Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Are You As Prepared As You Think?
Vol 20 No 4

When asked if they have preplanned a fire emergency with their local fire department, most facility managers will answer yes, often adding that the fire department walks through the facility regularly, or that they have an excellent relationship with the fire department.

This does not necessarily indicate that an appropriate level of preparedness exists. In my experience, most pre-planning tours consist of a general walk through, often focusing on the location of hazardous materials, utility cutoffs, and hydrants. These are essential facts but they are not enough. Some departments take it to the next level, looking at forcible entry problems, noting emergency escape options, planning how to ventilate, and considering other tactical functions. These are also essential considerations but still do not go far enough.

This article will serve as a checklist to allow both fire departments and facility management to take their pre-planning efforts to a new level. It may not be practical to preplan all facilities to this level, but if you are reading this magazine, you are probably responsible for a very large facility that does warrant this level of pre-planning. These are areas where I have found pre-planning to be deficient. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list. Part 1 will focus on sprinkler and water supply pre-planning.

Knowledge of the available water supplies is essential. Noting the hydrant color codes, or conducting a flow test is not enough. Other things to know are:

1.) Are both the water volume and pressure needed for sprinklers, hose streams and fixed monitors available from public and/or private supplies? Is the duration adequate?

I emphasize pressure because the focus is often on the volume available at 20 psi. Twenty psi is ok for pumper suction but not for sprinkler systems. Techniques to conduct this analysis were discussed in the March/April 2005 and the May/June 2005 issue of this column.

Remember, even if the volume and pressure needed to meet the designed sprinkler demand is available, this demand must be adequate for the hazard that is actually present. Having the volume and pressure needed for a sprinkler system designed to protect a metal worker is not adequate if the facility has been converted to a tire warehouse.

Example: The refuse pit at a power plant that burns refuse in the boiler requires 2940 GPM @ 125 psi at the fire pump discharge for the sprinklers and to operate any two of the four monitor nozzles that surrounds the trash pit. The fire department agrees that this design is adequate for the hazard. An additional 750 GPM is desired for hose streams. The total demand is 3690 GPM @ 125 psi.

Private on-site firewater storage is 600,000 gallons, which will supply the demand nearly 2? hours. In this example, any two of the three on-site 2000 GPM pumps could supply the 3690 GPM @ 125 psi demand.

If the volume, pressure, and needed duration are not available, can they be supplemented? For example, a private supply may be adequate for the sprinklers by themselves but not with fire hose streams. Hose streams could possibly be supplied by the public water supply, tanker shuttle, or drafting from a static water source. Are the personnel and equipment needed to do this dispatched on the first alarm? How long will it take to set up and is this time frame acceptable? If the needed volume and pressure are not available and cannot be adequately supplemented, will it be safe to make an interior attack?

Note: If the volume and pressure needed for the sprinklers (without hose streams) is not available before the fire department can begin to supplement the system, it is very possible that the sprinklers will not be able to control the fire, especially in warehouse occupancies.

Example: For the above power plant, 2? hours is not a particularly long time to extinguish and overhaul a deep-seated trash fire. If the 750 GPM for the hose streams could by supplied by the city water, the private firewater supply would last nearly 3? hours. If the refuse pit was located 2000 feet from the nearest city hydrant, plans to relay the hose stream water 2000 feet should be in place. If the tanks have automatic refill from the city supply, the duration would be extended even more but the refill flow would need to be subtracted from the available city water flow.

2.) Is the public fire department going to use private hydrants? If so, how much water can be drawn from the private hydrants without robbing the sprinkler system? Is that enough? If not, how are they going to supply their hose streams?

Note: it is also possible to rob the sprinkler system by drawing too much water from the public water supply, especially one that is not well gridded.

Example: The furthest point of a large warehouse is 4000 feet from the nearest city hydrant. The warehouse is protected by an Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinkler system of adequate design for the hazard. There are two on-site water tanks and two properly arranged on-site pumps. Each pump and tank can supply the sprinklers plus 250 GPM for hose streams for two-hours. Properly designed ESFR sprinklers are expected to suppress a fire and hose streams are only expected to be needed for final extinguishment and overhaul. The fire department agrees that 250 GPM is an adequate hose stream allowance.

