Tactical Considerations for Strip Malls and Shopping Complexes

While these complexes are being built across the county, firefighters need to know the hazards associated with their features, including flex-space, construction features and fire protection systems.Fire department responses to incidents occurring at...

Hydrants, Sprinkler Valves and Fire Department Connections
The location of fire hydrants, sprinkler valves and fire department connections (FDCs) can also cause headaches for firefighters attempting to locate and connect to these devices. Often these devices are considered non-aesthetically pleasing and they are hidden, blocked or placed in areas out of the line of sight. In other cases hydrants, valves and FDCs are placed in the parking lot and are blocked by crash protection devices or access is obstructed by parked vehicles.

In both of these cases the fire code requires a clear area of three feet in all directions around these devices in order to provide access. The code also allows for the installation of fire lanes, complete with pavement markings and "no parking" signs, for the enforcement of no parking restrictions.

As for the locations of these devices, pre-planning must be conducted in order for firefighters to know the locations for quick deployment and establishment of water supplies for fire operations.

Business And Property Contacts

With the present economic conditions businesses and shopping centers can come and go rapidly. Firefighters often have problems with gaining access to businesses or contacting business or property contacts during false alarms and other incidents. This holds especially true after normal business hours or on holidays when businesses are closed. Even with routine and periodic fire inspections there are still times when business contacts are not correct.

A solution to inadequate or incorrect occupancy contacts is to require pre-occupancy inspections in conjunction with zoning and business license requirements. The implementation of local ordinances requiring pre-occupancy inspections can ensure that any business opening in a shopping complex is code compliant prior to opening and current contact information can be collected. In order for this program to be successful, the inspection process should be required to be completed prior to having utilities such as water, sewer and electrical power turned on to the space.

Problems with gaining access to businesses during holidays or non-business hours can be rectified by instituting ordinances requiring key vaults to be installed on the exterior of buildings. However, for this requirement to be effective business keys must be consistently inspected for accuracy during pre-incident surveys or periodic and pre-occupancy fire inspections.

Incident responses to strip malls and shopping complexes are a common, every day occurrence for fire departments throughout the country. Construction features, along with changing occupancy types and other hazards associated with these facilities can pose a great risk to firefighters during these incidents. Only through the diligent completion of pre-incident planning, pre-occupancy and periodic fire inspections will the fire department be prepared to implement incident strategies and tactics to safely mitigate incidents occurring at these complexes.

MARK A. BROWN, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, serves as Fire Prevention Bureau Chief for the Concord, NC, Department of Fire & Life Safety. A 20-year veteran of the fire service, he is an appointed board member of the North Carolina Fire Marshal's Association and possesses an Associates Degree in Fire Protection. To read Mark's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.