First Due: The Necessity of Preplanning Your First Due

May 17, 2024
Lance Sutton recounts his crew's last commercial preplan to hammer home the value of the information that's gleaned.

Your company is dispatched to a working commercial fire in your first-due territory. Multiple scenarios fill your mind. Entrapments? Automatic sprinklers? Multistory?

These and other questions can be answered for the operations division by in-depth preplanning (i.e., not a leisurely stroll through a facility). Crews become familiar with facility layouts and fire load potential, which will help with hose selection, and the inspection division can benefit by identification of code hazards that might have been missed.

The question is: Is leadership proactive enough?

Commercial buildings
Many departments use the Insurance Services Office’s (ISO) Fire Suppression Rating Schedule as a grading tool for improvement and effectiveness. Preplans are part of that grade. As many as nine points can be earned as part of the preplanning process.

That said, leadership also should encourage members to conduct company-level preplanning. Departments train on hose advancement at stations and training facilities, but they often don’t train on where to pull hoselines at a commercial building. Pulling a charged hoseline into an operating commercial business isn’t ideal. What are the options?

Note: Marking a utility rope at 25-foot lengths helps to determine hose selection. (If crews carry a RIT bag on their apparatus, they should have a rope with markings every 20 feet.) A measuring wheel is great for situations where laying a utility rope isn’t feasible.

The process
Coordinating with commercial facilities is important in determining the appropriate times for preplanning.

The last preplan that my crew performed was a four-story hotel. We coordinated with management and determined that Wednesday would work best, because it’s the hotel’s slowest day of the week. Guest check-out is at 11 a.m., and check-in is at 3 p.m. My crew arriving at 11 a.m. gave us four hours to preplan the facility. The hotel had a printed site map.

We began by walking around the exterior of the building and noting on the site map fire department connections (FDC), Knox Box, hydrant locations, potential staging areas for apparatus and aerial requirements for roof operations.

Next, we went inside and identified hazmat issues that might pose additional risk and the locations of the alarm panel and the riser room.

In the standpipe stairwell, we laid out the utility rope. We stretched to the farthest point of the floor above the connection point, noting measurements on the site map. To account for standpipe failure, we stretched from the apparatus to the farthest point on each division. Doing this from the building’s various entry/exit points, we discovered that our standpipe hose wasn’t long enough.

Our standpipe kit consists of 200 feet of 2½-inch hose with a smooth stream nozzle. We carry a bag that contains a gate valve, an inline pressure gauge, a 22½-degree elbow, a wire brush, wedges, a spanner and a pipe wrench.

We took measurements of the building, and using the formula length x width/3, we established general fire flow requirements.

Finally, because each commercial building is unique, we made notes of particular considerations, such as pinch points, rescue priorities, ventilation tactics and utility shutoffs.

When finished, we thanked hotel management and answered any questions that those folks had.

Be proactive
How much pride do you take in knowing your first-due territory? It’s extremely challenging to know the ins and outs of every building that we respond to, much less the other territories in the municipality. Preplanning must be a priority for front-line companies. The information that’s gathered with each preplan should be shared with companies across the municipality to ensure maximum on-scene effectiveness.

There’s a measure of comfort in being able to pull up a well-written preplan on a mobile data terminal while en route to a commercial facility. Finding a Knox Box or an FDC at 2 a.m. can be hectic. Seconds count. Not being proactive and prepared enough to do the right thing is inexcusable.

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