signs that identified the stores’ locations. The signs could be easily viewed by responders but did not interfere with aesthetics. The mall’s tenants had put a lot of time and research into their storefront presentation and did not want to change it. When you are walking through the mall, you do not notice the signs unless you are looking for them.

(3) Placing signs on fire department connections next to the hydrant expedites the delivery of water to the sprinkler system and the crews working inside.

The addresses of the mall’s tenants had to be kept up-to-date. The names of businesses in malls frequently change, or stores may move to other locations in the same mall. Even firefighters who often shop in the mall find it difficult to remember all the store locations. Often, when the fire department responds to a call, the firefighters enter through a main public access and then proceed to the storefront. The ever-changing business locations and names sometimes make response inefficient.

(4) The “B” in this sign indicates the section of the mall you are in. The “209” is the suite number, and the “-3” designates the suppression zone. The numbers are reflective and are in the lower right-hand corner for easy visibility and consistency.

Now, each store is clearly signed in the lower right-hand corner of the mall entrance with a three-part address: (1) the building section, (2) the suite number, and (3) the sprinkler zone. The sign identifies the store’s location by a letter. The suite number and the sprinkler zone are displayed as numbers. If a store falls into two sprinkler zones, both zones are displayed. Now, even when there is low visibility, firefighters can clearly see the reflective address and notify the incident commander of where they are in the building and in which zones to pump for fire suppression.

(5) The letter “A” identifies the section of the mall you are in. The “-2/3” indicates that the occupancy is in two sprinkler zones. This information can be relayed to the firefighter on the outside so he will pump water to both zones.

The mall has also helped with training. The fire department uses empty mall stores for wide area search and other drills. These evolutions would be hard to simulate on the drill ground. This gives fire companies an opportunity to practice skills that could someday save a customer or fellow firefighter in a real-world environment.

(6) The address signs disappear into the background for most shoppers but are of great assistance in letting emergency responders know their location in the mall, especially in a low-visibility environment.

This collaborative effort has been a great success for the Heritage Mall and the AFD. Subsequent tours were given to fire companies so they could observe the new address signage. In a low-visibility environment in a large occupancy, it is difficult to direct resources or to find your way in and out without having an adequate address for the incident site.

(7) Standpipes inside the mall are also signed for easy identification.

TOM HENKE is a lieutenant in the Albany (OR) Fire Department, where he is in the Training Division.

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