Prefire Planning

Hindsight is almost always 20/20, but there is no substitute for being prepared. I’m not sure where preplans were invented. If it’s like most things in the fire service, some department had the idea of going out and looking at buildings and coming up with a few “preliminary” plans on what to do if that specific building catches on fire. Then, some firefighter on vacation or visiting an aunt in that town talked to a local firefighter who told him the department was very progressive, to the point that it went out and made plans for fighting a fire—before the fire occurred! The visiting firefighter then went back to his department and discussed the idea with someone who “bumped” it up through the food chain until the chief of his department now had a brilliant new idea!

In Toledo, commercial buildings that meet specific hazard requirements are assigned to house captains. The house captain divides the preplans among the three shifts. Thursday is the designated preplan day. Company officers and their crews are required to complete the preplan in a specific timeframe. After new preplans are completed, companies update existing plans.

There are specific forms and criteria for each preplan. Occupant name and occupancy type, special or hazardous processes, built-in fire suppression features, all fire department connections, hydrant locations and flows, and the building’s required fire flows are among some of the information gathered. The company officer’s battalion chief reviews the completed plans and then forwards them to headquarters, where they are again checked and then put into the preplan book for dissemination to all line companies. They are carried on all apparatus and are listed in alphabetical order by street address.

—John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC educational advisory board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

Question: Do your fire suppression units conduct prefire planning? If so, what information do they gather and where does the information end up?
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: Our fire units conduct fire prevention activities three times a week. In a department with well over 300 companies, this creates a lot of opportunities to discover situations that call for a prefire plan. The company officer can initiate some elements of a prefire plan and enter the information directly into our computerized dispatch system.

Information gathered includes dangerous conditions, construction details, and tactical recommendations. This information is subsequently sent to every responding unit when an alarm is transmitted for that address.

High-rises, large commercial buildings, and other complex occupancies may call for a more detailed prefire plan, including a building diagram along with response requirements, water supply information, tactical considerations, and any other items that may be vital to establish a safe firefighting strategy. Chief officers prepare these plans based on information drawn from our fire units. Chiefs can consult the plan while responding to an incident or when operating at the command post.

The development of a full prefire plan may call for the experience and expertise of a chief or company officer, but discovering the need for one does not. We train our personnel to consider how they would fight a fire every time they walk into a building, whether they are there to perform an inspection, handle a minor emergency, or investigate a false alarm. In that way, our fire suppression units are always conducting prefire plans.

Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: Our fire suppression personnel work with our fire inspectors to ensure that we have reviewed all appropriate occupancies, especially those with unusual fire or safety hazards, for construction type, occupancy type, fire protection systems, utilities, fire loads, storage, building inventory, exposures, egress and access points, and water supply. We look at existing building and occupancy records and use the site plans from our new construction inspectors. Otherwise, we create them from the beginning. Our inspections and prefire tours are conducted with the cooperation of the owner/occupants.

Our preplans are entered into the department’s computers and are available to the whole department and are also added to our computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and are available on our mobile data computers (MDCs); they are tied to our in-vehicle mapping program for use at an emergency scene. We also have hard copies in the stations and on the apparatus, should the computer malfunction.

We revise our prefire plans periodically. If an occupancy or building changes, we complete or revise our prefire plan on the new certification of occupancy.

Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Arabia

Response: Being an industrial fire department, we perform preincident response planning at all facilities and buildings (other than residential areas) to which we respond—structures and vessels that make up the plant area, response times, construction, detection and alarm systems, exposures, confined spaces, hazardous materials, fixed and semifixed extinguishing systems, contact information, and a sketch of the area to include hydrant locations and access points. Preincident response planning is the foundation of the incident action plan (IAP). Mitigating fires or emergencies in an industrial setting requires implementation of plans, preparation, and proper use of resources coordinated by an effective emergency management organization. However, even with a plan in place, success is not guaranteed.

When preincident planning, one way to ensure all points are covered is to use the 15-point size-up acronym COAL TWAS WEALTHS and develop a checklist to ensure all points are considered. Each letter represents an item to be considered during size-up. By gathering as much of this information during site visits and preincident response planning, the incident commander can format an IAP much easier, and items to be addressed during size-up can be identified.

Jim Mason, lieutenant,
Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: We do prefire planning with in-service suppression units. The inspections are primarily on commercial occupancies, schools, and the public areas of mixed-use buildings like stores with apartments. We don’t go into the private dwelling areas of these buildings.

The primary reason for the inspections is to look for building code violations. The fire prevention section provides the addresses for the companies. The information acquired goes to the fire prevention bureau for enforcement purposes.

We also do a “target hazard” inspection in which the company determines the address to be examined. These are buildings the company officers feel need to be gone through much more closely than the average occupancies in the area. The decision to inspect them is based on heavy occupancies like convalescent homes or even high-rises, but it could also be for buildings maintained under current codes or that have had occupancy changes over the years. The prevention bureau does not necessarily know the criteria for these inspections, but the firefighters working in the area know them. The inspectors look for ways to improve the response, such as the existence of installed systems, occupancy problems, and initial placement of the first-due companies. A written form is completed and turned into district headquarters. The information is soon made available for all units responding to the address.

David Rhodes, battalion chief,
Atlanta (GA) Fire Department

Response: Our department does not have an organized preplan system. This has been an on-again/off-again task that is currently off. Preplans are now done by self-initiative and include mostly target hazards such as fuel storage facilities. When we did preplans, our lack of a central repository and distribution system relegated the documents to a file cabinet or maybe on the battalion chief’s vehicle. Our department operates without mobile data terminals, so the preplans we have are paper copies and are limited to the first-due station. Since our program is off again, updated preplans are left to the initiative of the company officer or battalion chief. Our fire companies do a minimum of 10 building familiarizations per month, but there is no system for capturing and sharing the information gathered.

Bobby Shelton, firefighter,
Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

Response: Every fire company in our department is responsible for fire safety inspections in their running areas. According to our procedures manual, it is the company commanders’ responsibility to do prefire plans of high-hazard occupancies such as medical facilities, industrial occupancies, and educational institutions. A copy of those plans and the information that should be provided on the plans are to be kept on the company level; a copy is sent to the Fire Prevention Bureau. On a regular basis, fire safety inspections are performed to keep company members familiar with occupancies and any changes that may occur within the structures. From time to time, the district chief may have a drill in a high-hazard occupancy in his district so that all companies on the first alarm can do a walk-through and discuss strategy and tactics as well as any special characteristics of the scene of which all members should be aware.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: We have incorporated our prefire planning into our annual business inspection program, performed by our engine companies. This enables all members to take an active role in the preplanning process. The chief and assistant chief/fire marshal approve all preplans.

