Pre-Planning For Your Life

The pre-planning of all protected and unprotected enclosed structures in your district can be one of the most valuable non-emergency activities you do on your next shift.

Enclosed structure tactics utilize a more cautious and calculated approach as opposed to the fast and aggressive interior attacks which are linked to LODDs. A critical step in the prevention of LODDs is in knowing when an enclosed structure is involved.

There are two settings in which enclosed structures may be identified. One is during the initial size-up process at the time of the alarm. But a second and more accurate way involves simply identifying an unprotected enclosed structure during pre-fire planning activities. The disorientation study revealed that in 100 percent of the cases studied, firefighters became disoriented in enclosed structures resulting in 23 firefighter fatalities. In 88 percent of those cases the structure had no operable sprinkler system. These two findings alone represent valuable information that, if used correctly, may very well prevent exposure to the life threatening hazards that cause disorientation and LODDs.

A simple approach to reduce stress and tremendously increase the level of safety on the fireground involves special pre-planning to identify the location of extremely dangerous enclosed structures in your first-due area. Of course, the goal is to obtain this information uniformly across a departments' jurisdiction. During this pre-plan activity, specific information is sought and collected.

In this process, officers should concentrate on every structure within their area to initially identify enclosed structures and secondly to determine if they are protected by an operable sprinkler system. This means that when protected enclosed structures are found, officers must ensure that the sprinkler system is pressurized. When they are not, efforts to return the system back into working condition must be made immediately. When unprotected enclosed structures are located, and because this is the specific type of structure that has been taking the lives of aggressive firefighters for decades, the address should be entered onto an unprotected enclosed structure reference list.

Officers may also note if the enclosed structure is large in size (100-by-100 feet or greater), as these are linked to multiple firefighter fatalities. In addition, and to guard against the disorientation and fatalities which occur as a result of early collapses of truss roof or floor construction, obtaining this particular information can also be included and would be especially beneficial to know during a working enclosed structure fire where smoke conditions would make it difficult to determine the presence of trusses.

Once the alphabetized list is completed, it can be forwarded to the dispatch office for use as reference. As structure fires are reported, individual addresses on the enclosed structure list, which may have been entered into computer assisted dispatch systems (CADS), will appear as messages on mobile data terminals (MDTs) when an emergency call is transmitted. If no CAD system is available, dispatchers only have to take a few seconds to refer to the list and provide verbal notification indicating for example that, "A large unprotected enclosed structure is involved and that the structure has a lightweight wooden truss roof system."

Additionally and when the collected information has indicated the presence of a basement, this information will also be included in the transmitted message. These advance notifications will not only serve as a warning that an extremely dangerous enclosed structure is involved but that enclosed structure tactics or SOGs should be utilized if conditions warrant.

In addition to this effort, a revision of the sprinkler code for the installation of sprinklers at new and existing large enclosed structures should be considered in every community. Although not an easy endeavor, this measure would have a tremendous long term impact in the reduction of the risk to firefighters and citizens alike where incidents like the Charleston Sofa Store fire and the Memphis Family Dollar Store fire, serve as vivid reminders.

Although time will be needed for every firefighter to thoroughly learn all aspects of enclosed structure fires and why they are extremely dangerous, in the meantime, special pre-planning of all protected and unprotected enclosed structures in your district can be one of the most valuable non-emergency activities that can take place immediately to help ensure everyone goes home.