Inspections - Which do we do First?

We don't know of any fire department that has too many inspectors for the number of inspections that should be done. However, we are aware of a need to prioritize what inspections should be handled by a limited number of inspectors or companies.

What we would like to do is to help you strategically plan how to handle what seems to be an ever increasing inspection load. In order to do this, some basic questions must first be answered.

What kind of fire history does your community have? Where are you experiencing hostile fires? What occupancy classification do you have the largest number of fires occurring? What occupancy experiences the largest number of fire deaths? What occupancy experiences the largest dollar loss? Once you have answered these questions, you can begin to show where issues are present.

Being the clairvoyant fire marshals we are we would assume you are having the highest fire incident rate (numbers of fires) in residential occupancies. We also will bet, baring a periodic unusual event, your fatality rate is highest in your residential occupancies. We would also assume that unless you are strictly a bedroom community, you are likely having your largest fire losses in commercial structures such as manufacturing, business or mercantile occupancies. If this is the case, we will provide you a good base template to follow in setting up a strategic plan for your area. If it is not, then the using our template will provide you a good model to use in devising your own plan based on your loss history. This process should be re-evaluated annual and modified as necessary to keep the right target in focus.

For purposes of example and planning, let's assume you are having your highest number of fires in residences, your highest fire death rates in residences, and your largest monetary losses in commercial structures. Okay, we know we have limited capabilities of enforcement in residential occupancies. We can impact apartment complexes with inspections, but it becomes problematic to deal with individual apartment units. Enforcement then is not our best tool for individual residences, but we would offer that community education and awareness is.

Now, let's look at some risk elements. What is the probability that we can have a multiple loss of life in a single family home fire as compared to an unprotected apartment building which may have limited access, interior hallways, etc. Experience tells us that where we have more people, we have greater risk. So, we would offer that inspection efforts have a place in apartment complexes where we can impact means of occupant egress, fire department access, fire hydrant operability, and active and passive protection/detection features. So, let's make annual inspections of apartment complexes a priority so that we can address the following items:

  1. Exiting
  2. Smoke detection and fire alarm operation (administrative controls by the complex)
  3. Fire apparatus access
  4. Fire hydrant operability and maintenance
  5. Pre planning

By making sure all the exiting provisions are code-compliant, we can be more assured that occupants who are made aware of a hostile fire can evacuate and protect themselves. Also, by addressing the administrative controls of the apartment management, we can feel more comfortable that smoke detectors are operable, being maintained and managed and that whatever fire alarm systems may be present will be working and alerting the occupants and/or fire department. The other check list items will help fire operations should they be necessary for rescue operations and fire attack.

Having addressed our risk to life in a reasonable fashion, we can now move to the property loss part of our mission. Assuming for example that large monetary losses are occurring in commercial faculties, we can assume the fires are a little larger and/or more serious in these same occupancies. Assuming that more of our bread and butter operations are also occurring in residences, we can assume that more complex and dangerous fires are happening in our commercial areas. This creates focus not only on more mitigation efforts for property protection but also more impetus on fire fighter safety.

If there is a specific commercial occupancy that reveals a more consistent fire trend, then the cause of those fires must be isolated for proper and specific mitigation strategies. However, if these remain non specific and more general, then overall fire prevention and mitigation efforts must be instituted. This then needs to become the next priority which can use a combination approach of the following strategies:

  1. Self inspection programs provided to businesses that are of lesser hazard or are smaller in size.
  2. Annual fire service inspection programs targeting more hazardous or larger facilities which address general fire hazard issues such as housekeeping, storage practices, electrical hazards, hazardous materials controls and storage, etc.
  3. Fire suppression system maintenance and testing
  4. Administrative program controls emphasizing business inspection, maintenance and enforcement
  5. Fire department apparatus access and hydrant operability
  6. Pre planning

On-line self inspection forms can be a great resource for local businesses to use. You may choose to make them mandatory meaning they have to be filled out and submitted with the annual business license or simply mailed in at a particular time, with inspectors monitoring their responsiveness. This forces business to take an active individual role in assisting the overall fire protection of the community and it keeps you informed as to current business changes or updates. It also provides you a tool to hold them more accountable by having them sign on the dotted line.

Targeting general and processes hazards you can have great impact on awareness of their responsibility and accountability. They probably don't like to see you make your annual visit, but they will likely be more prepared for it every year. This creates more ownership for them by doing more administratively such as through their own programs, supervisory management of fire safety issues and regular internal feedback.

Verifying that operational needs for fire crews are the best they can be will assure the best possible emergency response and facilitate those tough tactical decisions that are critical in keeping losses to a minimum.

While this process has not enabled you to get into every business or occupancy you would like, it will help you to focus on the local issues that are impacting your community the most. It provides the most reasonable approach to mitigating your fire incidents and if done right, can provide a good mechanism for showing needs for future growth. If we can't get the quantity, we certainly want the quality. Using this approach addresses the critical elements of life safety first, and property conservation next. In both instances it helps address fire fighter safety which will continue to be a major concern as our fire fighter deaths continue to be problematic.