The preplans are made readily available to all platoons for training purposes. Preplans are used in company drills, including those with our automatic-aid companies, to keep all responders on the same page. All preplans are based on a checklist used by all personnel and contain the size of the structure, utilities, construction, nearest hydrant, and other information that alerts our officers and members to what they may face. Also, our equipment may be on other assignments and an automatic-aid company would be first due to an incident in our city. The preplans are in the vehicles of the chief and assistant chief. Copies of the preplans are also in the captain’s office. We are preparing to make the preplan books available in the apparatus for our engine companies.

The program has proven to be positive for our community and our department. It has been at least 10 years since our department has recorded a fire loss in a commercial business. The program will be updated and changed as our buildings change, to ensure the safety of all members.

Ethan Holmes, firefighter,
Wyomissing (PA) Fire Department

Response: Our department members assist the fire commissioner in conducting fire inspections and developing prefire plans on the type of construction, utility locations, emergency contact information for normal operating hours and after hours, hydrant locations, alarm panel locations with applicable codes, special hazards (i.e., hazmats), fire protection systems, and a drafted plan of the occupancy.

We enter all of the information into our computers on our apparatus, where it can be easily located by street address, occupant name, or preplan number. A current hard copy of the plans is also kept in three-ring binders in the cab. We annually inspect our preplan guides and update them as needed unless there is a change of business prior to our annual updates.

Richard Wood, captain,
Enterprise Fire Company #1,
Phoenix, NY

Response: We did walk-throughs with the department in the past, but no one took notes or made a layout of the building. When I was voted in as captain in charge of training, I made up a sheet and gave one to all members going through the building; if one person saw something, he could note it so that all members would know what we are looking for in a building walk-through. After the walk-through, we would sit down and talk about what we saw and the problems we found. The list of what we were looking for was not the greatest, but it was a start. The information gathered is kept in a three-ring binder in the apparatus and the chiefs’ vehicles so first-due vehicles have the basic information on the building.

Mike Bucy, assistant chief,
Portage (IN) Fire Department

Response: We revised our prefire planning process several times. We used to require loads of time and data but found the results were too “bulky” for our needs. We have since revised the information to a one-page sheet (two sheets if a map is included) that consists of the most basic information—location and contacts, hydrants in the area, size (which then calculates needed fire flow), construction type, hazards to personnel, and sprinkler systems. They are put into PDF form and added to the computers in the apparatus.

Mark K. Stigers, assistant chief,
Middletown Fire Protection District,
Louisville, KY

Response: We developed a multipage information-gathering template for our preplans that is included in the final preplan that gives the IC the detailed information he may need. We also put some of the more important data on a one-sheet “quick reference” page for the company commanders to use on initial arrival. Floor plans are added for new buildings by obtaining PDF files and inserting various information on these drawings from our preplan software. In cases where floor plans are not available, we draw them using the preplan software.

We now place the preplans in binders; we recently acquired computers in the apparatus and command vehicles and use a thumb drive to access the preplans. It is easier to update using this system than going to each computer and updating; the company commander goes to our intranet site and downloads the updates.

Edward Moore Jr., lieutenant,
Jackson (NJ) Fire District 3

Response: We use a computer database program created by members of the fire district. The program is broken down into information screens for all four fire districts in town. The information gathered is also broken down into categories: Street Preplan, Business Preplan, Residential Preplan, Fire Hydrants, and Landing Zones.

Street Preplan shows a map of the area along with directions from the fire station, hydrant locations, listings of all houses and all businesses on the street, intersecting streets with address ranges, and a map page overview graphic.

Business Preplan contains all information for a commercial property. Information collected includes building construction, length, width and height, fire hydrants, auxiliary appliances, utilities, hazards, and pictures and maps. Contact information includes business owner, occupant, maintenance, and emergency contact. Each business has a drawing of the floor plan attached to the file along with general pictures of the building. Each preplan is updated annually, when the crew performs annual fire inspections.

Residential Preplan includes the number of stories, house type, fuel, primary entrance, hazard information, basement, truss roofs, and swimming pools for water supply. A picture of Division A of the residence is also provided. Each fire apparatus has a laptop computer with touch-screen capability. The information is synchronized with the main computer server at the fire station. Responders can have access to information about any location.

Brent Sanger, assistant chief,
Atkinson (GA) Volunteer Fire Department

Response: Our small volunteer department has a limited number of members. Our department conducts prefire plans using members available at the time. Prior to conducting prefire plans, all members undergo a training class explaining what a prefire plan is, how to conduct it, what to look for, and how to address questions or concerns from the business owners in the area. Before we began our prefire planning, a letter was sent to all occupancies in our district explaining what we would be doing, why, and how our members would be dressed. The last item was included to help reduce security concerns at some businesses. These occupancies include churches, schools, daycare centers, as well as regular businesses. So far there has been little resistance. After all our plans are complete, full copies are kept on all engines; simpler versions are distributed to neighboring departments that respond automatic aid to our district.

Susan M. Kirk, fire prevention officer,
Warren County (VA) Fire and Rescue Services

Response: Three years ago when I started preplanning, there were a few plans in a file cabinet with some well-gathered information, but there was no way to readily access it for use at an incident. We realized that something had to be done; I organized and revamped this program.

Our fire suppression units now complete preplans and submit information gathered to the fire administration, where they get put into an organized three-tier format. We have unit books for quick access that include basic written information, a site drawing, and a floor plan.

Our second tier is our Command book, which travels with all officers for more in-depth material safety data sheets on hazardous substances, aerial and site photographs, emergency plans, contractor blueprints, and alarm system zone maps.

Our third tier is our digital program; the chief, dispatch, or I can immediately e-mail our preplans to anyone with computer access. If we should call a specialty team in, we can e-mail them the information about the incident with all the preplan information at a touch of a button. A team three hours away will know the size and impact of the incident before even leaving home base. We have even placed these preplans with our mutual-aid companies in two separate jurisdictions and have made them available to our local Sheriff’s Office Tactical Team.

Our fire suppression units gather this information on a predetermined form so all information is organized and uniform. Information includes building address and key holder information, key box information, building construction and features, water supply and suppression information, utility shutoff locations, alarm system features, exposures, concerns for life safety and health, chemical and tank information, and occupancy and hours of operation. A written format streamlines the forms and distribution. This program has decreased on-scene call time and resulted in more effective emergency mitigation. It has strengthened our relationships with local commercial businesses and has made us visible to the public.

