Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Will the fire department intervene?
Vol. 25 Fall

As we stated at the beginning of this series last year, there is growing awareness that a public fire department may not perform offensive(1) 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 defensive(2) posture. This is driven by safety concerns, a new emphasis on fire service risk management, and actual firefighter injuries and fatalities. 

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.”

We stated that the second item seems to generate the most discussion as to what is savable. A primary purpose of this series of articles, since inception many years ago, has been to help facility managers and fire departments analyze their risks  thorough pre-fire planning.

The basic message to facility operators is to make every effort to invite the fire department to conduct a technical pre-plan. The key is that this should be a technical tour, not a “gee whiz” tour. Likewise, the fire department should make every effort to conduct these tours and to ask facility operators to host them.

We started the discussion with warehouses because most industrial facilities have them and because there is less variance than with industrial processes. We built on this to discuss more hazardous warehouses that store flammable liquids and may incorporate foam systems. In the last issue, we discussed freezer warehouses which introduce a process type hazard with the associated anhydrous ammonia refrigeration systems. All of these basic issues can be used as a general framework for evaluating industrial hazards.

It is impractical to cover every type of industrial hazard you will face. Facility management and their responding fire departments should educate themselves on the fire hazards of their operations. The following sources with representative3 topics are recommended:

• NFPA Standards available from

   - NFPA 36, Standard for Solvent Extraction Plants

   - NFPA 850, Recommended Practice for Fire Protection for                               Electric Generating Plants and High Voltage Direct                                  Current Converter Stations


• GAPS Guidelines available from

   - GAPS 9.5.1 Heating in Plastic and Plastic Lined Tanks

   - GAPS 17.4.2 Steel Rolling Mills


 • FM Global Data Sheets available from

         - Data Sheet 7-12 Mining and Ore Processing Facilities

         -  Data Sheet 7-36 Pharmaceutical Operations


• The textbook Industrial Firefighting for Municipal                                    Firefighters available from 

-   Recycling Facilities

-   Automotive Manufacturing


The book specifically addresses fire fighting tactics. The other sources not specifically directed at fire fighting operations, but valuable information can be gleaned from them; most importantly, what fire protection is recommended. Without the recommended protection, it might not be possible for the fire service to control the fire manually.

Fire protection in these facilities is more than just sprinklers. It also includes construction features, process protection such as explosion suppression and isolation systems, and a wide variety of process interlocks. If for example, a process interlock fails to shut down a major thermal oil leak, it might be impossible for the sprinkler system to control the massive flowing oil fire. 

Many industry organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute (API), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) publish their own fire protection guidelines.

Armed with this information, the local fire service should tour the facility with people familiar with the process. The fire service can then conduct a risk assessment and determine if they feel that they can operate in the facility in relative safety. If they cannot, then they may be able to suggest improvements that will reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

You may wish to use the services of a loss prevention consultant with fire fighting experience to coordinate and offer guided discussion during such a visit.  

Our experience has been that if the local fire service has an opportunity to thoroughly understand the hazards and has an opportunity to ask for improvements, they are much more willing to consider offensive action rather than assume a purely defensive posture. When a defensive posture is assumed from the outset, the frequent comment from the fire department is that they did not know what hazards they faced. If everyone was accounted for, they had no basis for assessing the risks of offensive action.

The purpose of this and all of our articles is to help the fire service conduct a risk analysis before hand. They will still need to validate the pre-assessment as the incident unfolds but they will have a good starting point.

Feel free to contact this author at or at +1 404-431-2673.                      


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.

3 These are only representative of the occupancies that are covered. Over 100 occupancies and hazards are addressed in these resources. Frequently, all of them address a given occupancy or hazard and all should be consulted to get a broad perspective on the hazards.


John Frank, P.E., CFPS is with XL Global Asset Protection Services, LLP (XL GAPS), a property loss prevention consulting firm and an XL Group company. The XL Group plc, through its operating subsidiaries, 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. More information about XL GAPS is available at and more information about XL Group plc is available at


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

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