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What is a Fire Preplan?

ESO Staff

Firefighters are accustomed to making their best assessment of a structure when they arrive at a fire incident. They base their response tactics and expectations on generalized construction concepts, community knowledge, and their own past experiences.

However, the challenge is that today’s construction is increasingly more complex and customized. Today, engineers can employ a wide range of layout plans, specialized materials, and new fire suppression systems. They often must design according to the property’s design and purpose, including reinforced walls or doors with alternative locking mechanisms.

Additionally, today’s properties tend to experience more change over time. No longer do facility managers work on the same property for their entire careers. Instead, properties are sold and refurbished, and any existing in-depth knowledge of materials, layout, and access points is a loss. The local fire department frequently becomes the de facto “expert” on the history of various properties in the community.

On the other hand, historic properties pose their own set of challenges as communities continue to grow and crowd in. Narrow roadways, excessive traffic and parking, and security measures like iron gates and walls can pose a logistics nightmare when it comes to getting your truck on scene and accessing a fire incident.

What to Include in a Preplan

In response to these realities, fire departments are increasingly leveraging property preplans, detailed documents that outline important information about a property that can and do affect an incident response plan. Preplans are ideally developed in collaboration with building owners, occupants, designers, insurers, and firefighter departments and are consistently checked and updated to ensure accuracy.

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) code 1620 is considered the current gold standard in property preplans standards and offers seven factors that should be evaluated in how they might affect a property during an emergency. They include:

  1. Construction
  2. Occupant characteristics
  3. Protection Systems
  4. Capabilities of public of industrial responding personnel
  5. Availability of mutual aid
  6. Water supply
  7. Exposure factors

These categories are general starting points for digging deeper into property-specific characteristics. In practical terms, details like the following are invaluable in helping a responding fire department make a more effective response to a fire incident or rescue, meaning more property – and potentially lives – saved. Well-formed preplans include:

  • Company name, address, and driving directions
  • Occupancy Classifications (such as property use like residential, commercial, etc.)
  • Access barriers such as narrow bridges, steep roads, RR crossings
  • Access Code for gates/doors, Knox Box location
  • Aerial photos of the site
  • Number of stories, building length and width, site plan, floor plans
  • Building construction and materials
  • Hazardous materials present and location
  • Water supply information
  • Defensible space around the building, including turn-around capability
  • Typical occupancy (day/night) and any occupants requiring special assistance
  • Location of both fire alarm systems and fire protection systems (sprinklers, etc.)

Fire preplans are ideally created at the time of permitting during construction but can also be formed using regular fire inspections. It’s imperative that preplans remain updated and accurate, and the more details, the better. Small details can affect how incident command may form a response plan and increase situational awareness for firefighters in the field.

For example, photos, videos, and even access to onsite cameras give a complete picture of what firefighters will be facing. Construction materials help estimate how long firefighters may have to operate within a structure. In contrast, entrance and exit locations, occupancy information, and fire suppression systems prioritize the response plan.

Digital vs. Hard Copy Records

While hard copy preplans were for many years considered reliable and easy to transport, digital preplans are now coming into more favor than the old binders of yesterday. Today’s digital preplans are more easily updated. They can typically be accessed via the cloud, meaning that anyone with granted permission can access the information as long as they are connected to the cloud service. Additionally, digital preplans can include rich data like videos and camera feeds and can be shared among many responders simultaneously in various locations.

Fire departments can also take advantage of software specially designed to make fire inspection and preplanning more efficient and accurate. Utilizing fire inspection software makes it easier to develop and maintain property preplans, and help ensure consistency across records for the community. Effective preplanning and inspection software include features such as:

  • Ability to create configurable checklists
  • Access to unlimited fire code sets and historical data
  • CAMEO and NFIRS integration
  • User-friendly interface
  • Scheduling capabilities
  • Ability to add attachments and capture signatures

Using fire inspection software helps fire departments work smarter, not harder, and establish consistency that increases situational awareness, reduces errors, and sets expectations for all responders. Preplans can also better understand the community and its strengths and challenges, create CRR outreach plans, and develop more accurate training exercises.

The more informed a fire department remains on its community, the better it can serve, protect, and respond. Working together with other experts to create and maintain accurate preplans might just make a life-and-death difference on the next fire call.

Download the white paper, 7 Features Needed in Preplanning, and Inspection Software.

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