Richard Wilson, lieutenant,
Bartlett (IL) Fire District

Response: Our fire companies and medic companies conduct fire preplans. As we complete company inspections, one of our members draws the exterior of the building, noting entrances/exits, utilities, and special hazards. The preplans are limited to the information needed to make a great start at suppression if needed. The problem we had before establishing this preplan committee, headed by our Fire Prevention chief, was that everyone wanted to see different requirements. After the information has been gathered, it is now input into a computer program. Our next step is to have the information loaded to our laptops as well as our battalion chief’s vehicle. Beyond that, perhaps if other departments purchase that program, we may be able to link the information so that neighboring towns responding to our incidents will be able to have a heads up as well.

Paul Dove, fire marshal,
Coldwater (MI) Fire Department

Response: Our department’s platoon members survey various buildings based on training assignments and target hazards annually. We also create CAD preincident survey drawings based on fire prevention inspections. These drawings are used during the platoon’s on-site surveys; changes discovered in occupancy, hazards, operations, and construction are noted so the stored plans can be revised.

Information includes hazardous materials locations and products, utilities, fire protection systems and details, emergency contacts, floor plans, hazards, accessibility, water supply, building construction, and egress points. The completed surveys are stored electronically on our city’s backed-up server; a copy is also added to each platoon and the administration’s preincident survey book. The plans are also loaded and updated to a board laptop as necessary; updated paper copies are distributed to all personnel as needed. Access to the plans is available through wireless Internet on the onboard laptop; the plans are also accessible by other jurisdictional agencies for use in addition to accessible mapping and utility plans for our jurisdiction.

Jay Womack, lieutenant,
Euclid (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our department distributes building inspection forms to each company in the city monthly. The company officer ensures that these inspections are completed by the end of the month and are turned over to our Fire Prevention Bureau. The Bureau conducts follow-ups when the fire company doing inspections issues a hazard correction notice to the business owner. The inspection cards have pertinent information on one side: construction, fire protection, and the emergency key holders’ phone numbers. The reverse side of the card has the following: a plot plan that shows means of ingress and egress, hazards, and utility shutoffs. It is up to the crew to update the emergency contact information and to make changes to the plot plan to reflect the occupancy’s current layout.

All of the data collected on the inspection cards/preplans is entered into the platoon chief’s computer, mounted in the command vehicle, for easy reference at the fire scene. These visits help us to visualize fire conditions in the building and run a hypothetical scenario of our tactics. We have found it beneficial to update our preplans. Just last week, for example, we came across a rear door of a commercial structure that appeared to be a simple steel exterior door. A closer look from the inside revealed a second door constructed of metal bars that had three deadbolts. This information went on the inspection card preplan form; it may one day save a life.

George Potter, fire protection specialist (ret.),
Board of Governors of Spain’s Firefighters Association

Response: Prefire planning is a vital part of the emergency response plan. This document should include the following: accurate descriptions of the facility including location, access, construction information, and data on the activities carried out; fuels present and their locations and quantities; specific hazards; fire protection measures; resources available (and those recommended/necessary); and proposed emergency response actions to be executed within the entity’s internal structure (should you confirm alarms and evacuate, leaving the situation for the local emergency services to resolve, or stand and fight according to their capabilities and safety levels?). These internal response documents make it possible for firefighters and officers to foresee what could happen and how to act before a relatively small incident can become a disaster.

One of the major faults, however, is that often a business or an industry will say that the emergency plan is in compliance with workplace safety legislation and effect only minimum implementation, limited response personnel training, little or no simulated emergency situation drills, and so on—without inviting the local fire department to come, watch, and participate.

However, if the fire department is invited to take an active role in the implementation of the plan, comment on the results, and contribute suggestions for improvements, industry will have a solid partner to work with if and when an emergency should occur in the establishment. A great number of occupancies (industries, hospitals, commercial malls, high-rises, and so on) are required to have emergency response or self-protection plans. You should have copies available for all personnel in the department for consultation, to coordinate visits and tours, and to participate in the practical training of their personnel. Once you get these elements into your response procedures, the chances of successfully resolving emergencies improve dramatically.

Thomas Sharpe, lieutenant,
Hilda (SC) Fire Department

Response: Ours is a small-town department, but we do have preplans on hydrant location and gallons per minute (gpm) information, basic facility information, type of construction, utility disconnects, unusual hazards, exposures, inside firefighting equipment information, needed fire flow, and after-hours contact. The plans are for businesses and places of public assembly.

Nick Morgan, firefighter,
St. Louis (MO) Fire Department

Response: All front-line companies are required to conduct a prefire walk-through inspection of buildings in their first-in still district at least three times per month on each shift. Of course, not all of our companies take this as seriously as they should. We have a basic guideline for each inspection that requires companies to record or update information on building layout, fire suppression or detection systems, the number and locations of nearby hydrants, the locations of utility shutoffs such as gas and electric, the locations of annunciator panels and emergency exits, a very basic description of construction type, and a brief narrative specifying which companies will respond to a first-alarm fire and the positions they will take on arrival.

The information is compiled and kept in binders, which are kept in the office of each company’s captain. This is one of the most important routine tasks fire companies can perform. However, I believe the information we require is insufficient for the hazards presented by modern methods of building construction and fire loading. With the many new buildings being erected in our city, companies need to go out and walk through these buildings while they are under construction to see how they are being built. Finished buildings are deceptive. We are seeing increasing numbers of buildings with lightweight components such as trusses and wooden I-beams, tilt-up masonry walls, and lightweight steel framing and wall studs. In addition, many of the older buildings in the city are undergoing all types of rehab work, which completely changes the layout and fire loading of the structures, as well as adds lightweight building components to buildings that previously did not have them.

On-duty companies should take every opportunity to visit these buildings, especially during construction or rehab, and become familiar with their layout and the hazards to firefighters created by the modern construction materials and practices. This information should be assimilated into a computer-based preplan system so that all of the companies in the city have ready access to it if a fire should occur in one these structures.

Hugh Stott, deputy chief,
West Chicago (IL) Fire District

Response: For several years, our companies were out doing prefire surveys—measurement of the footprint of the building, the location of the key box, the location of the utility shutoffs, building construction hazards, overhead wires, chemical storage, the direction and distances to hydrants, and the location of alarm panels. That information was then entered into a computer to be converted into a usable and consistent format. We have been using mobile data computers for a few years to bring mobile mapping and incident information from the fire alarm office to our first-due apparatus. The data must be kept current. The keyholder and contact information is kept as current as practical by the alarm office, which receives the information from the Fire Prevention Bureau.

