A Quick Look Into Modern Fire Inspection Techniques
—Hirshon Studios photo
A check list of practices, with emphasis on apparatus field inspections for year ’round use
THE MODERN FIRE DEPARTMENT is maintained by its community for the purpose of providing citizens protection against loss of life and property by fire.
The present-day conception of a fire department by both its members and the public is rapidly shifting from that of not many years ago when putting out fires was considered the primary job of the department. Today it is conceded that full measure of service to citizens requires as much attention to preventing fires as extinguishing them. Also, there are many more calls for special services made upon the fire forces than heretofore.
No one in his right mind will question that preventing fires is better than having to fight them. The question rises as to the best, most effective way of preventing them, and who is to do the job.
It will also be conceded that intelligently made inspections are the backbone of fire prevention work—inspections preferably conducted by those who have the primary responsibility of extinguishing fires that may eventuate.
Purpose of inspections
At the risk of trite repetition, let us quickly review the purposes of modern fire inspection. Authorities offer different objectives, but here are the primary ones:
- To locate and correct conditions creating undue fire hazards
- To provide fire fighters with a working knowledge of the conditions bearing upon the fighting of fires in their own territory—and to less extent, in areas which they may have to protect
- To make sure that fire protection facilities in the occupancies are being properly maintained and their uses and applications are thoroughly understood
- To create favorable public relations: through proper contacts and educational efforts the fire inspector can greatly enhance the standing of his fire department
- To secure proper maintenance of existing facilities to provide against start and spread of fire, and where possible, the adoption of such additional measures as may be necessary for further safety to life and property as structural and occupancy conditions change with the times
- To check on compliance with the laws, ordinances, codes and regulations dealing with the foregoing, particularly those matters which come within the jurisdiction of the fire department; to recognize important violations and detemine the means and methods of handling them
There are other factors involved, their importance depending upon the people and places to be considered in the inspection, their susceptibility to fire, the human inability to comprehend the seriousness of fire and to take corrective measures. Logically, the same procedures followed in inspecting a factory will hardly do for the private home. Any inspection program must be sufficiently elastic to accommodate it to the kind and class of premises and occupancy to be surveyed.
The human element
A fundamental of inspections too often overlooked by fire fighters assigned to inspection work—and even by full-time inspectors—is the human equation. It is not the structural or the material occupancy with which the inspector has to deal as much as just plain people.
It is one thing to discover fire hazards and another to induce the owner or occupant of the premises to eliminate them, if he does not know what the hazards are and most important, why these factors are considered fire hazards. It is well for the fire inspector to remember that he looks at buildings and their contents through different glasses, so to speak, than does the layman.
In the light of this relationship, it is well to try to understand the attitude of the other fellow—the owner or occupant of the premises to be inspected—and to get something of his philosophy.
In this connection, we quote some of the remarks of John L. Bryan, writing in the Maryland Fire College’s Fire Service Bulletin. Mr. Bryan says, “It is important that we try and understand the attitude of the owner or occupant of a building that we plan to inspect. First, the person in this building is engaged in the process of making a living and is very busy, and we are asking him to give us some of his very valuable time. I said ‘ask’ and not ‘demand.’ After all. as a fire inspector, you are a guest in the person’s establishment and you should act as a guest even though you may have vested in you certain legal authority and have the legal right to inspect the premises.
“This is essential since the attitude you create in your relationship with the owner or occupant will be directed toward the recommendations that you make for the establishment of fire safety in the building. If you have created a harmonious attitude, the recommendations will be received in the same light. However, if you have antagonized the individual, you can easily see how much attention your recommendations will receive.
“You must remember that you are making a fire inspection, and as such, you are looking and proceeding through the entire building. However, in many cases, the owner forgets all about the word ‘fire’ in this phrase and concentrates on the word ‘inspection.’ Such a concentration often results in the owner feeling that the inspector is fault-finding, and is trying to tell him how to run his business. This situation largely occurs when the inspector does not explain to the layman the purpose and advantage of a fire inspection. By the very nature of the word ‘inspection’ this impression of mistrust and suspicion is often strengthened.
