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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A report comes across the radio from the forward sector command chief on 21 that the fire is completely knocked down on 23 and 24, there is no fire extension to any other floors, and all floors above the fire have been searched and cleared. The incident commander decides to hold the fire to three alarms, but asks for two extra companies for relief. The engineer has succeeded in removing most of the smoke from the upper floors. It is reported back to the command post that the computer room was not involved in the fire and the halon/pre-action systems have not been activated. The worrisome battery room is also not affected by the fire.

In the lobby, the chief’s aide takes a moment while gearing back a bit to scan the rest of “Salvage Concerns” and notes aloud that there is artwork and a law library on floor 22, directly under the fire floor. The chief sends one of the extra companies arriving on the third alarm to take salvage covers with them and head upstairs to protect the high-value contents of the 22nd-floor tenant. At that time, paramedics wheel the missing security guard past the command post and remark that they have shocked him back to life and have established a steady heart rhythm. It looks like he’s going to make it.

The chief pauses to reflect on current events … no fatalities, only one serious casualty and the rapidly developing fire he was faced with on arrival is now under control. A senior deputy chief arrives and walks up to the command post for a thorough briefing. Upon hearing the positive status report, he decides not to assume command, offers a “Good job” and strolls over to the other side of the lobby to speak with one of the extra-alarm chiefs. The incident commander then steps up to the security counter and looks over the shoulder of his aide and whispers, “This pre-fire plan is a pretty handy thing to have!” “Yeah,” responds his aide, “it can make anybody look smart,” as he winks jokingly to his boss. The fire is wrapped up by the time the sun rises and the media happily report on the success of the fire department’s operation to the morning news viewers, offering many kudos to the response and reaction of their “bravest.”

Now, after reviewing the above scenario, how well do you think the fire would have played out without the building’s pre-fire plan? Would the missing civilians and search crew have been rescued? Would the fire have been brought under control as quickly and effectively? Would property damage, including high-value contents, been as minimized and protected? Possibly, but doubtful. The most important element in the equation of commanding a high-rise emergency is knowledge about the building, plain and simple.

Whether it be a fire, hazmat, gas leak, elevator entrapment, window-washer rescue, natural disaster or terrorist attack involving a truck bomb, aerial attack or biological/chemical warfare, a pre-plan can “make or break” the entire outcome of a working incident in a high-rise building. It can be the incident commander’s best friend. It can prove highly effective in reducing property and potential life loss dramatically.

Without a pre-plan, the chief will be forced to make critical life-and-death decisions based on guesswork and that can prove disastrous in a tall building that can contain the population of some small communities. You’re now dealing with emergencies in the 21st century, in the most dangerous times for the fire service. Every “tool” you have at your disposal must be utilized.

Pre-planning … the key to success.


Curtis S.D. Massey is a former fire officer who owns and operates Massey Enterprises Inc., the world’s leading disaster planning consulting firm. His company specializes in the development of pre-fire plans for large commercial properties, including most of the tallest buildings in North America. The pre-plans are intended for fire department emergency operational use.