Rural Fire Protection

Rural Fire Protection


Volunteers Corner

One of the problems with providing fire protection in rural areas is that there is often no water system available. To improve fire suppression activities in these areas, equipment has been designed, operations have been developed, and water supplies have been planned. Much progress has been made to reduce losses in these areas through the use of tanker shuttles, large-diameter hose relays, and rural water supply. However, the fire death toll and property losses indicate that there is still a severe rural fire problem.

At present, applied action plans are oriented toward suppression activities after a fire has started. Is this the best method? Perhaps the time has come to seek alternative solutions.

The cheapest, easiest way to protect lives in rural areas, or anywhere, is to install smoke detectors, there should be an ordinance for residential property that requires smoke detectors to be installed in all new construction, when extensive remodeling is done, and when the property changes ownership. There are many sample ordinances available that can be used as guides. In addition, a promotional campaign should be mounted where local civic clubs encourage all property owners to install detectors.

The success of smoke detectors is well documented. When compared to the high costs of elaborate suppression equipment that may be several miles from the rural property, smoke detectors are very cost-effective.

Another method of providing a basic, first-level defense against extensive fire damage in rural areas would be a program promoting the installation of multi-purpose dry chemical (ABC) fire extinguishers for use on incipient structural fires. I recommend, at minimum, a 10-pound extinguisher. People who buy these extinguishers must receive sufficient training to use them effectively. Such an extinguisher program was introduced several years ago in rural villages in Alaska, with successful results.

The combination of smoke detectors and extinguishers can be very effective in preventing fires in rural areas, especially for dwellings. However, it is critical to follow up a program like this in order to make sure that both devices are being properly maintained. The bottom line in saving lives is early warning, escape, and possible fire attack while the fire department is responding.

The most effective method of improving rural fire protection is to install automatic sprinklers. This will not be possible in many buildings; but for dwellings, it is possible to install fastresponse residential systems that are supplied by the domestic water system. These systems require a minimum water supply and will extinguish a fire before it becomes free-burning. A major advantage of residential sprinklers is that they can be retrofitted into existing property at a reasonable cost to the homeowner. Fire department promotion can help residential sprinkler systems become commonplace in rural areas. This would greatly reduce rural residential property loss and the number of burn injuries and fire deaths.

The locations of water supply points must be planned to assist the sprinkler system or firefighters who arrive at the scene of a fire that’s being held in check by the use of a fire extinguisher. Water points should be both on-site storage and supply points for pumper relays or tanker shuttles. On-site storage can back up the supply for sprinklers or provide a drafting location for the fire department. The fire department should provide plans for and encourage the installation of tanks or cisterns, and work with citizens groups, 4-H Clubs, Explorer Posts, and other groups involved in building on-site water storage facilities.

Existing supply points should be identified, improved for all-weather use, mapped, and tested for their capability. Prefire plans and response cards should note their location, accessibility, and flow capability and the effects of seasonal changes in the area. Supply points that reduce the length of a relay (hose or tanker) can save valuable time during firefighting activities. There are many farm ponds that could be made into effective supply points with the cooperation of the owners and the local rural fire department.

If we improve our response to rural incidents, we will reduce losses. All locations should be numbered, mapped, and cross-indexed and have a prefire plan. This will help avoid confusion and reduce response time.

Make provisions to dispatch an adequate amount of equipment on first alarm. This means that more than one department or company may have to respond. This will be vital when larger structures are involved.

Finally, the nearest fire department should be dispatched regardless of the community or district boundaries that are involved. –

The 30 seconds that are saved by having the nearest company respond may be just enough time to perform a rescue. Use the mutual aid that is waiting to assist.

Rural fire protection can be improved! We have to educate the public, sell installed fire protection devices, and build water sources closer to rural dwellings. We also must develop our operational procedures until they provide the best response of trained firefighters that a department can deliver. Don’t be satisfied with tradition or mediocrity!

Rural Fire Protection


Rural Fire Protection

For many of the Americans who live on rural land, “fire protection is woefully inadequate,” the commission charged and added that “the same is true of many suburban dwellers” whose communities have not kept pace with rapid population growth.

The problems of rural areas, the commission found, include “insufficient water supplies, lack of building codes or too few inspectors to enforce them, insufficient funds to pay fire fighters or replace antiquated equipment.”

The fire death rate for whites in non-metropolitan areas is half again as great as for whites in metropolitan counties (4.0 vs. 2.7 per 100,000), according to HEW, the commission report stated. Among non-whites, the fire fatality rate in the same areas is 15.3 vs. 8.1 per 100,000.

In rural areas, as in urban areas, most fire deaths occur at night. If rural dwellers awake only to be trapped by fire, “it may be many minutes before the fire department arrived to rescue them.”

Therefore, the commission urged “that rural dwellers and others living at a distance from fire departments install early-warning detectors and alarms to protect sleeping areas.”

“While many rural volunteers receive excellent training, there are many who do not,” the commission asserted. “The consolidation of fire departments into countywide or regional jurisdictions . . . would permit better training programs at less cost.”

Rural aid endorsed

One section of the Rural Development Act of 1972, the commission noted, provides loans for water systems for industrialized areas being built in rural communities, and Title IV of this law makes available aid for organizing, training and equipping a fire department. The federal government assumes half of the costs, and the commission termed as essential “full and continuing funding of the fire protection provisions of the Rural Development Act.”

The commission called master plans for fire protection “vital for rural communities” and recommended that approval of projects subsidized by federal funds “be contingent upon an approved master plan for fire protection for local fire jurisdictions.”

It is especially important, the report stated, for the location of fire stations to be planned to minimize response distances and that built-in protection be provided in hazards such as factories and shopping centers in rural areas. Whether funds are provided by taxation or donations, they are generally scarce in rural areas, so “intelligent and coordinated planning is needed to maximize the payoff in fire protection,” the commission advised.

Special areas that master plans should cover, the report said, are transportation fires and buildings that have outlived their usefulness. The latter “are enticing to mischievous arsonists and to property owners for whom burning down a building is a convenient disposal or even a source of profit. The master plan for fire protection should specify the limits of fire department responsibility when such fires occur,” the report declared.

Only through master plans, the commission asserted, will company-supported fire brigades in factories and automatic extinguishing systems in large buildings be specified. Only a master plan can keep a fire in a target hazard from being the first time that anyone realized the water mains were too small and “the fire companies too few to stop a controllable fire from becoming a disaster.”