Most of you reading this are municipal fire professionals–whether full time, career, or volunteer–and, I would venture to say, most of you have some type of relationship with the industrial occupancies in your response district.

I`ve heard stories of industry security`s not opening the gate for the municipal fire department while the plant burns because the company and fire department just don`t get along or the company has had trouble with the local fire prevention inspector. The safety of the plant workers and the surrounding community depends on a good working relationship between the fire department and local industry. Not only will responses be more effective, but every industry has something to offer the community, no matter how big or how small. However, you`ll never know what that something is until you knock on the gate and open up the dialogue.

Responding with lights and sirens to the local plant is great if you know the inherent hazards and have a good formidable prefire plan with which to operate. If you don`t, take your time because running in blind may injure or kill someone. It`s time to put it all aside and get down to basics. If industry is not reaching out, municipal services should be. Both should remember that each is a good resource and each has its needs. Only through a good working relationship will lives be saved and the community be allowed to sleep easier at night.


A meeting between the plant manager and the fire chief (or appointed fire official) and their staffs is the best place to start. Plant representatives may include the plant fire chief or a safety professional, an environmental professional, and a member of the security division. From the municipality, the first-due company officer, battalion or deputy chief of the district, and fire prevention official might be included.

Perhaps a cursory tour of the plant would be in order at the first meeting, as would the presentation of some basic data, such as a map of the facility that shows entry points, high-hazard storage areas, firefighting equipment (hydrant grid, pumps, sprinklers, standpipes, fire department connections, and so on), and a copy of the plant`s emergency plan. It doesn`t have a plan, you say? In that case, it provides another perfect opportunity for industrial and municipal personnel to get together to come up with a basic and functional plan. At the conclusion of the first meeting, each group should appoint a liaison to keep in contact with each other and work to perpetuate the relationship. In most cases, a member of the fire prevention bureau and the plant fire chief or safety professional serve as the liaisons. The work has just begun. There is much to accomplish.


The fire prevention bureau in most jurisdictions around the country has the “right to inspect” under a local law of some type. This is the start of the win-win relationship. The fire inspector helps to get the house in order while picking up good information to bring back to the responding suppression companies. The plant shows good faith by correcting any violations found within the specified time constraints, which will help to gain the trust of the municipal fire service. After the fire prevention bureau has completed its inspection, it would be prudent for the plant manager to invite the local or first-due company for a tour of the plant. Once again, the firefighters would get an opportunity to see firsthand the process or storage areas and to examine the in-plant fire protection systems. And one tour doesn`t do it. Each working crew must get into the plant to see what it`s all about. Showing a crew of four from a fire station will not fit the bill. The plant must make the time commitment to get as many fire department personnel in and around as possible. This is especially important when there is no on-site brigade, fire department, or emergency response team. Tours should be scheduled for times mutually convenient for both parties. These types of activities can be expanded to other groups in the area. I`m not suggesting that the plant become a virtual open house; but many industrial plants have become the center of the community by offering the use of meeting rooms, cafeterias, and other facilities. Doing this enhances the relationship with the neighbors, and it`s prudent for industry to be a good citizen within the community.


Most larger industries have a mid-manager-level crisis management team (CMT), responsible for gathering data for and handling during a sitewide emergency (depending on the severity) functions that fall within the incident command system, such as planning, logistics, finance, and the like. Its primary role is to support the operations sector; disseminate information to the community, the press, and the corporate staff; and plan for the “recovery” phase of the incident.

Having the fire official from the community work with the plant`s CMT also will enhance the relationship. This is another good opportunity for plant management and the fire department (and perhaps the local police as well) to work together and see what the site`s plan calls for during specific types of emergencies such as fire, explosion, chemical release, and so on. In many cases, the local fire department is asked to observe and participate in on-site drills and emergency response exercises and to critique the plant`s emergency plan for effectiveness and functionality. This brings the two bodies closer together, and the relationship keeps building. It`s much too late to start planning for a disaster when the alarm is received at the fire department or the site security office gets the call on the site`s emergency line. Both parties must take the time and make the effort to work together toward the common goal–the successful and safe conclusion of an emergency operation.