The fire department should decide in advance if it will use the private hydrants to supply the hose streams. In this example, it has already been established that the hose streams can be supplied without robbing the sprinkler system. If private hydrant and fire pump maintenance is in accordance with NFPA 25, "Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems" and considering that there is a backup pump and tank on site, the fire department might determine that it is acceptable to use the private hydrants. If the fire department has concerns about the reliability of the private hydrant water supply, plans to relay water from the city hydrant that is 4000 feet away should be made.

3.) If pumps are part of the private supply, is there someone available 24/7 who knows how to start them manually if they fail to start automatically? Can this person prevent the pumps from overheating and do they know how to take corrective action if they start to overheat. Is this person assigned to tend to the pumps throughout the incident and can they communicate by runner or radio with the incident commander? Is the pump room or pump house in a safe position relative to a potential fire?

Is there a plan in place to deal with the loss of a pump during a fire or an impairment before a fire? Some facilities have taken the extra measure of adding a drafting connection to the water tank and a fire department connection to the pump house so that a fire department pumper can take the place of the fixed fire pump. Is a pumper assigned to take up this position before it is needed or will there be a mad scramble to find an available engine company if the pump fails? If this extra measure has not been taken, how will a pump failure be dealt with?

If the pumps are electric motor driven, is there someone available 24/7 who knows how to shut off building power as desired by the incident commander without shutting off the power to the pump? Is the power supply exposed to a fire such that power to the pump could be lost during a fire? If it is, the power supply should be rerouted, but in the meantime, a plan to deal with the loss of the pump during a fire should be developed.

If there is more than one pump, are both needed to meet the sprinkler, hose, and monitor demand or is one for backup? Does the incident commander and facility management understand how a backup pump might be used if a fire occurred that was worse than the anticipated design fire?

More information on fire pumps can be found in the March/April 2004 issue of this column.

4.) Are procedures in place to properly handle impairments to a sprinkler system (See the Sept/October 2004 edition of this column) before, during, and after a fire? Is a procedure as to when sprinklers will be shut down clearly established? Does the person who will do this know where the valves are located? Is someone equipped with a radio assigned to standby to re-open the valve if needed?

5.) Is the fire department expecting to hook up to standpipes in the facility? Do they know that the small (1?") hose stations required in warehouses by NFPA 13, "Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems" are not required to meet the requirements of NFPA 14, "Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems"? These hose stations are there for first-aid firefighting and overhaul only. A local building code may require NFPA 14 compliant standpipes but my experience is that most hose stations in typical one-story factories and warehouses meet NFPA 13, but not NFPA 14 requirements. It is necessary to make this determination ahead of time and plan how hose streams will be supplied.

Firefighters should remember their training about using a hose line to find their way out of a building. It could be dangerous for a firefighter to follow a hose back to a hose station in the middle of the facility. The fire department may decide that it is better to stretch several hundred feet of hose from the engine so that firefighters can find their way back to the outside.

6.) Some fire departments have found (in the middle of a fire) that their hose threads are not compatible with the facility hydrant, hose outlet, and fire department connection threads. I was involved in a loss investigation about 10 years ago where a fire department could not connect their hoses to a warehouse hose outlet during a fire. The only way to know for sure is to actually try to hook your hoses to these devices during a pre-planning session.

7.) Is there a specific plan in place to supply the fire department connection? Details can be found in the Nov/Dec 2004 issue of this column and in NFPA 13E "Recommended Practice for Fire Department Operations in Properties Protected by Sprinkler and Standpipe Systems."

8.) Is a diagram with sprinkler and water supply information available? An insurance company property loss control diagram is a good source.

If you cannot answer all of these questions, your pre-plan is incomplete. If you don't know how to answer some of these questions, seek assistance from a fire protection engineer, sprinkler contractor, pump contractor, etc. You can also contact the author.

In Part 2, we will continue this discussion with incident command, ventilation and smoke management, fire doors, and other issues. It will also discuss how do deal with a situation where the fire department determines that they cannot safely make an interior fire attack but will instead take a defensive position and let the involved building burn. o

John Frank is the Loss Prevention Training Leader for GE Insurance Solutions, Property Insurance & Service Division. He can be reached at (770)569-7082 or at


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