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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“We were getting a lot of heavy black smoke and a lot of very energetic fire,” he said. “And the roof collapsed very early.” In the final analysis, Johnson added, “We really didn’t have a good idea of what was inside that building.”

Using Fire Zone, Johnson and his crew nevertheless had a good understanding of the property’s layout, not just where the building was. “The software aided me in positioning apparatus,” Johnson said. “We had a lot of room around this building, and I could put apparatus just about everywhere.” Following the fire, Johnson used Fire Zone to analyze lessons learned about how pre-planning could have been tighter, as well as safety concerns.

Incidents like the concrete shop fire are why Johnson has long wanted responsibility for solid, consistent and ongoing pre-fire planning.

“I’m real passionate about the value of pre-fires and the life safety aspect,” he said. “It ties into everything else. The more a guy knows about building construction, the better firefighter he is. The more he knows about specific hazards faced in each occupancy, the better he’s going to be able to take care of his whole crew.”

Life safety and complete and accurate pre-plan information are the two main benefits of the software Fire District 6 now has in place, and which it will use on its MDCs inside the district’s apparatus. “That’s what we really want to have the product for,” Johnson said.

Construction & Hazmat Issues

Another major reason firefighter safety should be every fire department’s top priority is that today’s buildings are constructed differently than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Buildings that once were made mostly of wood now have lightweight construction. As a result, “We have to fight fires differently than we used to,” said Chief Ken Burdette of Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue in Silverdale, WA.

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Photo courtesy of The CAD Zone Inc.
This diagram is created with the First Look Pro software program. First Look Pro complements The Fire Zone by letting fire personnel organize and locate pre-fire plan diagrams and information.

In addition to a building’s more lightweight construction is also the issue of more hazardous materials. For example, Burdette said he sees more foam rubber being used, which is highly flammable.

“Fires burn hotter and faster, and they’re more toxic,” he noted. “This means you have to make some very quick decisions when you arrive on the scene to plan and execute firefighting the right way.” For these reasons, Burdette feels it is imperative to provide the very best technology tools to fire crews for their safety and to fight fires more professionally.

To accomplish this goal, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue is fitting its apparatus with ruggedized computers and pre-fire planning software so crews can respond to fires with better information that is easy to access. The department has been able to develop pre-fire plans, using Fire Zone and First Look Pro, for 1,500 buildings.

Thanks to the software, the pre-plans “are all in a format we can use,” Burdette explained. “First Look Pro allows us to quickly and easily retrieve all the information we need,” including text, Fire Zone pre-fire plan drawings, maps and photographs. “It’s all coordinated.”

By having all of this coordinated information at the touch of a computer screen, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue’s firefighters can more easily know how to attack a fire from the time they board apparatus until they arrive on the scene. From that point, the incident commander, who has the same information, can direct firefighters as they begin battling the blaze.

Someday, Burdette even plans to purchase a printer that produces a printout of this type of information. The actual printout is made on durable paper that can withstand harsh environments. “The information from this printout can be passed along to crews from the incident commander to better guide them in their firefighting effort,” Burdette said.

Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue will have ruggedized computers armed with Fire Zone and First Look Pro on its apparatus before 2004. Computers will be installed in Central Kitsap’s command vehicle, on one engine and on a medic unit. This hardware has been ordered, but for now the department uses the software on its desktop computers.