Pre-planning: A Team Concept
Over the past few years, the fire service has become more and more specialized. We have divided our forces into fire prevention, fire suppression, and fire administration. We have even designated separate pumper activities and truck activities. We seem to draw lines between our forces that better not be crossed.
However, there is one area where those lines must be crossed. This is prefire planning. We need the input of all areas of the fire service to formulate effective pre-plans. We also need a team concept to accomplish our task.
The activity of pre-planning target hazards such as paint manufacturers, chemical warehouses, grain elevators and mill operations, and hospitals has long been approached as a specialized area. It is time we widened that approach to include input from more fire department personnel.
Traditionally, whenever the term “pre-planning” has been mentioned, all available personnel within earshot have lifted a finger, pointed to the fire prevention division, and moaned in a low tone “That’s your job!” It is time that alt fire department members get involved in “pre-planning.”
Pre-fire planning is critical to the successful outcome of even the most routine situation. Pre-planning reaches far beyond the folder or notebook where it is quietly stored until the “big one” occurs. The fireground commander thumbs briskly to the appropriate pre-plan in order to obtain the information he needs to successfully contain the incident at hand.
Pre-planning could be one of the most valuable tools available to the modern fire department. Its positive effects extend beyond the file into training, company familiarization inspections, and hydrant flow testing. The training officer could use pre-plan information to bring meaning and realism to the evolutions he formulates for company drills. He could use the pre-plan to show how and why the department uses different tactics in different areas of the jurisdiction. Maybe the water supply and projected demand in a certain area do not even come close to matching. Instead of the usual forward lay, this particular occupancy might require a reverse lay and relay pumping to obtain the needed water supply. The training officer could use the pre-plan to help make these determinations.
The commanding officer and company members could use the pre-plan on company inspections to help them locate the sprinkler hookup, the electrical shut-off and gas shut-off, areas of hazardous materials storage, skylights for ventilation, and shafts and stairways. Any changes they make in the pre-plan can be passed on to other shifts.
Companies working on hydrant flow tests could use the pre-plan to update flow figures and establish criteria for tactics at a given occupancy.
All of these potential uses for the pre-fire plan are based on the need to provide accurate and adequate information at the incident scene.
Formulating pre-fire plans does not apply only to the fire prevention division, but also to firefighters, apparatus operators, company officers, and district chiefs. We must get as many people as possible involved in the process of formulating pre-fire plans to insure that the information covers the entire occupancy.
Company officers and firefighters should be responsible for obtaining a diagram of the given occupancy with all its components and hazards noted accurately. The drivers should be responsible for collecting all information concerning available water supply, on-premises fire protection, and street diagrams. We begin to see that through this process of organizing the pre-fire plan, every member is getting better acquainted with his own area.
When all of these diagrams and information are brought to the district chief, he then can formulate a plan and assign tactics that are appropriate for the given occupancy. He will also be able to project the possible need for additional responses should there be a major incident at that occupancy.
The more people who are involved in the process of pre-planning, the better acquainted more of us are with the premises. The better acquainted we are with the premises, the more efficient we become and the faster we can control a given situation, no matter how severe it may be.
We can form effective pre-plans by crossing the imaginary lines of responsibility and by using the knowledge and expertise at hand. A well composed pre-plan is a valuable tool. If we have it on hand and it works, we will build confidence in our system, and confidence promotes efficiency. When we are efficient on the fireground the number of injuries usually decreases, incidents are contained faster, and fewer mistakes are made.