Monday, August 14, 2017

Knowledge Management for the Fire Service (Part 6)

Knowledge encompasses more than just data and information. Knowledge is the beneficial application of  a mix of information, experience, and context. Of knowledge there are two types, uncodified and codified. Uncodified knowledge resides in the heads of individuals, this knowledge becomes codified when it is shared through discussions or documentation.


Knowledge management is the term used to describe the systematic process by which this knowledge can be collected, accessed, and utilized in a way that adds value to the organization.  Knowledge management is taking advantage of what is known to maximize an organization’s value, or a department’s value to the community.


The consulting firm of McKinsey & Company is known for its dedication to learning and the value placed on knowledge management.  The fire service can benefit from applying these knowledge management principles from the Firm.


Don’t re-invent the wheel. Somebody, somewhere, has most likely experienced the same problem that you are experiencing.  They have already done the mental exercise of thinking through the problem, and performed the hard task of creating a solution. For practically any problem there is an abundance of reports, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or graphs that can assist in the solution implementation.  Search out these documents.  Additionally, there are people within our organizations who are experts at different things. They have different skills in the fire service - rescue, operations, tactics, prevention, command - and outside of the fire service that may be applicable to your problem.  Know your people, and utilize their strengths.


As various issues arise or occur, the solutions should be documented and made accessible. No doubt, many of these ‘problem-solution’ combinations are saved on multiple e-mail inboxes. A simple spreadsheet could be a good start in assembling this information.


Talk to your people, or review their resumes to see what other skills they have. As with the documentation, a simple spreadsheet of individual and skills can be created and searched when needed.


Develop a rapid response culture. When I started out in my public service career as a fire inspector, I was amazed at how easy it was to, “wow” people with my customer service. I didn’t do anything extra, all I did was return phone calls and e-mails, and follow-up on what I said I would. I thought this was normal human behavior.  I quickly learned, it was not.


It is very frustrating to be tasked with solving a problem when the people you need information from for the solution are  unresponsive. Implementing something similar to Mckinsey & Co.’s,  “24-hour response policy”  can quickly decrease the time and work it takes to reach a conclusion. Any inquiry, in person, by phone, or e-mail is required to receive a response within 24 hours.


Acquire external knowledge. Search out and use experts outside of your organization. As an AHJ or fire code official, you may not know every intricate detail of a specific fire alarm or suppression system.  However, those contractors that work with these day in and day out, are intimately familiar with their product. Use them. For pre-planning activities, involve the building managers, they know the structure and its processes better than anyone else. Maintain documentation on the information they provide, and add the individual to your database or spreadsheet of experts to consult.


Promote knowledge accumulation.  Knowledge management should be promoted from the top ranks all the way down. Incentivize rapid response and the support and development of others within the organization.  


At the completion of big projects or problems, bring the team together to summarize lessons learned, processes involved, and take aways for other operations. In the fire service we may utilize an AAR (after action review) to identify concerns and compile lessons learned after a fire incident.  When members return from conferences or training sessions, bring them together or put what they learned into a shared document, so the whole department can benefit from their experience.  When new buildings or new systems are introduced to the community, bring the building management, system contractors, and fire department personnel together to learn about the structure or system.  Maintain and distribute any related documentation.


This is the final post in the, McKinsey Method for Fire Protection Solutions, series. The goal of this series was to promote a consultative approach to solving fire protection problems.  In all the steps, and lessons learned, knowledge management plays a critical role. Knowledge management, “knowing what”and “knowing who”, is an essential skill for reaching effective and efficient solutions.




Monday, August 7, 2017

Big Water, Little Water - How To Determine Your Need


Ian Keating, "Fire Hose (Yellow & Orange)"

The basics of fire extinguishment come down to this, "big fire, big water; little fire, little water". But, how can you know what amount of water you will need?  The fire service stresses the importance of pre-planning. How can you pre-plan your water need?

A good tool for determining minimum water supply can be found in NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural FirefightingThis standard provides a simple formula than can be used to determine the minimum water supply that will be needed for a given structure on the fireground.

MWS = [(total volume of structure) / occupancy hazard)] x construction classification x 1.5 if exposure hazard

In short, the formula can look like this:

MWS = (TCF / OH) x (CC) x (EH)

Step 1. Determine total cubic feet of the structure (TCF).

This can be done by multiplying the length by the width, then adding the height of each floor plus 1/2 height to the ridgepole. 

TCF = (L x W) x (height of each floor + 1/2 distance to ridgepole)


Step 2. Determine the occupancy hazard classification number (OH).