Most, if not all, larger industries–particularly chemical, petrochemical, refining, and similar types of sites–have some sort of on-site emergency response team. These teams vary. Some are incipient fire brigades, spill or haz-mat teams, evacuation fire marshals, or full structural fire departments–some full-time paid and some volunteers. Many industries also have confined-space, trench, and high-angle rescue teams as well as EMS capabilities. Whatever the type of team, joint training can pay off in large dividends when an incident ensues. The plant should invite the local fire department to train on-site with the emergency team; however, the fire department should not expect to have performing evolutions replace plant operations and request that production be shut down or operations suspended. Often, the two groups can practice on mock-ups or in areas that are temporarily out of service or have been mothballed. (Note: According to OSHA 1910.146, if an industry lists its local fire department as its confined-space rescue service, it must provide for on-site training at least once every 12 months, and the training must be performed on at least each type of confined space found in the plant. For example, if there are 50 1,000-gallon vessels on-site with 36-inch manheads at the top, then the training must include practice on at least one as a representative sample.)

Joint training helps to build personal relationships as well as the plant-municipal relationship. When an incident occurs, it always seems to go better when the two entities have trained together, familiar faces are all around, and there is a mutual respect among the responding personnel. Everyone now has an idea of what each other`s capabilities are in terms of equipment and training. This will be another dividend that pays off every time a plant emergency occurs.

Consider off-site training as well. Many industries go to local fire academies to train not only for structural fires but also for industrial-type fires such as those involving flammable liquids and gases. The plant also can invite the fire department to its training sessions. Industrial mutual-aid groups also have a role in joint training. (An industrial mutual-aid group in New Jersey raised funds to finance confined-space rescue equipment for a municipal fire department. The community benefits by the fire department`s having this capability; the municipality benefits by receiving a donation of equipment; and industry benefits by not having to equip, train, and maintain its own in-house rescue team. This one is a “triple-win” situation.) The plant benefits from having the two teams train together, and the municipality gains training experience at no cost. Many industrial response teams have entered into mutual-aid agreements with their town, borough, township, city, county, and even state for rescue, firefighting, or hazardous-materials response services. While the community benefits from the service, the company increases its public relations awareness by being a good neighbor.


Now that the relationship has been built (and it took time; lots of hard work; and, most of all, commitment), a plan must be developed to keep the momentum. Schedule regular meetings at all levels–between the plant manager and the chief, the brigade and the first-due company, and the plant chief or safety pro and the fire prevention bureau staff. Continue joint training and holding drills and critiques. Update the plant`s emergency plan, and rework the prefire plan if necessary. The following questions must be asked periodically and must be reflected in the new plans:

Were there process changes, new construction, demolition, renovations, and increases or decreases in the number of personnel?

Is the plant map current? Does everyone who should have a copy have one?

Is the plant policing itself for fire violations and good housekeeping practices and building a trust with the local fire officials?

Has the plant manager made his facility the center of the community, and is the company a good neighbor?

These questions must be asked. If the answers are negative in any way, it`s time to take action. Don`t wait until things happen to start planning. It`s too late then. Make a concerted effort to work together and to be prepared for whatever may come your way. n

RONALD E. KANTERMAN is the chief of fire protection at Merck & Co. in Rahway, New Jersey. He has a B.A. in fire science and an M.S. in fire protection management from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Kanterman also is an adjunct professor of fire science at Middlesex County College in New Jersey.

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(Left) A 10,000-gallon gasoline tanker crashed on a major highway. The city fire department requested mutual aid from local industry. This picture was taken before the city`s ladder truck and industrial foam unit arrived. (Right) The industrial foam unit (in yellow) and the city truck company (in black), working side by side, begin suppression operations. Each knew of the other`s capability. (Photos courtesy of author.)

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(Left) Two industrial firefighters prepare a 134-inch foam handline for extinguishment. (Right) City and industrial firefighters keep refoaming the tank truck and assess the damage. Operations and communications were smooth, as they had trained together and were prepared to work as a team.

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A joint trench rescue training session with an industrial team (in red jumpsuits) and members of two neighboring municipal fire departments and the local fire academy staff.

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