Why Every Industry Needs Its Own Plant Fire Brigade
Industrial Fire Safety
In the last few months, we have been asked by industrial plant employees to comment on and provide sources of information about organizing and training industrial fire brigades. These requests have been answered, and we hope those interested in starting and maintaining such a valuable program have been successful. As there no doubt are others wishing to start brigades, we will in this and our next two columns discuss the need for fire brigades as well as how to organize and train them.
When one first discusses a fire brigade, many management people see a large force of employees tearing through the plant, ax in hand and all decked out in the regalia of a professional fireman, spending hour upon hour away from the job on training. This, of course, is an erroneous view and must be corrected if management is to accept the philosophy of a fire brigade. This acceptance is required before any program can be successful. What then is the need for an industrial fire brigade? Be prepared for the following arguments against one.
- We have the latest automatic fire equipment.
- We are insured to the hilt.
- This plant is fireproof.
- The fire department is just around the corner.
- It’s too expensive.
- A fire brigade does not produce a product, from which a profit is realized.
- It takes production time away from the plant.
- We haven’t had a fire in 30 years.
This one may be very true, and it is hoped that automatic sprinkler systems and other fixed systems will be your first line of defense. It should be. That is what they were installed for at considerable expense. Automatic equipment can, and does, fail, either partially or completely from time to time through lack of proper water supplies, maintenance of systems, or the old bugaboo, the valve accidently left closed. This has occurred more than once and will continue to happen.
It must be remembered that fires follow no set pattern. They are unpredictable! Manpower is needed to cope with these situations. Therefore a brigade is indispensable to suppress a fire in situations we hope will never occur, but do. Who will operate the interior hose lines and fire extinguishers if a brigade is not on the premises? If there is no brigade, why install hand fire equipment? Rate reductions, insurance regulations? Could be.
The answer could be, is insurance enough? There are many hidden facets of a fire loss which are rarely thought about but are vital to a corporation’s existence.
First, there is the loss of customers to your competition. The customer does not care about your problems. He wants a product when he wants it, not when you think you can produce it. If his supplier is removed by fire, he will turn to other markets. He may be happy in what he finds, and he is lost to your firm forever. Can this hurt? There can be but one answer, yes.
Second, insurance cannot replace the valuable employee who has left your employment. This man must support a family and pay bills. If he is a responsible person, he will find another job, even if it means moving to another town.
Third, a fire hurts a community, and the smaller the town is, the more the fire hurts. Sales decline, taxes become delinquent, and installment collections become a problem. Can insurance cover or cure these ills? Certainly not. Every industrial plant needs a fire brigade.
This at times goes way beyond the ridiculous stage, but it is simple to demonstrate that buildings may be fire-resistive, not fireproof. And maybe some day we will do away with the word fireproof. What about the contents? Are they not usually combustible? Of course they are. Contents combustibility has been proven many many times in fires such as in the La Salle Hotel in Chicago, St. Regis Paper Company in Pensacola, Hartford Hospital, General Motors, etc., etc. Use the NFPA past and present loss records on this one. For example, the 1966 total fire loss in the United States was $1.8 billion.
This also could be true, but what happens if it has a job in some other part of town and move-up or mutual aid is not yet in action? Or what about simultaneous alarms or inclement weather conditions? Mull these over for awhile along with, is an on-site fire brigade a valuable asset in self-preservation of industry? Any honest man, whatever his vocation, can say only yes.
Everything we are putting forth here screams it’s too expensive not to have a fire brigade, regardless of the plant size or number of employees. Take a look at the 1966 fire loss picture for industrial properties of $318.8 million in 52,500 fires, as reported by the NFPA.
The lack of a fire brigade will probably guarantee no profit at all! The brigade is an important cog in retaining uninterrupted earnings.
There is no truth in this statement, as most ordinary brigade training programs as we will get into require only one or two hours a month per shift, and the sessions can be held before or after shifts. Thus, no production time need be lost. In fact, production time can be saved by brigade members accepting the responsibilities of fire prevention on their jobs.
You lucky devil, you! Then it’s just about time. All the poor maintenance, aging buildings, worn electrical systems and process machinery are probably just about ready to promote a fire on your behalf. This is just dice-rolling. I could tell you about one manager who made this statement and within a few days, he got his, and the insurance company was hit for a fire loss in excess of $250,000.
Each and every industrial plant must be prepared to handle the unexpected until the professional fire fighters arrive (volunteer or paid). Employees can become an excellent emergency force, as they know plant layouts and hazards.
Be prepared to answer these arguments against a fire brigade. Be prepared to squash the anti-brigade statements with evidence, statistics and your own convictions, expressed honestly and sincerely. Adversity is common. Overcome it with actions.
In this vein, we will discuss how to organize a fire brigade next month.