The occupancy hazard classification should be based on the number and description as assigned in, NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Firefighting. 

3 - severe hazard occupancy
4 - high hazard occupancy
5 - moderate: combustibility of contents expected to develop moderate rate of heat and flame spread
6 - low: combustibility of contents expected to develop low rate of heat and flame spread
7 - light: combustibility of contents expected to develop light rate of heat and flame spread


Step 3. Determine the construction type classification number (CC).

The construction type classification should be based on the number and description as assigned in, NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Firefighting. 

0.5 - Type I construction
0.75 - Type II construction
1.0 - Type III construction
0.75 - Type IV construction
1.5 - Type V construction


Step 4. Determine if there are any exposures.

If exposures exist, the final step of the formula is to multiply by 1.5. However, the total MWS for buildings with exposures can never be less than 3,000 gallons.


Step 5. Complete the formula.

Plug the appropriate numbers into the correct spot on the formula. Work the simple math.  The number produced will indicate the minimum amount of water needed for extinguishment.

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Sample problem:

The dwelling has the following characteristics:

  • 20' x 20'
  • single story - 10'
  • pitched roof - 4' to ridgepole
  • wood frame construction
  • one exposure
(TCF / OH) x CC = MWS

20 x 20 x 12 = 4,800 cu.ft. (TCF)
     4800 / 7 (OH) = 685
          685 x 1.5 (CC) = 1,028
               1,028 x 1.5 (EH) = 1,542 gallons

The minimum water supply needed for this structure is 1,542 gallons. However, since there is an exposure a minimum of 3,000 gallons of water must be available.







Monday, July 31, 2017

Protecting Our Own - Fire Station Safety





The job of the fire department is to protect the community from the hazards and loss that a fire can bring.  However, we cannot effectively accomplish this goal if we do not take care of our own. The following standards have been developed for this purpose:

  • NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program
  • NFPA 1581, Standard on Fire Department Infection Control Program
  • NFPA 1582, Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments
  • NFPA 1583, Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members


The starting point for firefighter safety programs is NFPA 1500. This standard addresses safety issues, requirements, and responsibilities related to administration, professional development, apparatus, PPE, operations, medical and physical fitness, and behavioral health and wellness.


This standard also addresses concerns associated with fire department facility, fire station, safety. Section 9.2 requires all fire department facilities to be inspected at least annually, with a monthly walkthrough to address issues.  These inspections are to ensure compliance with the facility safety standard of NFPA 1500, chapter 9.  Model facility inspection programs consist of observance of OSHA standards, general housekeeping, egress, fire extinguishers, life safety, electrical issues, apparatus bay, and the building exterior. To assist in this inspection process we have created an inspection tool for you to download.




Monday, July 24, 2017

Engaging Firefighters in Community Risk Reduction


"Firefighters" Nicole Huber

The general goal of the fire prevention organization is to prevent the loss of life and property damage due to fire. Where NFPA 1730 provides guidance on what needs to be done to accomplish this goal, NFPA 1452 provides practical guidance on how this can be achieved.


The Guide for Training Fire Service Personnel to Conduct Community Risk Reduction, provides direction for fire departments to design and implement the community risk reduction plan.  A key component for effective risk reduction is face-to-face interaction with community members.  This can be achieved through public events, fire station visits, and, most effectively, home visits. Community risk reduction programs, and fire crews involvement in them, produces three distinct benefits.


Material distribution.


Home visits, interaction, and direct contact with the public can provide an excellent opportunity to distribute and discuss fire prevention, life safety, and emergency preparedness literature. With the abundance of documents and materials available, make sure that the selected items and literature are directly tied with the communities risk reduction plan and goals.  Fire department personnel should take advantage of these opportunities to to answer questions and create conversations that promote risk reduction initiatives.


Supports other programs.


Personal interactions and home visits improve the public perception of the fire department, and allow the promotion of additional fire protection and life safety programs. Based on the conditions or personnel observed, some programs that may be promoted include:
  • smoke alarm installation
  • CO detection and alarm installation
  • radon dangers and awareness
  • residential fire sprinklers
  • fire escape planning
  • Drowning prevention
  • senior citizen risks and fall prevention
  • Fire safety for children


Continuity of CRR programs.


Effective community risk reduction is an endless cycle of planning, implementation, and evaluation. Home visits and discussion with community members and groups can provide feedback on current programs, and data for future community needs.  As these programs gain traction and their effectiveness is tracked and demonstrated, community support for the department and CRR will be enhanced.