“Webster defines inspection as follows: ‘An inspecting, critical, official examination.’ It is of interest to note also that the word ‘inspector’ is often connected with policing agencies. Webster defines ‘inspector’ as ‘a police officer in charge of a number of precincts, ranking below a superintendent.’
“Considering the definitions of the words inspection and inspector, it is easy to see why the owner of a building often takes the defensive when approached by a person requesting to make a fire inspection. Some inspecting agencies have adopted the use of the word ‘survey’ in place of ‘inspection,’ to avoid some of these psychological complications.
“Another factor that often complicates the situation from the viewpoint of the owner is the variety of agencies and inspectors that often make a fire inspection of a building. Let’s take the example of the operator of a place of public assembly in the State of Maryland.
“First, this gentleman is approached by a young man from the Maryland Rating Bureau to inspect the building and determine the insurance rate; however, this to the owner is a fire inspection.
“Next, the state fire marshal inspects the building, because one of the patrons has complained about locked doors, this gentleman being accompanied by the county fire marshal. Then, since the operator has taken out fire insurance on the contents of the building, he has the building inspected by a fire insurance company inspector. Oh yes, of course, the owner of the building has insurance on it and an inspector from this company shows up to inspect the building.
—N.Y.F.D. photo by Hellriegel and Heffernan
“Now, all of these gentlemen have inspected the building with a specific purpose serving a specific interest, but they have all made fire inspections and have left recommendations. We must not forget that the local fire chief has yet to inspect the building to check fire safety and to facilitate his pre-planning fire strategy.
“The point is . . . the operator of this business is a layman and he has received recommendations from five or six persons who are considered experts in fire inspections and fire safety . . . we know that no two fire inspectors are going to make all their recommendations exactly alike, due to the difference in the experiences, training and personality of the individual. However, the owner of the business will not know this unless we tell him. Thus, he will notice the discrepancies in the inspection recommendations, and he may very well say, ‘These fellows can’t even agree among themselves; don’t they know what they arc doing?’ Then, of course, he disregards all the recommendations. . . . And mind you, I didn’t mention all the numerous salesmen of one type or another that call on the layman to make ‘fire inspections’ for the purpose of selling fire extinguishers, fire doors, fire alarm and sprinkler systems.
“I ask you, then, is it no small wonder that when you enter a business establishment to save the occupants and the owner from the horrors of fire, you may be greeted with something less than open arms.”
Mr. Bryan then submits some of the moral obligations to the agency which the inspector represents and to the general public, as well as to the person whose establishment he is to inspect. He lists the following:
—Columbia F.D. photo.
—L. A. County F.D. photo
- You must explain to the person you contact who you are and show proper identification. You will want proper identification and it is only courteous for you to reciprocate.
- Explain the purpose of the inspection and advantages of it. Point out what a fire could do to the establishment and the owner’s moral obligations to his employees and the community.
- Respect the obligations of the person’s business on his time and do not become annoyed at his interruptions or previous commitments.
- You are morally obligated to point out to the person every condition that is a fire hazard. If you are doubtful as to a condition, admit it and ask for information on the process, and check your reference sources before making a commitment.
- Since you are allowed to cover the entire premises of the building, you may obtain information that lias no relation to fire safety, such as manufacturing procedures or processes that may be considered as trade secrets. This information is confidential and should be treated as such inasmuch as you are morally obligated to the person who has allowed you to inspect his property. You are essentially a guest in his establishment.
- Information such as the number of employees, contemplated expansion of the building or buildings, reduction in working force, etc., may seem harmless. However, such information, if gained by other business or labor organizations, could be harmful to the owner. You are morally responsible to protect his best interests.
- Fire inspections should not be discussed outside the office or with persons desiring information unless they are official agencies making written requests for information that concerns your agency.