Mike Reeves, captain,
Lynchburg (VA) Fire Department

Response: Our department conducted surveys in the past and filed them away, never to be seen again. We are now revisiting them under the name of “fire safety surveys.” This time we purchased a computer program in which to store the surveys. When a company is dispatched to an address where one of these surveys has been conducted, a pop-up on the responding unit’s computer makes the information available to all responding units. This program is in the early stages; it will take a long time to cover all businesses in town for information on water supply, hydrant location, key information, contacts, the building size and occupancy, and much more. In addition to information, digital photos and aerial views of the structures will be available.

Rick DeGroot, deputy chief,
Summit (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our small municipal department protects a suburban city of 25,000 in the NY/NJ metro area. We have recently implemented a program in which the suppression shifts are responsible for conducting preplans of commercial and multifamily buildings. Each platoon is assigned two building locations a month and performs site visits as a group while in service. One of the shift battalion chiefs is responsible for coordinating the program with the four duty shifts. Information includes construction type, occupancy, building status, emergency contacts, building size and layout, location of utility shutoffs, fire suppression and detection systems, exposure information, water supply availability, access problems, and any other hazards. The building is then given a numerical rating based on all of these factors, resulting in a risk assessment score.

The crews also take digital photos of the building from all exposures and also try to get a picture of the roof. A drawing is also prepared using CAD software to produce interior floor plans and an exterior plot plan of the building. We try to secure floor plans from the building owner, if available. All this information is then uploaded into a commercially available software program that allows access via the Internet. We are also in the process of equipping our front-line apparatus with laptops to access this information in the field. Our experience has been very positive so far. Building intelligence is a critical component of what we do, and many of us have overlooked it for years. Taking advantage of available technology to get this critical information to our firefighters at the emergency scene can help to make our jobs safer and to better protect the public.

Chris Stephens, lieutenant,
Decatur Township (IN) Fire Department

Response: Unfortunately, our department has no formal prefire planning program. The administration will support company officers who want to initiate an aggressive prefire planning program within their companies.

The company with which I operate began an aggressive prefire planning program two years ago. We began with the buildings in our immediate response area and then spread out into our second-due areas. We looked at several types of preplan sheets and chose one used by a neighboring department. It includes address, occupancy, building construction type, box assignment, exposures, fire flows, predicted strategies, and anticipated problems. We use the reverse side of the sheet, which is blank, to draw a rough sketch of the building layout. If the building is a simple structure, we record all interior walls, doors, etc. The more complex the structure, the more we do not do this. At the least, we record the building’s shape, egress/ingress points, hydrant locations, and gas/electric meter location. If a building has standpipe or sprinkler connections, we record their locations along with the location of the riser rooms.

Once the information is finalized, we put the preplan sheet into a binder that is kept on our engine. We do this to allow the first-due officer to refer to the information or to pass the binder on to the IC if it is a working incident. The final step is to pass the information on to the other shifts; this is done verbally, or the officer/firefighter reviews the preplan sheets. If there is a serious building hazard or code violation, we notify our code/prevention department immediately.

Andy Krajewski, battalion chief,
Golden Gate Fire Control & Rescue District, Naples, FL

Response: We have prefire plans on every front-line apparatus, reserve pumper, and shift battalion chief’s vehicle. A prefire plan coordinator assigns each shift at least one building a month in which to conduct a walk-through and develop the preplans. At the same time, we conduct a training session. At a minimum, engine companies in that zone walk through the structure as well.

For each preplan, we have an occupancy form (text document), a site plan drawing (drawing program), and a more detailed drawing of each structure on the site (multiple-building school, golf course clubhouse and maintenance building and cart barn—also a drawing program).

The occupancy form has the name and address of the site, emergency contact with phone number, type of occupancy, hydrant and fire department connection (FDC) location, number of floors, fire flow, building construction type (including material type for walls, floors, and trusses), roofing material, utilities shutoff locations, and a notes section for listing the locations of fire alarm control panel, key box, and additional hazards.

On the drawings, the site plan will have the layout of the buildings, hydrant locations. On the individual building drawings, we have locations of hydrants, fire department connection/post-indicator valve, key box, fire alarm control panel, roof/attic access, and labeled interior layout (office/restroom).

Vance L. Duncan III, deputy chief,
Erie (PA) Bureau of Fire

Response: Our fire suppression units conduct prefire plans containing building name and address, description, number of stories, building size (L × W), construction type, roof construction (trusses?), floor construction (trusses?), occupancy type, initial resources required (engines, trucks, rescues, chief officers), hazards to personnel, location of water supply, available flow, estimated fire flow (at 25-, 50-, 75-, and 100-percent involvement), fire behavior prediction, projected strategies, problems anticipated, utility locations, fire alarm panel location, key box location, fixed protection/detection systems, primary access point to interior, stairwell locations, roof access (from interior), owner contact information, occupant contact information, additional notes (address numbers visible from the street, building sides accessible, building setbacks or other barriers to aerial device operations, trees/shrubs that could hide hydrants or FDCs, barred windows or security doors, power lines or overhead obstructions to restrict the use of ladders, for example).

This information is submitted to the administrative office and is input in the current dispatch system; the information will be input into the new Erie County Public Safety Dispatch Center’s computer system.

Brian Zaitz, firefighter/paramedic,
Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District

Response: Prefire plans are essential to initial incident response for safe and effective mitigation. The first-due response units preplan the plans for their area. The survey is typically done during normal business hours and is not traditionally scheduled and conducted outside of the normal annual inspections.

The engine company officer talks with the business owner as the remainder of his crew walks around the occupancy gathering information on building dimensions, FDCs, entrances, exits, and other notable features. They make a field sketch of the building and include the dimensions along with any FDCs, key box locations, entrances and exits, utility connections and hydrants located within close proximity. As the crew enters the building, they meet up with the officer in charge and begin a walk-through of the interior to note alarm panels, fire suppression systems, and building layout. These sketches and findings are then taken back to the station where a formal drawing is made and the information is translated, using computer software, into a prefire plan that is entered into the preplan software located on the laptop in all fire apparatus as well as staff vehicles. These preplans can be easily pulled up on the computer while en route or on arrival. They are listed by their street reference and correlate to a noted map page for ease of locating.

Vicki Schmidt, firefighter/training officer,
Buckfield (ME) Fire Department

Response: Our rural department has started writing preplans for target hazards. We have software with an onboard computer with easy touch screen access that holds the plans while en route to calls. Residential structures have the basic size and construction details. Several other values are entered with a selection of default options offered by the software. Currently, most addresses have at least a default response plan; we are advancing those plans to include more detailed preplanning information.

