Article Archive
Intervene or leave it alone
Volume 24, No. 6

At recent loss prevention meetings in both the United States and the United Kingdom the issue of public fire department (brigade) intervention at industrial properties was raised. There is growing awareness that a public fire department may not perform offensive1 operations at industrial properties if everyone has made it out of the building and has been accounted for. There have been numerous reports of chief officers who stated something to the effect of “if everyone is out, we are not going in” meaning they will assume a defensive2 posture. This is driven by safety concerns, a new emphasis on fire service risk management, and actual firefighter injuries and fatalities.

While there are certainly circumstances where the risk to firefighters is too great to conduct offensive operations, when properly designed and functioning fire protection systems are installed, the incident commander may decide that offensive operations to save property could be undertaken. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program States in A.8.3.2:

“When considering risk management, fire departments should consider the following Rules of Engagement after evaluating the survival profile of any victims in the involved compartment:

  1. We will risk our lives a lot, in a calculated manner, to save SAVABLE LIVES.
  2. We will risk our lives a LITTLE, in a calculated manner, to save SAVABLE property.
  3. We WILL NOT risk our lives at all for a building or lives that are already lost.”

From my perspective, the first and third items are relatively obvious. It is the second item that seems to generate the most discussion as to what is savable. A primary purpose of this series

of articles, since inception, has been to help facility managers and fire departments to analyze their risks during thorough prefire planning.

The basic message to facility operators is to make every effort to invite the fire department to conduct a technical pre-plan. This way they will know what to expect and whether or not the

situations they will likely face involve savable property (as in a fire well controlled by sprinklers) or if the building will likely be lost — which might be the case where sprinkler systems are not

properly engineered for the hazards present. The key is that this should be a technical tour, not a “gee whiz” tour where the fire service marvels at the process but is given little understanding

of the technical design of the fire protection systems. It may be necessary to engage a fire protection engineer to help explain the technical basis for the fire protection design and what to expect for various scenarios.

Likewise, the fire department should make every effort to conduct these tours and to ask facility operators to host them. In future articles, we will outline expectations for various occupancies and situations. Emphasis will be placed on what actions various NFPA standards anticipate that the fire department will take. Recent loss experience indicates that sometimes there is a disconnect between what the fire protection designers expect the fire department to do and what they are actually able or willing to do. It is essential that these gaps be closed before the incident


Feel free to contact this author at or at (404) 431-2673.

1 Per NFPA 1500 Offensive Operations. Actions generally performed in the interior of involved structures that involve a direct attack on a fire to directly control and extinguish the fire.

2 Per NFPA 1500 Defensive Operations. Actions that are intended to control a fire by limiting its spread to a defined area, avoiding the commitment of personnel and equipment to dangerous areas.

John Frank, P.E., CFPS is with XL GAPS, a leading loss prevention services provider and a member of the XL Capital group. “XL Insurance” is the global brand used by member insurers of the XL Capital Ltd (NYSE: XL) group of companies. More information about XL Insurance and its products is available at


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

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