Pre-Fire Planning: New Technology, Tailored Software

To this day, Milford, CT, Fire Chief Louis LaVecchia still can’t believe what happened at a major fire in his town 20 years ago. One day, a huge blaze erupted at the Lighter Division of the BIC Pen Company in Milford. Lacking a pre-fire plan...


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To this day, Milford, CT, Fire Chief Louis LaVecchia still can’t believe what happened at a major fire in his town 20 years ago. One day, a huge blaze erupted at the Lighter Division of the BIC Pen Company in Milford. Lacking a pre-fire plan, firefighters had to climb over conveyor belts and maneuver around machinery as they groped their way into the burning structure.

“It was pitch black,” LaVecchia recalled. “We had no idea where we were. If we had to get out, we probably never could have gotten out.”

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Photo courtesy of The CAD Zone Inc.
Gary Guilmette, a 28-year veteran with Milford, CT, Fire Department, accesses a pre-fire plan on a ruggedized computer installed in an apparatus. The computer is one of several installed in apparatus as part of Milford’s new wireless pre-fire planning program, which Guilmette helped develop.

With the fire finally extinguished and the smoke cleared, the chief and his crew suddenly noticed a major exit on the opposite side of the building from where they had been fighting the fire. To their amazement, the double-door exit extended the entire length of the building, with all corridors running off of it. The impact of this discovery has never left LaVecchia, nor has his resolve to know exactly what’s in a fire-engulfed building into which he sends his crews.

“If we had a floor plan enroute to that building, we would have taken that exit, had the fire under control in minutes and been a lot safer.”

The BIC fire was the ultimate wake-up call for the Milford Fire Department – one that LaVecchia answered by making pre-fire planning not just a top priority for his personnel, but part of the department’s culture.

“We have seven companies doing pre-fire planning daily,” LaVecchia explained. “Each company is responsible for about 100 pre-fire plans a year.” The result of this aggressive approach is that Milford has achieved a Class 1 rating by the Insurance Service Offices Inc. (ISO), a daunting challenge that only 44 fire departments in the nation have met.

Wireless Pre-Planning

Pre-fire planning isn’t just the right thing for a fire department to do. It is one of the most vital aspects of a fire department’s charter. Support for pre-fire planning is growing significantly among fire chiefs. It’s been an especially hot topic of conversation and concern at fire service trade shows. And part of what is making it so revered in fire departments is the range of technology now available to accomplish pre-fire planning efficiently and affordably.

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Photo courtesy of The CAD Zone Inc.
Included in the First Look Pro pre-fire software program is a complete U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) hazardous materials guide that can be quickly and easily located enroute to a call. The computer shown displays hazmat information from the guide.

A few departments, like the one in Milford, have pursued the very pinnacle of what technology has to offer. In 2001, the Milford Fire Department obtained a federal grant of $200,000 that helped it create a totally wireless pre-fire planning program. The program partly includes installation of ruggedized computers in the department’s 11 pieces of apparatus. For software programs to be used on the computers, Milford chose the MapMobile mapping program for locating each and every address in its community. Also chosen were The Fire Zone and First Look Pro software programs from The CAD Zone Inc. of Beaverton, OR. The Fire Zone program creates pre-fire, post-incident and fire investigation drawings directly from a laptop or desktop computer.

First Look Pro complements The Fire Zone by letting fire personnel organize and locate pre-fire plan diagrams and information within seconds. By simply selecting an address, occupancy name or pre-plan identification number, the incident commander has immediate access to all the pre-fire plan information that is critical to the firefighting effort. Along with floor plans, photos and maps, First Look Pro can be used to display building structure and access information, hydrant locations and even hazardous materials located at the site.

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