- You as fire inspector are morally obligated to conduct yourself in a business-like manner and never put yourself in a compromising position.
- You are responsible to your agency and to yourself to record all features immediately as they are observed, and note such factors at the time of the inspection, its initiation and completion.
- In the inspection of equipment of any nature, you are morally responsible tor damage to it. Have the owner or his delegated representative check the equipment you wish inspected.
- You, as an inspector checking the accuracy of any detail, should be sure you do not create a fire or health hazard in your procedures.
- Remember at all times that you are a guest of the person whose establishment you are inspecting and it is only courteous to act as a guest.
—Los Angela County F.D. photo
Apparatus field inspections
In the foregoing, we have discussed the purposes of inspections in general and the human element, with emphasis on the moral obligations of the inspector and his inspection agency. These observations apply whatever the type of building and/ or occupancy to be studied, and whoever is designated to do the inspecting.
They apply particularly to home inspections which are becoming increasingly popular and effective in reducing the incidence of fire.
Nothing brings the fire department into closer contact with the citizens of a community than these apparatus field inspections. At the same time, nothing calls for greater diplomacy, tact and judgment on the part of the inspector than meeting the householder in his or her own domain.
Apparatus field inspections, or radio field inspections, or whatever they may be termed, came into being largely through the application of mobile twoway radio by the fire service. This development has been chronicled by FIHE ENGINEERING over the years. Although the advantages of apparatus field inspections in both the fighting of fires and their prevention have been widely headlined, many fire departments qualified to do so, have failed to give such inspections consistent and serious trial.
The reasons for this vary, but in most cases are the result of ignorance of the possibilities of such endeavors, or failure to adopt and maintain a sound inspection working plan. It will be admitted that apparatus home inspections call for a different technique of treatment than do inspections of multiple dwellings, or commercial, industrial and public buildings. But whatever types of occupancies the apparatus field inspection is designed to cover, there are certain fundamental procedures which it is well to bear in mind in planning and effectuating the inspection program. The following check list is offered:
Determination of inspection program by the responsible fire officials and promulgation of the necessary effectuating orders
- Chronology of inspections—dates, hours, periods (related to the company and/or other unit; popular hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
- Schedule to provide for omission of inspections on recognized holidays
- Have the necessary forms and other material for laying out and recording operations, these to conform to the scope and extent of the inspection; such data include: A field inspection sector map, apparatus field inspection portfolio, fire prevention journal to determine block or blocks of operation, and field record forms (cards or sheets—some departments prefer cards, using different colors for different occupancies)
The apparatus field inspection portfolio may contain the following:
- Field record cards
- Fire prevention educational literature for general and specific distribution
- Copy of company violation orders previously issued
- Violation order book (similar to summons book) and standard form of orders
- Summons book (for violations); necessary data on court calendar; locations, instructions for issuance, etc.
- “No Smoking” signs and such forms as are required for application for permits, certificate of fitness renewals, company building inspection manual, etc.
- Copies of pertinent and important department orders, directives affecting the apparatus field inspection
- Necessary indelible pencils, ballpoint pen, paper, carbon, etc.
- Record and report forms
—Columbia F.D. photo
The operational practice of laying out and energizing the apparatus field inspections varies according to the department but it is the general custom for the officer on duty the day before the scheduled field inspection to lay out the work, supplies, etc., after checking on the inspection sector or zone maps, the A FI portfolio and journal records, to determine the block or areas of operation. Any special orders or instructions are made ready for the inspection crews the next day.
The following steps are usually taken before the company unit leaves quarters:
- If placards are used (and the majority of departments conducting these inspections do so), they are affixed to the sides of apparatus.
- The minimum crew to man units should consist of not less than an officer and three men on radio-equipped pumper or quad (most cities do not utilize other form of apparatus, such as ladder (rucks). Some cities switch engine or pumper and ladder company personnel, with the exception of motor pump operators and tillermen, who are retained in their respective quarters.
