Safety through prevention

CarolinaFireJournal - By Shane Gibbs
By Shane Gibbs
01/23/2014 -

Each and every day departments nationwide respond to thousands of fire alarms and building fires in commercial structures. We continue to put ourselves in harms way to protect the public. But what are we, the fire service, doing to protect ourselves and our fellow firefighters? When we took an oath to protect our neighbors and our communities we also took an oath to protect fellow firefighters and ourselves.


I have always been an active advocate of fire prevention and life safety. Early in my career I learned that it is better to be proactive than reactive. Even a small amount of prevention can make an enormous impact! To this day I practice prevention in ever aspect of my professional life as well as my personal life. If we can stop bad things before they happen, or at a minimum weaken them, it is a win-win for everyone.

When you look at your department, ask how can I protect my fellow firefighters by using prevention? Two things should come to mind when you answer this question: life safety inspections and pre-incident planning. Over the years I have worked in departments that when these two tasks were mentioned during breakfast, everyone disappeared as if they were part of a magic show. The fact of having to go out and conduct these tasks is challenging for some departments. If we break these tasks down and see how important they are for our safety, it should be clear that the potential benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.

As firefighters we strive to be professional and ready at all times. We continually train, read publications to sharpen our skills and seek new ways to improve. Conducting inspections and pre-incident planning should be a part of our daily task of delivering safety through prevention.

As you continue to read I will break these two topics down and provide key points on why these tasks are so important, not only to firefighters, but to the building occupants as well.

Life Safety Inspections

Life safety inspections are essential to keeping firefighters safe and should be conducted once a year at a minimum. While there may be some differences, the basic inspection should be fairly standard and should touch on the safety features of the business.

The life safety inspection should start with a courtesy phone call to the business. This professional courtesy will ensure that the visit will not be an inconvenience to the business or occupant. This is also a good time to update any building owner/occupant information and create a relationship with this person. Having a good rapport with the owner/occupant is important in maintaining the annual life safety inspection and promoting your department within the business community.

Once you arrive for the life safety inspection, begin by conducting an outside assessment of the building noting the different type of construction and methods. Ask yourself, what hazards exist for my firefighters, building occupants or even myself? You will want to immediately address any life safety hazards. Once inside the building, the inside features and/or hazards can be addressed. It is also a good idea to bring a copy of the currently adopted codes with you, so that you may use them not only for reference, but to educate the owner/occupant as well.

Why are life safety inspections important to firefighter safety? By gaining routine access during non-emergency conditions, you and your crew can become familiar with the layout of the building, and also have information readily available during an emergency. Pick a building in your first due area and ask yourself, when was the last time I was in that building? For some it may be never! Get into these buildings, look at building features (including utilities), check all fire protection features and make sure that these systems are properly inspected and will work when needed. Gather any information that you can on all hazards associated with the building. While inspections may differ between departments, basic life safety features of the building should be addressed. This task will ensure that patrons and employees will be able to exit safely, in addition to keeping firefighters safer.

Pre-Incident Planning

Pre-incident planning is the second part of keeping firefighters safe through prevention. This task is more specific to the fire service community as compared to the inspection process. Having a preplan for a building is a must! Not having one is like driving with your eyes closed! You could rely on your fire ground training to mitigate the incident, but it would be much more beneficial to have the critical information that you need about a particular building at your fingertips.

Pre plans can differ between departments, but basic information is most common. Common information noted in a pre-incident plan can include but is not limited to: business name and address, owner/occupant information, chemical hazards, locations of utilities (including any hazards), and hydrant locations. The information can be specific to your department. Pre-incident planning can also streamline your operation by knowing early on what hazards exist and how to mitigate them.

No matter if you keep hard or electronic copies, this information must be available to all fire ground personnel for situational awareness purposes. Reviewing your departments pre-incident plans during training can also ensure that all officers and line personnel are familiar with the buildings in your first due area. At a minimum this should be done annually; twice a year is optimal. Being able to get a well-informed crew in quickly during the planning process will increase the safety of your crew and have a positive impact on operations.

In closing, I hope to have shed some light on the importance of these tasks. With firefighter safety always being on the forefront of our business, we as administrators, officers and line personnel must always be involved to ensure everyone’s safety. Be proactive throughout your career and promote safety in your department through prevention. By doing this, not only will you have made a difference in someone else’s life, but you may make the difference in your own.

Shane Gibbs is a first generation firefighter with 13 years of experience in emergency services. He resides in Upstate South Carolina with his wife Lori and two children, Blake and Lily. He holds an Associate Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University. He currently serves for the Oconee County Emergency Services as the Chief Fire Marshal. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 864-638-4220.
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