Pre-Planning: The Key to Success

Curtis S.D. Massey defines the importance of having a plan that can answer any question about a building and its systems, including how to get around, how to cut things off and how to interface with the systems.


There are a lot of “tools” that firefighters and their commanders bring to a high-rise emergency. You have hose, hand tools, airpacks, turnout gear and the apparatus that gets you there, allows you to move water and reach high places. Yet how often do you consider the importance of a...


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There are a lot of “tools” that firefighters and their commanders bring to a high-rise emergency. You have hose, hand tools, airpacks, turnout gear and the apparatus that gets you there, allows you to move water and reach high places.

Yet how often do you consider the importance of a good, detailed, yet easy-to-use pre-plan when you roll up on a working incident? A plan that can answer any question you might have about a building and its systems – how to get around, how to cut things off, how to interface with the systems – is every bit as valuable as anything you might bring into the building with you. Pre-plans can make or break the entire operation, whether it be in a chemical plant, hospital, shopping mall or high-rise building.

I’ve spoken to fire chiefs who believe in the concept of pre-planning high-rise buildings 1,000%. I’ve spoken to other chiefs who refuse to even acknowledge the presence of pre-plans and swear they would never pick one up and use it, even if the building was lit-off on arrival. The first group (thankfully, the vast majority) are the chiefs you want commanding you on the big one, because you know they have your safety and that of the occupants in the forefront of their thoughts. They are the intelligent, progressive-minded incident commanders. The “aces.” The other group are the ones you can classify under one category with one word as the title – “dangerous.” These are the chiefs who end up getting people killed because they make poor decisions based on poor information.

Let’s take a scenario and let it play out. You be the judge as to whether the concept of pre-planning truly has merit.

At 10 P.M., you are dispatched to a report of a possible fire on the 23rd floor of a nearby office tower in the central business district of your city. You roll up and are confronted by heavy fire blowing out four windows on the front of the building. All units are immediately put into service and a second alarm is transmitted. The chief and two crews cautiously approach the entrance, dodging falling glass, and are met by a security guard who yells over the noise of the alarm horns that there is a serious fire on the 23rd floor, there is no engineer on duty and people are working in the building. In addition, another guard who took the elevator up to check out the alarm hasn’t reported back since he left the lobby.

After the guard is directed to try to silence the lobby horns, call the chief engineer to the scene and fetch the night log (so the chief knows how many people are in the building and where they are working), he sets about addressing his most pressing concerns: How do I utilize the elevators and stairs to get my personnel and equipment up into the building? How am I going to get water on the fire? How do I get smoke out of the building? How do I cut power to the fire floor? Where are some floor plans for the upper floors? How many people are trapped and where’s that missing guard?

The questions are streaming through his mind in rapid fashion as the tension mounts. Just then, the lobby guard walks back up to the chief and hands him his occupant log – and the building’s pre-fire plan, in addition to two extra sets of floor plans for his crews. He also forks over four sets of master keys, all labeled as to what they unlock.

The dispatcher is yacking at the chief over the radio, crews are gathering around him waiting for orders and units are arriving on scene waiting for assignments. Things are happening very fast and the chief suddenly finds himself a little overwhelmed. As he begins coming up with assignments and a game plan, he turns to his aide and says, “Give me the basics on this building ASAP,” and hands him the pre-plan. His aide opens up the plan at the security desk/command post, pulls out a packet of data and drawings in the front pocket, and lays it out in front of him.

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