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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This benefit is equally important when there’s a confirmed structure fire and both of Bowling Green’s stations must respond. Firefighters at both stations can view the pre-plans and survey information simultaneously.

More Complete Data

The software’s ultimate benefit, of course, is that it helps the department reduce property damage by giving complete information on a building during a fire call response. “There’s also less stress on the firefighters,” Meredith said. “They don’t have to work as hard to find or fight the fire, and they are better able to identify and handle the potential hazards.”

For Battalion Chief Brian Johnson of Clark County Fire Protection District 6 in Vancouver, WA, pre-fire planning has always been a priority, yet he admits that his department has been playing catch-up.

“We’ve been trying different things over the last five years to get pre-fire plans to where we could really use them on the engines,” Johnson said. “The tools just weren’t there. We had been preparing pre-fire drawings by hand, yet it seemed like an exercise in futility because we’d draw them and put them in the file cabinet. Why would we do this when we don’t have access to that information on scene?”

Today, however, the department uses Fire Zone and First Look Pro to create the plans and provide the critical cross-reference information about any structure’s construction, internal contents and hazards. The pre-fire plan diagram and corresponding textual information about each structure is housed on computers at Fire District 6’s main fire station and at its two substations. More importantly, Fire District 6 now has this same information uploaded into mobile data computers (MDCs) on all first-out apparatus, including three engines and a squad, as well as two command vehicles and one second-out engine.

Hazmat Guide in Software

Johnson noted that the main reason for initially installing the MDCs was to have a live link to the 911 dispatch center. The computers have only become more valuable by being able to house the Fire Zone and First Look Pro programs. Johnson said he particularly values First Look Pro since it now features a hazmat emergency response guide and an open-view window for all of the pre-fire drawings.

Even though the installation of MDCs on Fire District 6’s apparatus can be considered a quantum leap by any fire department’s standards, Johnson cautions that this step still isn’t enough for meeting total pre-fire planning needs. “This just accomplishes pre-fire surveys,” Johnson said. “That’s half the process. Then comes pre planning.”

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Photo courtesy of The CAD Zone Inc.
A view of the MapMobile mapping system on an apparatus’ ruggedized computer. The mapping system is used simultaneously with First Look Pro to coordinate the location of an address for a fire call and the corresponding pre-fire plan information.

To illustrate his point, Johnson cited the use of First Look Pro in the department’s training room. “We pre plan with it, discuss strategy and tactics for a particular structure, and where we might have problems,” he said.

Post-Incident Analysis

Still another way that Fire District 6 uses First Look Pro, as well as Fire Zone, is for post-incident analysis. For example, last January, the district battled a multi alarm commercial fire in a facility that manufactured ornamental concrete products. On the day of the fire, the concrete shop was fully engulfed when Johnson’s crew arrived. The crew had both a Fire Zone drawing of the building plus a pre-plan. The firefighters knew, from this information, that high-voltage power lines were feeding the main building that was ablaze.

“We knew pretty well that we had a huge electrical hazard over there,” Johnson recalled. “But one thing it (the diagram and pre-plan) didn’t tell us was what we had inside the building. We didn’t know much about the interior process.” For example, the building contained highly flammable fiberglass molds into which concrete was poured.