Industry and Fire Service Gain by Working Together
Industrial Fire Safety
Last month we made a definite point out of the need for industries to cooperate with their municipal fire departments, whether paid or volunteer. Now we will demonstrate the need, the how and the value of a close, honest liaison among plant management, its fire brigade and the professional fire fighter.
If we take an unbiased look at the usual municipal fire department and industrial brigade, we find they have a common problem. To compare them with another profession, such as a doctor, we find them most similar in one regard. When the patient, or plant, is safe and happy, the doctor is not required or wanted, but when an emergency arises, he suddenly becomes the most important cog in the gears of survival! Therefore, is it not wise to cooperate for mutual benefit and plan for an emergency?
Need: As suburban industrial complexes continue to grow in once purely rural areas along with their counterparts within our cities, the need grows to investigate and prepare on the part of the fire service and to show and disclose on the part of industry. This is being brought to light almost daily in newspapers and other publications. For example, the Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported last January 17 that the widows of four Cleveland firemen killed in a fire-explosion brought damage suits totaling $2 million against two firms. The suits, according to the newspaper, charged “negligence, violating the city’s hazardous occupancy law, delaying in giving the fire alarm and misinforming the firemen who were called to fight the blaze.” The newspaper also stated that the suits alleged: “The two companies misrepresented the material within the dust collector and the surrounding vicinity and further assured the firemen that there was no harmful or dangerous substance present within the premises.
“Dr. Cerber, county coroner,” the story continued, “urged in a special report more stringent fire safety enforcement and legislation that could hold violators criminally responsible for deaths of firemen.”
Regardless of the merits of the charges, a suit such as this points up the need for voluntary cooperation between the fire service and industry. If it is not done voluntarily, it will be done by compulsory legislation. Which would you prefer?
How: To prepare for that fire emergency, two parts are necessary, one by industry and one by the fire service. So we must discuss the responsibilities of both.
Industry must invite the fire department into its premises. In many communities, the fire service has so many locations to inspect (usually with limited manpower) that it may take years to schedule and inspect a particular location. An invitation will decrease this time lag.
A joint inspection should be made with a management representative, a private fire brigade member and a watchman so that all may see, record and then hold onthe-spot discussions. During these inspections, hazards can be recorded, such as the storage and use of flamable liquids and the high piling of stock. These are only a few of many but sufficient to get across the need for industry honesty in revealing a complete story of all its operations and materials.
As a part of this joint inspection, the fire brigade should be evaluated so that the municipal fire department will know what help can be expected in an emergency. Records of fire divisions, fire doors, special hazard protection, exits and exposures must be made to compile a proper list of pertinent facts about a location. It is also necessary to make a survey of sprinkler equipment, fire department connections to standpipe systems, water tanks, fire pumps, fire mains and water supplies, both private and public, if any.
No water: I have learned that it is not unusual to find a location without any private or public water supply, nor is it unusual to find a sprinkler system supplied by an almost nonexistent water supply. What can be more important than a full understanding of built-in private protection and water supplies, or the lack of them, in successfully combatting a fire?
The fire service, in turn, must make itself available to industry to properly record construction features, hazards, materials, help expected, automatic fire control installations and water supplies. I regret to say that this availablity of the fire service to industry is lacking in many, many communities. The fire service also should offer training assistance to industrial fire brigades through the use of training grounds, films, short courses and mutual meetings. Where no brigade exists, the municipal fire department should promote such a force and provide technical assistance. Remember, industry generally looks to the fire service as the professional in the field and regards its own fire brigade as an emergency unit to put out small fires and hold larger ones in check until the municipal fire department arrives.
The fire department also should prepare a plan showing the location of hydrants, fire department connections to sprinkler systems and standpipes, rivers, creeks, ponds, swimming pools, filter ponds and other sources of fire fighting water. Insurance companies and rating bureaus can be of great assistance in preparing this plan.
Value: Cooperation in preparing prefire plans has many advantages, including less confusion in an emergency, knowledge of what to do when, with what, to what, an automatic reduction in the loss of life by knowing what is to be faced, a reduction in loss of physical assets, and improved public relations through lower losses for industry and efficient stops by the fire department. This gives newspapers and other publications something good to print.
Has everything been covered here? No, but if what has been written here is accomplished. both industry and the fire service will be on the right road. I think down deep in our hearts we all know the value of pre-fire planning and realize that industry must ask the fire service for assistance, suppress the fear of recommendations for improvements, and prepare for emergencies. The fire service, especially some volunteer departments suffering technical shortages and city departments suffering from manpower shortages plus backward city administrators, needs a greater personal desire and drive to prepare and assist itself and its communities, as well as industry.