Structures, businesses, and properties outside the basic values have proven more challenging. Information includes water supplies, EMS response, staging areas, and alternative routes; we then place this information on plot maps, mostly using freely accessible Internet-based mapping software as the background. Firefighters have added photos to complement building footprint diagrams and to indicate utility connections, special hazards, and other important first-due information. We looked beyond the response plan to document exactly what the property involved, how we were going to mitigate an incident occurring there, and answered: “What are the top 10 things we need to know about this property?” Fire was our main incident, but there were several properties we found would prove demanding in even a small natural disaster. Evacuation plans, staging areas, and other logistical needs were realized for those areas. Although the computer contains the plans, we can also export to formats we can e-mail to mutual-aid towns, print for file, and review at training.

David Comstock, chief, Western
Reserve (OH) Joint Fire District

Response:Department inspectors primarily complete the preplans; they are assisted by firefighters from the district’s three stations and have square footage of the building, building hazards, roof and floor assembly/composition, utility type and shutoff location, water flow needs and availability/location, structural and load hazards, and owner and occupant contact information. Unfortunately, this information is placed on paper and thereafter will be maintained in the inspection and department offices, as well as the district’s command vehicle. Firefighters and officers of the district understand the importance of having this information quickly available to the dispatchers and arriving firefighters but have not yet integrated this process into our dispatch system. A goal of the department (and other departments within the county) is to make preplan information readily accessible. The fire departments have jointly applied for a grant to improve the availability of information to our departments as well as to provide the information to other departments responding in mutual-aid situations, via mobile data terminals in all apparatus.

Rick Mosher, lieutenant,
Merriam (KS) Fire Department

Response: We conduct prefire planning during our commercial fire inspections. Our fire preplan database allows us to print an existing standardized form for each business in the city. This form is used to update or change information at the fire inspection. Then the fire companies update or create new files when visiting with the commercial businesses in our city during their fire inspection. Each year we inspect every commercial business in the city; this allows for great fire prevention and prefire plan updates. This is possible because our fully developed landlocked suburb is only 4.5 square miles. We note construction type, building and business owner information, type of occupancy, emergency contact information, key box, standpipe, sprinkler locations, any special hazards, special interest, and hazardous materials locations and quantity. We also check the box key to make sure the business master key is functional. This information is updated in our fire department database and uploaded to the Johnson County Fire Alarm Office, which can make the information available so that the MDTs in the engine or truck company can access the information. The MDT fire preplan is a great aid during the late-night/early-morning hours when the alarm company cannot contact a responsible party or if other business information is needed. This program has proven to be very successful.


Almost every book, article, and training session on size-up that I have read or attended taught that effective size-up begins with preplanning (before receipt of the alarm). Although many fire departments respond mainly to fires in single-family residential occupancies, we also respond to fires in commercial occupancies. Most departments do not have the resources to preplan every residential occupancy in their jurisdiction. Preplanning residential fires is a must (if that is where you fight fires). You must make generalizations concerning these residential occupancies. As an example, in Toledo, most houses are around 1,000 square feet per floor (which should provide an initial ideal rate of flow). Most were built before 1960, and the vast majority are of wood-frame platform construction. In the older parts of town, there are still many balloon-frame houses. Crews that work in these areas are aware of this and should know the telltale signs of balloon framing.

The Toledo Fire Department had prefire plans since I came on the job. All were for commercial buildings. Up until 10 or so years ago, all preplans were multipaged and dealt with construction, occupancy, built-in fire protection, floor plans, a multitude of other details, and first- and second-alarm initial assignments.

Preplans are assigned to the house captain, who divides them up by shift. Every Thursday (weather permitting), crews work on preplans. New buildings are assigned, and existing plans are reviewed. This is a continuous process. Over the past 10 years, we have developed short preplans as well as more voluminous full preplans. Short preplans contain essential initial information on the building including size, construction features, built-in fire protection, and the initial ideal rate of fire flow required. All companies and chief officers carry these plans. We hope to include the short preplans on our mobile data terminals (MDTs), eliminating the hard copies.

The incident commander decides when, if, and who will pull the preplan. I have been to many fires where preplans were pulled and used and proved quite helpful. At other fires, because of the involvement on arrival, the plans were pulled very late into the fire, if at all. I believe that as time goes on, preplans will prove more and more beneficial. Once they are on the MDT, they will be available with the push of a button and used much more often.- John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.

Question: Prefire planning is critical to safe and efficient fireground operations, particularly at industrial and manufacturing occupancies. How does your department conduct prefire planning, and how well is it working?

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: This is an area that is easy to overlook or forget about and is not addressed in many places. When you look at the invaluable information that can be gathered, it’s an assignment that should be placed on top of the list again. But, it takes some effort on different fronts to get it done right.

The leadership must support it. Often, it becomes one of those calendar fillers or ISO requirements and doesn’t get enough attention or isn’t considered as important as it should be. It’s not as exciting as doing a live burn, a RIT drill, or cutting cars apart; but, if done correctly, it can help us when we need it most, when we’re doing battle or even before the battle starts. Administration has to make it a priority.

The company officer also has to make it a priority; it should not be just one of those “let’s go out and get this done” things. The time taken to conduct a prefire plan is well worth it, considering what it’s going to do for you in the long run. Knowing the locations of exits, hazards, utilities, and fire department connections makes the job easier and safer.

With today’s technology, it is no longer necessary to use drafting tables. There are so many means for making this job easier. But, even if you have to do the drawing yourself, it would still be worth the work.

In Lewisville, each company is responsible for certain buildings and complexes. As part of the monthly drill calendar, the company goes out and preplans those buildings. When the firefighters complete their plans, they turn their work in to the Training Division, which looks it over and places the information into the database, which is available to everyone. We also use our city’s GIS system, which makes building templates much easier. Target hazards and those with the potential to cause a large loss of life are given priority, but plans for all buildings must be completed.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,
Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: We have an excellent and active prefire program. Firefighters can identify buildings that need a prefire plan, but the Prevention Division more often identifies them through inspections and plan reviews. A “draft” prefire plan is created and passed between Prevention and Operations. Prevention produces and finalizes the prefire plan after Operations firefighters walk through the buildings to check on elements critical to firefighting. Each group enters the information in their memories and database. When prefire plans are completed, they are printed and distributed to a limited number of books, which helps to keep the books accurate and up to date.

An electronic copy of the prefire plan is entered in our mapping program. We have computers in all of our staffed units. When units are dispatched to a location, a red triangle on the map alerts firefighters that a prefire plan is available. The plan is accessed by touching the screen. The computerized method is easier and faster to use than looking for a paper copy in a three-ring binder.