- All members on these inspections shall be properly uniformed; this usually consists of uniform cap and badge, uniform coat and clean work trousers. During hot summer months in many cities coats are optional. Where apparatus home inspections are conducted, members are usually required to wear full regulation dress.
- Appropriate radio notification must be made to dispatcher; make entry in journal (if unable to leave quarters, notify dispatcher and enter in journal).
- Officer will check on schedules for AFI duty of nearby units for effective fire fighting operations. It is advisable for all units doing this inspection work to be informed of the status of other battalions and/or areas for fire operations.
The following procedures are taken after the unit has left quarters and is in the field:
- Maintain constant radio contact at all times and respond to assigned alarms or as directed by dispatcher.
- Check over violations issued previously within the area to be inspected for compliance, etc.
- Proceed to block indicated for inspection operations. It is the procedure in many departments to circle the block of operations clockwise.
- First and most frequent inspections, logically, should be of unusual buildings and occupancies where life hazard is greatest.
- Interior inspection procedure differs according to departmental preferences, based on property and premises to be surveyed, departmental limitations and facilities, etc. Some plans call for allocating experienced men to certain occupancies on a floor-pcr-man basis. For others, two or more men are assigned. A number of departments conduct group inspections. It is claimed by some that the two-or-more-man inspection avoids risk of misunderstanding and any comeback complaint or claim on the part of the occupants or owner, at the same time providing useful information for pre-fire fighting plans for more than a single fire fighter. In home inspections most departments insist on interior inspections by uniformed men working in pairs.
- Men take into the building the necessary record card or other forms, including check list if such is used. If necessary, permit applications can be filled out and signed by the occupant and violations and/or summons issued at the time. Pertinent information relating to violations should be recorded. If conditions warrant, officer can be called to check personally. Inspectors should initial or sign all records for department file.
Officer in charge supervises all operations and assists members where necessary, as above.
- Issue summons for illegal parking near hydrant where violation is observed during inspection duty.
- In proceeding to or from inspection area, or while in area, note and report pertinent irregularities such as blocked roads, entrancoways and hydrants, partially or concealed warning signs, dangerous neighborhood structural conditions, wiring, etc., not actually germane to inspection for fire and life hazards. Report same to appropriate municipal agencies.
Although this completes field inspection operations, some of the important details are yet to come after return to quarters. These include:
- Report (preferably by telephone) arrival to dispatcher and enter necessary data in journal.
- Remove placards from apparatus.
- Return record cards and forms to their proper place, making sure that reports of properties partially or not inspected are earmarked for subsequent inspection.
- See that cards or other rec-ords of buildings inspected are properly filled in, violations noted and properly signed. Follow the prescribed fire department report system for making permanent and temporary records. This will include treatment of old and new violations, changes in occupancies, etc., issuance of summons for violations other than fire hazards. See that reports are duly typed as required by department regulations.
- Forward the necessary reports for concurrence and action.
- Many departments hold periodic post mortems or critiques on the subject of inspections, at which the system’s procedures and failures are reviewed. The tendency is to hold field inspection plans as elastic as possible and to continually revise and improve strategy and programs to meet changing developments.
- A final detail may concern the release of information gathered from inspections to press or others. This calls for considerable discretion. No facts should be publicized which may directly or indirectly cause unfavorable departmental repercussions. If any such information is released, it must come from highest echelons.
Acknowledgement: Portions of this study are taken from the following whose cooperation is gratefully appreciated: The National Hoard, of Fire Underwriters, Special Interest Bulletin No. 5, Value and Purpose of Fire Department Inspections”; The University of Maryland Fire Service Bulletin, “Ethics of Fire Inspections,” by John L. Bryan; and “W N Y F,” official publication of the New York Fire Department, “Apparatus Field Inspections—a Check List,” by Sanford Coldberg, Lieutenant, Engine 282.