Fireground Setup Time

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I was quite impressed with Chief Vincent Dunn’s Safety & Survival column headlined “Fireground Setup Time, Measured Scientifically” in the March 2013 edition of Firehouse® Magazine. I congratulate him on the work.

I did some preliminary work on setup times in 1998 – titled “Fire Department Response Times: What Would It Take to Respond Fast Enough to Make a Difference?” – and revised it in 2001 and 2005. For my purposes, my time/motion study was limited to stretching the line once the brakes were set on the first-in engine.

In as much as Chief Dunn mentions National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 (Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments), I thought I’d also mention it. The first edition of 1710 was issued in 2001, three years after I wrote my research. I have some concerns regarding one major assumption of 1710. In the annex of the current edition 2010, A.5.2.2.2.1, it states, “An early, aggressive and offensive primary interior attack on a working fire, where feasible, is usually the most effective strategy…At approximately 10 minutes into the fire sequence, the hypothetical room of origin flashes over. Extension outside the room begins at this point.”

Unfortunately, research has shown that this is not quite true. Studies by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) have debunked this myth, as did my own 14-year-old research, yet it’s still referenced in the code! If the code is based on faulty assumptions, doesn’t that cause a problem in the recommendations of that code?

In addition, the clock in 1710 starts at dispatch. If we’re going to compare fire department response times with fire growth, it is imperative that we compare apples to apples by starting the stopwatch at the same time, ignition. I believe I can say that if I build a fire station at every intersection in my community, I put an engine in the station at every intersection and I fully staff that engine at every intersection, I still can’t get there in time!

The time has come to fully realize that the future of fire suppression is in automatic sprinklers. My community embraced this concept in 1987 and 1988, requiring sprinklers in all new houses and in all new commercial structures over 2,000 square feet. I don’t know what my community will look like in 200 years, but as buildings outlive their usefulness and are demolished, or as they burn down and are replaced, they will go back up protected.

The current national building codes don’t require sprinklers in business occupancies until they are classified as high-rises. The fire service needs to get more proactive in promoting sprinklers.

John R. Waters, EFO, MS

Chief Fire Marshal

Director/Safety & Codes Enforcement

Upper Merion Township, PA

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