Prevention Specialist Steve Bowman is currently going to prefire inspections with each station and shift of firefighters. He shows the firefighters the items he looks for and includes i0n a prefire plan. Likewise, the firefighters have an opportunity to describe their needs and concerns with him. This interface between the prefire manager and the firefighters is critical. Additionally, it helps to reduce the time spent creating a quality prefire plan.

Leigh Hollins, battalion chief,
Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department has employed several variations of prefire planning over the years. Currently, our Operations Division is responsible for what we call “tactical surveys” (TS). All occupancies, which meet certain criteria, are surveyed (a company survey), and a diagram is prepared. This information is available on hard copy in each apparatus, command vehicle, and station. We are in the process of installing MDTs in each apparatus and staff vehicle. The data have already been scanned into our computers; we are awaiting a link to our communication center to proceed with that project.

The criteria we use to determine whether a building requires a TS include the following: buildings containing a fire sprinkler system, excluding single-family or duplex residences; buildings with a monitored automatic fire alarm system; buildings more than 15,000 square feet; institutional occupancies; and special hazard occupancies or structures.

The TS includes information on utilities, emergency contacts, protection systems, special strategy/tactical considerations, type of construction, roof support type, special hazards, occupancy type, and a general floor plan drawing.

The tactical surveys, along with company fire inspections, hydrant flowing and inspections, construction walk-throughs, and training “skull sessions” from time to time, provide our firefighters and fire officers with a well-rounded program to make sure our personnel have a good knowledge of the buildings they must enter during all types of emergencies.

Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: Our fire inspectors work with the suppression personnel to ensure we have reviewed all appropriate occupancies, especially those with unusual fire or safety hazards. We evaluate construction type, occupancy type, fire loads, storage, building inventory, exposures, egress and access points, and water supply. We look at existing building and occupancy records and use site plans from our new construction inspectors, or we create them. Our inspections and prefire tours are done with the cooperation of the owner/occupants.

The preplans are entered into our computers and are available to the entire department. They are also added to our CAD system, are available on our mobile data computers, and are tied to our in-vehicle mapping program for use at an emergency scene. We also have hard copies in the stations and on the apparatus, in case of a computer malfunction.

We periodically revise our existing prefire plans. If there is a change in an occupancy or building, we complete or revise the prefire plan based on the new occupancy certification. Firefighter Ted Whiteman is responsible for the successful program.

Christopher J. Weir, division chief,
Port Orange (FL) Department of Fire & Rescue

Response: Each engine company performs annual fire inspections within its assigned district. Our engine crews have developed prefire planning in high hazard-type occupancies while performing their respective company inspections despite recommendations against it, as stated in Chapter 25 from the 6th edition of the The Fire Chief’s Handbook. In our case, this approach works well, since we are in the building identifying facets of life safety with one engine company fire inspector; the remaining company officer and crew are documenting or updating items such as current personnel contact numbers for after-hour responses, hazardous materials storage, egress points, the closest water supply and connections, and fire alarm and sprinkler systems. In some cases, our companies return for a more comprehensive evaluation to complete the plan.

We are developing a more standardized system. Company officers are designing the system, which will facilitate the timely entry of all the information we would need if there were a fire or hazardous materials release in a structure.

Prefire plans are needed to effectively evaluate and upgrade tactical considerations when a company is the first-arriving unit. It is especially important to inspect new buildings under construction so that tactical objectives related to the construction risk can be developed. Visit the construction site, identify potential hazards firefighters may encounter, get to know the job site managers, and obtain emergency phone contacts. Once the building is constructed and occupied, alter the tactical objectives as necessary and evaluate them through scheduled inspections or your prefire plan policy.

The late Francis L. Brannigan stated, “The people who build buildings are not primarily concerned with the likelihood of fire or other problems that will be met by fire suppression forces.” So it’s up to all of us to review, plan, implement, evaluate, and update-and then repeat these steps as often as necessary.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: We have incorporated our prefire planning into our annual business inspection program, enabling all members to take an active role in the preplanning process. Updates are made to the structure’s preplan when necessary. We have found new businesses that moved into a structure without notifying the city or the fire department of the type of products they produce or store.

The preplans are made readily available to all platoons for training purposes. They are used in company drills and drills with our automatic-aid companies. It is possible that our equipment may be on other assignments and that an automatic-aid company will be first due to an incident in our city. The chief and assistant chief/fire marshal approve all preplans.

It has been at least 10 years since our department has recorded a fire loss in a commercial business. Updates and changes will continue to be made to the program as our buildings change, to ensure the safety of all members operating at a potential working incident.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: In our department, individual fire units do prefire planning daily. We encourage our companies to do a mental size-up at each building inspection. They consider the fire tactics appropriate to each building and forward information regarding dangerous or unusual site conditions. This information becomes part of the data given to units when dispatched to the location for a fire.

In addition, in-depth prefire plans are written for occupancies that have the potential for a complex fire operation. Large transportation centers, high-rises, and some commercial buildings may call for chiefs to prepare a formalized, written plan addressing evacuation, fire suppression systems, construction details, and other concerns. Such plans are used to conduct multiunit drills at the site and to provide vital information for a chief commanding an emergency operation.

Prefire planning and fire prevention activity generally are not considered “glamour” aspects of the fire service. Most firefighters (including me) are more stimulated by hands-on strategy and firefighting tactics. However, the value of prefire planning cannot be overstated in a city like New York with its large, crowded occupancies that are continually aging and constantly subjected to illegal renovations.

FDNY makes effective use of daily inspections, prefire plans, and enhanced dispatch information to help fire units deal with these challenges. On numerous occasions, I have altered my firefighting strategy based on the information gathered through previous planning. Detailed building knowledge, well-conceived plans, and determined firefighters have often made my job as an incident commander much easier and safer.

Craig H. Shelley, EFO, CFO, MIFireE,
fire protection advisor,
Advanced Fire Training Center,
Saudi Aramaco Fire Protection

Response: Our local fire units conduct familiarization visits to plants and nonindustrial facilities. During these visits, they use surveys to identify new or update existing information for preincident response plans. When I was a young lieutenant, I worked with a captain who had a large sign over his desk that read, “Knowledge is power.” How true! With the knowledge that preincident response planning gives us, we have a portion of the power necessary to mitigate the incident. A preincident response plan should include vital information concerning an occupancy, such as the presence of hazardous materials and their locations, fixed and semifixed fire suppression systems, locations and quantities of water supplies, foam application rates where necessary, additional resources available from the industry or occupancy, access routes, construction of the facility/plant, and a line drawing of the location.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) for specific hazards in the plant-e.g., confined spaces-should be developed and referenced in or attached to the preincident response plan. Include contact information for key plant personnel. Regarding preincident response plans for industrial occupancies, you must practice operational security (OPSEC)-they contain sensitive material and must be kept locked in an area on your vehicles so they do not get stolen. Update these plans annually; remove old copies from service and shred them. In many cases, these documents are controlled and numbered. To be effective, preincident response plans must be updated, read, used at incidents, and incorporated in drills.

