Article Archive
Risk Assessment Sept/Oct 2008
Pre-planning Then and Now
Volume 23, No. 5

I recently had an opportunity to vacation on the Florida island where I served as a volunteer firefighter in the combination (part paid, part volunteer) department from 1982-1985. I was lucky enough to serve under company officers who believed in pre-planning and that helped spark the interest in this column - where pre-planning is a central focus. Now, 23 years after I left and armed with my experience as a fire protection engineer, I had a chance to reflect on pre-planning then and what more could have been done with more systems knowledge. The analogies apply to planning for all types of firefighting but more so to industrial operations.

Interestingly enough, the day I left for the vacation, I read a news story in one of the online fire magazines that continues to drive home the need for industrial pre-planning. It seems that a medium-sized municipal fire department was faced with a fire in a baled paper warehouse. As was to be expected, the tightly packed bales of paper posed a challenge. One of the chief officers stated that due to the difficulty of the fire, they had to come up with a plan on how to deal with the bales. The entire focus of this series is that a planning session should have been done well before the fire, not in the middle of it. The site was there, presumably for years, and unlike a highway hazmat incident, you can know what you can expect before you ever get the call.

Back to the island condominium. Some of the things that we did pre-plan were:

  1. How to deal with the fact that the aerial ladder could not access the beach side of the structure. We had 55-foot ground ladders and we were probably one of the last fire departments to carry and actually intend to use scaling ladders so we could go floor-to-floor as needed. We also carried short escape ropes -- just long enough to go the floor below if we got trapped on the beach side. We could also rappel down the beach side from the roof. One positive was that building codes limited construction to 75 feet high so the aerial could at least get to the roof from the front. At the time, there were two mutual aid ladder companies as well.

    This leads to another point with aerial operations. The outrigger spread on newer aerials is much wider than in the past. This is safer, but it takes more space to set them up. Looking at parking lot congestion, a longer aerial will probably be needed to get to those same roofs.

    Think about high rise industrial occupancies with similar congestion and limited access. What is your plan? Can the newer, longer, safer aerials even negotiate some of the turns or clear pipe racks?

  2. We were well versed in the construction features of the building. We used to walk through the condominiums, which were just being built at the time, every shift. We compared what we found to what Frank Brannigan had to say in Building Construction for the Fire Service and planned accordingly. Brannigan also covered industrial occupancies, especially warehouses, tilt-up concrete construction and combustible metal deck roofs. Anyone who fights structural fires should study his book. Brannigan does not cover process structures specifically, but he had a lot to say about steel construction that can be applied.
  3. Of course, we know where to find? the utility cutoffs, the fire alarm panel, the fire department connection, hydrants, flow available at 20 psi, pool chemicals and the like.
  4. We even found that a few unscrupulous contractors were just sticking sprinkler heads up with no pipe. This was before a full time fire marshal position was created, and had it not been for our daily construction walk throughs, we may have never found this situation.??

Now for what I know to look for now that I did not know then:

  1. I do not remember ever talking about the operation of the building fire pump. We knew the building had one and that was about it. The recent series of articles by Jeff Roberts describes in detail how to ensure that a building pump will reliably operate during the fire and how to keep it running in an emergency.

    In the case of the condominium, adequate flow and pressure could be delivered by our 1,000 gpm pumper through the fire department connection. But what about a petrochemical plant with a demand of 20,000 gpm at 125 psi; or even a warehouse with a sprinkler demand of 2,000 gpm at 135 psi and a 4-inch fire department connection? The facility pump(s) had better work in those cases.

  2. Even though we focused on construction, I think we missed the potential combustion hazards of Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems (EIFS) that were being installed everywhere. It looks like most condominiums on the island uses EIFS. This is often a combustible exterior finish that most industrial property insurance companies and property loss prevention companies recommend to pass a large scale fire test such as FM Approvals Corner Test or the test described by NFPA 285 Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Non-Load-Bearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components. Systems that have not passed such a test could present responders with an unexpectedly severe exterior fire.

    A recent hotel and casino fire in Las Vegas reportedly involved an EIFS, although some blogs speculate that it may have been something else. Although major industrial insurance companies look for this, I rarely -- if ever -- hear the fire service discussing its hazards.

    EIFS is not as common on industrial facilities as in commercial construction; however, in areas where industrial buildings are trying to blend into the community, it is more common because it looks nice. Unfortunately for the responder, it looks like trowel-finished masonry construction (which is the intent) so it is hard to notice.

  3. Although we were well aware of our hydrant flow at 20 psi, we really needed is to know the flow at the sprinkler system demand pressure. If the sprinkler system has a demand of 300 gpm at 125 psi, we need to know if that demand can be met with and without the pump and while supplying hose streams. In dealing with fire protection system hydraulics, both the flow and pressure must be known. Having class AA hydrants (1,500 gpm at 20 psi) is meaningless for system analysis. Saying we have "good" pressure (whatever "good" means) is also meaningless since the flow is not stated.

    What is needed is a statement like "the water spray system needs 3,000 gpm at 125 psi and we need an additional 2,000 gpm at 125 psi for monitors for a total of 5000 gpm @ 125 psi. Then, through flow- testing, if you know you can supply 6,000 gpm at 150 psi even with the largest pump out of service. Then you know something. You can satisfy system volume and pressure requirements and you have enough reserve to operate two more 500 gpm monitors if needed to.

  4. I don't recall discussing wind driven flames. The wind blows in from the beach side but the only platform for attack was the street side. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has recently done research in this area for high rise structure fires. Wind also has to be considered at industrial locations when planning attack points. An excellent example is the tank pre-plan published in Hildebrand and Noll's text Storage Tank Emergencies. Pads for monitor nozzle trailers were set up for prevailing wind conditions and an alternate attack point was also pre-planned.

This article will continue with a Part 2 in the next issue. Feel free to contact this author at or at +1 404-431 2673.

John Frank, P.E., CFPS is with XL GAPS, a leading loss prevention services provider and part of the XL group of companies.? Through its operating subsidiaries, XL Capital Ltd (NYSE: XL) is a leading provider of global insurance and reinsurance coverages to industrial, commercial and professional service firms, insurance companies, and other enterprises on a worldwide basis. As of September 30, 2007, XL Capital Ltd had consolidated assets of approximately $60.9 billion and consolidated shareholders' equity of approximately $11.4 billion. More information about XL Capital Ltd is available at



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