Lately it seems one of the new municipal executive management paradigms is to remove the construction document review responsibilities from the local fire department and shift them all to the community development department or building divisions. Many fire chiefs are wrestling with the notion of "Are plan reviews necessary and are they even a function of our service?
In many fire departments we find there are still those departments who focus solely only on the BRTs (Big Red Trucks). Our view point is the construction document review process is a critical component of the service provided by fire departments and is important not only for the safety of the occupants, but for fire fighter safety and their ability to perform emergency operations at the building. The outcome of the plan review process will impact the building's construction and built-in fire protection features for the life of the building.
Granted, there are a number of arguments of why a fire department should not provide this service. Probably the most common arguments include budget constraints, political pressure and lack of technical training or staff to perform the service adequately.
Fire prevention bureaus are staffed in many different ways and with different numbers of staff. Sometimes the responsibility of the various functions falls to one person. Other times, there may be several people to split the duties. Occasionally a larger department has the capacity to perform all of the traditional functions in addition to a professionally trained plan review or engineering staff. Regardless of the size of department, the function of plans review should be performed to whatever degree is possible. Please refer to Establishing Fire Prevention Bureaus Part I and Part II.
When we discuss the degree of fire department involvement, it relates to the types of plans and the amount of detailed review performed in that function. Plan review is simply doing an evaluation of design plans prior to actual construction or function. Plans can be related to construction or they may be related to process operations of manufacturing or product assembly. It may also be a component of hazard, operational or revocable permit issuance. The following only briefly highlights some fire department concerns identified in the construction document review process.
- Egress and ingress for suppression
- Occupancy classification
- Hazardous storage rooms
- Hazardous operations
- Construction features, such as:
- Openings in walls
- Roof construction and access
- Mechanical and plumbing chases
- Electrical fire pump
- Emergency, exit, and egress lighting
- Transformer vaults
Site, Landscaping, Civil, and Utility Drawings
- Civil details such as water retention, storm water management, and road construction
- Topography and building's shape and location
- Fire department concerns:
- Water supply and hydrant locations
- Vegetation management and landscape features
- Fire department concerns:
Fire Protection Drawings
- Built-in fire protection systems:
- Automatic sprinklers
- Detection and alarm
The extent of fire department involvement in the plan review process can be restricted to the training and expertise of the reviewer. Either of the two model fire codes identifies specific code requirements to be met in given jurisdictions. These requirements relate to general fire precautions, fire vehicle access, water supply, fire detection and suppression requirements and various types of operational and functional requirements for various hazards. To a large extent, anyone with basic knowledge of fire service operational needs can do a good base level review. Obviously, the more technically trained a person is the more in-depth the plan review process can become. It is better to provide comprehensive and technical reviews. However, there are some easily identifiable basic fire department issues.