John O’Neal, chief,
Manassas Park (VA) Fire Department

Response: Having the home field advantage of knowing the buildings in your district-how they are constructed and the hazards they present-is key to bringing fires and other incidents to a successful conclusion and keeping responders alive. Yet, experience has shown that some firefighters and officers put little importance on this task until they need it during an event. Our organization was no different a year and half ago: Only a fraction of the buildings in our small jurisdiction had been preplanned, and many of the plans were outdated.

After analyzing our shortcomings, the department established a plan of action and set goals to preplan all commercial and public structures in the city before the end of the 2006 calendar year (after press time). Each of the three shifts was assigned geographical areas (existing zone boxes) to survey and complete or update the prefire plans. The administrative lieutenant was assigned to coordinate the activities and maintain the books carried in the apparatus. Once all the commercial and public occupancies are completed, the preplans will be updated at least every three years. The ultimate goal is to incorporate the drawings and information into PDF files and have them available for viewing and retrieval from the apparatus CAD/mobile data computers, eliminating the three-ring binders now carried on the apparatus.

Mike Mason, lieutenant,
Downers Grove (IL) Fire Department

Response: Prefire planning has been incorporated into our departmental operations on one level or another for some time. Company officers and their members have provided preplanning throughout the years from hand drawings, computer-generated drawings and symbols, and preexisting floor and building plans. The gathering and updating process is constant and continuous. We provide critical information on buildings and structures to our members often, sometimes daily, usually through computer communications.

Prefire planning is a very important component of a company officer’s job, especially in the first-due area. The formal preplan is turned over to our Fire Prevention Division. The company officer’s “informal fire preplan” is conducted with company members: They go out into the response area to size up structures to determine potential firefighting strategies and tactics to cover all hazard concerns for the fire suppression effort if a fire were to occur-collapse, hazardous materials, and a host of other potential hazards related to the building’s use and occupancy.

It is the company officer’s responsibility to see that company members have a sound game plan for a structure that may pose problems during the fire suppression effort. Officers and company members should be proactive and identify situations within buildings that may impede or jeopardize their actions and safety. The preplanning information is disseminated throughout the department through e-mail correspondence and cognitive training.

The technologies available today provide an expedient source of strategic and tactical information for everyone on the fireground. Computerized dispatching systems that provide for on-screen viewing of the hazards of a given structure without question can be a lifesaver for civilians and firefighters.

What you put into your preplan will determine how credible and useful it will be in the heat of the battle. In addition to the basic information generally found in a preplan, information pertaining to the following areas should also be included and made available to firefighters, company officers, and chief officers: life hazards and potential fire spread, a tactical and strategic plan related to potential hazards within a structure, factors that may necessitate evacuation of the structure, and strategies pertaining to protecting exposures.

Brian K. Singles, firefighter,
Hampton (VA) Fire Department

Response: We conduct prefire planning monthly. All three shifts of each of the 10 stations are required to develop at least four preplans per month. They are responsible for all of the businesses in their first-due district. Target hazards such as hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, shopping malls, and other places that have a high-occupancy rating are updated yearly; occupancies such as convenience stores and small businesses are updated every two years. Each first-due engine company has a binder with the preplans for easy access by the responding crew.

Vital information is contained in each preplan-name; emergency contacts; gas; water, and electrical shutoffs; overhead wires; emergency exits; the two closest fire hydrants; and the building’s accessibility for large apparatus (ladder and rescue), for example. The officer and crew are responsible for reporting to the fire marshal’s office for follow-up any obvious discrepancies noted during the preplan inspection.

Prefire plans are a huge help for the new members transferred into a station for the shift or permanently. The plans are usually filed in alphabetical order by street address and number. Prefire planning is an important function of a fire department. Some may think it is not worth the effort, but being able to reference an up-to-date preplan could save your life and the lives of your crew.

Christopher Fleming, lieutenant,
Portland (ME) Fire Department

Response: Our department’s prefire planning is rolled into our fire prevention inspection program. All company inspections are entered into our department computer system. Some of the information collected has to do with roof construction and floor assemblies, egress, utilities, hydrant locations, and fire protection systems. We can add other information in the narrative section. Once in the system, the company officer can flag the property through dispatch. Some of our officers send e-mail notifications to department members about hazards found during inspections.

The biggest drawback to this program is that the focus of our building inspections is code enforcement, not prefire planning. Although many companies do informal preplanning, there is no departmentwide prefire planning program. The department is proactive in placarding “vacant” and “dangerous” buildings (defined in our standard operating guidelines as “a structure that is partially occupied and where another section is in an unsafe condition”). The placards are labeled with a “V” or a “D” on a red, yellow, or green reflective background and posted in a visible location. Green indicates the building is sound for interior operations if needed, yellow indicates the need for extra caution, and red signals that only exterior operations should be implemented unless approved by the incident commander. A list of these buildings is distributed to every company and is periodically updated. These buildings are still searched, but the extent and timing are not as they would be for an occupied structure.

Brian Halwachs, assistant chief,
French Village (IL) Fire Department

Response: We are currently updating our preplans. We have used them for more than 20 years and have found that the information they provide is crucial to our operations. The problem we have is that the plans are in binders on the trucks and staff vehicles and take up valuable storage space. We recently purchased software; one of our captains will upload the data. Our ultimate goal is to place a computer in each vehicle so the preplans will be readily available.

Our crews go into the buildings and update the plans every year. We also drill on the plans and fine-tune them as we go. The more eyes that look over the plans, the better the chances of finding errors or the need for revisions if conditions have changed over the course of the year. Preplans for commercial occupancies are especially helpful; they provide the information needed to make informed decisions while developing the incident action plan for an emergency and allow us to conduct “what-if” scenarios and drills.

Joseph D. Pronesti, captain,
Elyria (OH) Fire Department

Response: My department aggressively pursued an in-depth prefire planning program about two years ago. Then, we were hit with personnel cutbacks, and it was pushed to the curb. In my opinion, it should not matter whether you have five or 50 firefighters on duty-you are going to have fires in these buildings, and you must be ready.

We conduct fire inspections in every commercial and industrial building yearly; we look for fire hazards, extension cord violations, and excessive storage near open flame, and we update contact information. However, we have no standards on how to inspect the structures, and, as stated above, we have stopped developing prefire plans. Some of our firefighters have never been in our old downtown commercial buildings or have not been in them for years.

Company officers need to take it upon themselves to informally get their crews out and into these buildings. Although it is the departments’ responsibility to coordinate and implement procedures on how to conduct prefire plans, smart, dedicated company officers will take their firefighters through all buildings in their first-due district regardless of prefire plans.

The potential downside of formal prefire plans is the lack of follow-up after they are created. Buildings and occupancies change. A department that simply wants a nice binder full of laminated maps may soon realize just how quickly they become outdated because of the rush to get them all written down on paper. That’s why I advocate the informal company preplan-a company can go any time of the day and mentally preplan and go over a building as often as it wants.

Most firefighters carry the perfect prefire tool on them-a cell phone with which you can take photos. They can take pictures in the buildings and pictures of the outside, the basement, the roof-supporting systems, and of any unusual hazards. They then can view them at the kitchen table, print them out, and share the information.

I hope my department gets back into preplanning buildings, but our officers (or the officers of any U.S. fire department for that matter) should not use the lack of a written procedure as an excuse for not being familiar with an industrial or commercial building in their respective district. The fire service cannot use the lack of resources and personnel as excuses for stopping potentially lifesaving programs like prefire planning. It doesn’t take any fancy computerized systems or procedures, just desire.

You must know your battlefield and enemy like the back of your hand, regardless of whether you have a prefire plan and whether you roll in with three or six firefighters on your apparatus. Just get out and do it.

Susan M. Kirk, fire prevention officer/firefighter/EMT,
Warren County (VA) Fire and Rescue

Response: Our department in the past year developed a program for conducting preplanning inspections and writing the preplans. We started by identifying the target hazards of our county and assigning career staff members to walk through these target hazard locations to make an initial assessment of the site. They also are to gather floor plans, Tier Two reports, MSDSs, and any other pertinent information the business establishment can provide.

The information is entered into our firehouse program so that it coincides with our run sheets and reports. The information is then passed on to me. I place it on our county form and digitally map the site using our software, which shows the information we, as first responders, would use on an incident scene. I create a long form that includes all information provided by the commercial site and any other valuable information that would be needed in a long-term incident and place all this information in our “Preplan Main Book.” This information can also be accessed digitally; it is scanned onto a CD and placed in the book’s pockets. The information also is condensed into a one-page (short) form, which contains information needed by the first-in units. A site map is on the back of the short form, which is stored in our “Unit Preplan Book.”

This program has been extremely successful in helping us to decrease the time on-scene during a fire alarm activation because we know all the alarm sectors and the locations of the alarm panels in the buildings. Our EMS units no longer have to be escorted by security at large facilities because we know the location of the dock or entrance to which we are being dispatched. Entrance codes are now quickly accessible; there no longer are units lining up at a gate after hours waiting on a chief with the proper code. (We have also been able to get more support with the key lock box program.)

The benefits outweigh the time and labor involved in preplanning, and it is an excellent way to sell your department to the community. Everyone in that business sees us there on the walk-through and takes mental note that we are making an effort to make the workplace safer and improve our response to their emergencies. We have also incorporated fire extinguisher training, evacuation plan evaluations, and hydrant testing and maintenance on private systems into the program. We hope to preplan all commercial structures in the county and to make this a vital function in our department. You can never prepare enough.

Jim Grady III, chief,
Frankfort (IL) Fire District

Response: When a building plan for a new building is received, our Fire Prevention Bureau reviews it and passes it on to the fire/rescue companies for review. The next step is on-site visits to watch the building’s progress, giving a hands-on building construction and tactics/strategy class.

When the building is completed, there is a full company tour during which all areas of concern are reviewed-access points, alarm panels, and sprinkler connections, for example.

This system has been working well, especially having the members of the fire/rescue companies getting the bird’s eye view, since they will be entering the building for EMS or suppression activities. The feedback from the members has been favorable.

Within the next 24 months, we will be on a new CAD system at a new dispatch center, which will make it possible for officers to access the information immediately.

James Mason, lieutenant,
Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: Our in-service company inspection program focuses primarily on commercial occupancies and schools. The list of the locations to be inspected is generated in the Fire Prevention Bureau. The fire companies do a walk-through in all the common areas, including the basements, and then survey the outside perimeter of the building. The officer can write a violation for obvious problems found and send it to the Building Department. These inspections have been conducted for many years and provide a layout along with information on the dangers in occupancies.

In addition to preplanning the occupancies, some fire companies use EMS runs to preplan residential occupancies. Looking for unusual layouts in residential occupancies for the hose stretch and search can give responding firefighters a quicker and more effective size-up on arrival at the scene.

Sean Slamon, battalion chief,
Modesto (CA) Fire Department

Response: We currently divide prefire plans into two components. The first is the written prefire plan we call a “detail page.” The two-sided, legal-size report is prepared for buildings with a sprinkler system and two or more risers, occupancies with sufficient hazardous materials to present an unusual hazard, apartment complexes, hotel and motels containing 20 or more units, business complexes with 12 or more suites, and any building or occupancy determined by the company officer. The front page contains important building information such as type of construction; exposures; estimated fire flow; hazardous materials types, locations, and quantities; FDC and sprinkler locations; key lock box location; and building contact information. The back side of the detail page contains a map of the building’s layout that indicates exits; the number of stories; and the locations of utilities, hydrants, and fire department connections. All detail pages are carried on every fire apparatus, so the company officer can review the building information while en route to the call. All detail pages are updated yearly.

The second component of prefire planning is the multicompany walk-through. Annually, companies host at least one walk-through with the companies on the first-alarm assignment. The walk-through allows everyone from the first-due battalion chief to the rookie firefighter to walk through and discuss different fire and emergency scenarios and to discuss and confirm building construction; fire loads; forcible entry; water supply; fire protection equipment (fire alarms, sprinklers, standpipes); attack strategies; ventilation; RIC; hose size, length, and gpm selection; and previous experience. We also run a hands-on drill at these occupancies after the walk-through.

The prefire walk-through has proven invaluable. Because of retirements and the addition of stations, more than one-third of our department members have less than five years of experience. Getting the first-alarm assignment together to discuss various fire problems enables our veteran firefighters and officers to pass on their experience and knowledge in a training environment. The most important benefit is that our firefighters become familiar with a building prior to responding to an emergency there.