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.


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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Creating a Work Plan (Part 5)

This is Part 5 of a 6 part series collectively titled, McKinsey Method for Fire Protection Solutions. As you read keep in mind that these systems and processes can be applied to  fire protection organization and leadership, and to physical fire protection systems and components.

If it can’t be put on paper, then it lacks clarity. In Part 2 of this series, How to Analyze Fire Protection Problems,  a  four part process for analyzing problems was outlined. The work plan is the tool used to define and specify the desired outcomes of the identified problem analysis. The work plan lists all the issues that were framed in initial hypothesis. The work plan then provides a pathway to address these issues.  For each issue the work plan chart will show:

  • Statement of the issue or hypothesis.
  • Prioritized list of analysis to be completed to prove/disprove hypothesis.
  • Data and sources needed to perform the analysis.
  • Description of the end product of the analysis (or item produced to show analysis data).
  • Team member responsible for the end product.
  • Due date for the end product

Write down the hypothesis to be analyzed.  Under this list all issues or sub-issues that need to be addressed.  Across from each issue, describe the analysis that will need to be performed. In the next column list the data and data sources that will be needed to conduct a thorough analysis.  Next, describe the end product. What will need to be produced to compile the data and demonstrate the validity of the analysis?  Assign each of these issues and analyses to a team member, and give them a deadline for the final product.

We have created a spreadsheet for you to utilize. Click the image to access.

Work Plan Spreadsheet

Monday, July 10, 2017

Are you prepared for an NFPA 1403 burn?

The best part of the fire academy is ‘live burn day’. All the recruits are taken out to a home in the community, it is prepped for burning, and then ignited.  This allows for a realistic firefighting scenario. However, one cannot just get a house and burn it.  There are many steps and much documentation to be completed to ensure that these burns are conducted legally and in a safe manner.  NFPA 1403 is the standard for live burns, and outlines the requirements for the use of live fire in acquired structures.  Though these provide great opportunities for training, a considerable amount of work must be done ahead of time. This post provides a brief overview of the documentation, personnel, site prep, and burn day requirements. This is not exhaustive and should only be used as a guide. NFPA 1403 should be consulted prior to any live fire training.

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  • Contracts for outside instructors, building preparation personnel, or general contractors.
  • Students to be certified to FF1 level.
  • PPE/Gear to be in good condition, documentation of inspection.
  • Pre-burn plan - to include evacuation plan, water supply calculations, and fuel load calculations.
  • Jurisdictional permits required.
  • Ownership determination, release, and property transfer.
    • Clear title
    • Written permission to burn
    • Anticipated condition of structure at end of burn
    • Method of property return to owner
    • Proof of insurance cancellation/statement
  • Post-training critique and final report.

  • Minimum of (7) certified live fire training instructors.
    • Instructor-in-charge (IIC)
    • Safety Officer
    • (1) instructor per functional crew
    • (1) instructor per backup line
    • (1) instructor per functional assignment
    • (1) ignition officer - fire control team
    • (1) ignition observer/assistant - fire control team
  • Pump operator(s).
  • Rehab area staffing.
  • BLS medical personnel and transport unit.
  • Rapid intervention crew/team.

Site Prep
  • Determine suitability of building for live fire training use.
  • Prepare building for burning (make repairs, cover holes, remove hazards, etc.).
  • Protect or remove adjacent properties.
  • Hazard mitigation.
    • Clean-up
    • Removal/disposal
    • Repairs
    • Asbestos removal
    • Vegetation/vermin abatement
  • Utilities to be disconnected (to the burn structure) and removed or protected (adjacent structures).
  • Run-off containment.

 Burn Day
  • Accountability (PAR) system in place and managed.
  • Weather observed to ensure safe conditions.
  • Rehab station and supplies established.
  • Communications and radios provided.
  • Evacuation plan and signal demonstrated.
  • BLS medical transport unit on-site.
  • Adequate and reliable water supply available.
    • Calculate needed supply (NFPA 1142)
    • Ensure reliability of primary/backup lines (95 gpm)
    • Ensure adequate minimum water reserve
    • Ensure clear space around structure for operation of hose lines
  • Fuel materials available.
    • Amount and type (wood-only)
    • Documentation/calculation of fuel loading
    • Removal of additional potential ignition sources and unidentified materials
  • Parking and staging areas designated.
    • Apparatus used for training
    • Parking for spectators/press
    • Designate ingress/egress routes
  • Brief the pre-burn plan.
  • Maintain the following records:
    • Accounting of all activities conducted
    • List of instructors/assignments
    • List of all participants
    • Documentation of unusual conditions encountered
    • Injuries incurred/treatment provided
    • Changes or deterioration to the structure
    • Documentation of condition of structure and surrounding area at end of training
  • Conduct a post-training critique.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

How to Fail the NFPA 285 Test

The June 14 fire at London’s Grenfell Tower apartment complex burned through 24 floors and claimed seventy-nine lives. The rapid spread and magnitude of this incident can be attributed to the combustible cladding used in the exterior construction of the tower.

The implementation and adoption of NFPA 285, Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation ofthe Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Non-Load-Bearing Wall AssembliesContaining Combustible Components, has largely prevented these fire incidents from occurring in the United States. This standard outlines the requirements and test procedures to determine if a given wall assembly could support a self-accelerating or self-spreading fire up an exterior wall, or spread fire to interior floors above the fire floor.

Any materials intended for use as an exterior wall assembly must pass the NFPA 285 test. The assembly will be considered to have failed if:

  1. A temperature greater than 1,000°F at 10’ or higher above the top of the window opening, as measured by thermocouples mounted on the surface of the test specimen.
  2. Flames visually observed on the exterior face of the specimen at 10’ of higher above the top of the window opening.
  3. Flames visually observed on the exterior face of the specimen at 5’ or further from the centerline of the window opening.
  4. Temperature rise greater than 750°F within any combustible wall components more than ¼” thick.
  5. Temperatures greater than 1000°F within any wall cavity air space.
  6. Temperature rise greater than 500°F in the second story room, measured 1” from the interior surface of the wall assembly.
  7. Flames visually observed within the second-story test room.

By examining exterior wall fires around the world, understanding the history and development of NFPA 285, and reviewing the test method, Building Exterior Wall Assembly Flammability: Have We Forgotten the Past 40 Years?, demonstrates how the continued use and enforcement of NFPA 285 is essential in preserving a fire safe America.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why is London Burning?

In the early hours of Wednesday, June 14, 2017, forty fire engines and 200 firefighters responded to a fire in Grenfell Tower.  The fire started on the fourth floor of the apartment complex, and within fifteen minutes had scaled the exterior of the structure burning through the building’s 24 floors.  As of this writing, the death toll has reached seventy-nine with others still unaccounted for.

The rapid spread and magnitude of this incident can be attributed to the combustible cladding used in the exterior construction of the tower. The void space between the aluminum panels and building fabric can create a “chimney effect” allowing fire to rapidly move up the side of a structure.

Within the last year, UK fire officials and experts, issued a report warning of the dangers of buildings being wrapped with combustible materials. The report noted an increase in the use of these combustible materials due to the desire for increased building efficiency, improved thermal effectiveness, and a more aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Why is this type and magnitude of fire destruction not happening in the United States? Many years past, the fire engineering community noticed a trend in the increased use of combustible components in exterior construction.  Predicting the fire and life safety issues that this use of construction would present, research was conducted and a test method was developed, NFPA 285, StandardFire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of ExteriorNon-Load-Bearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components. This standard outlines the requirements and test procedures to determine if a given wall assembly could support a self-accelerating or self-spreading fire up an exterior wall, or spread fire to interior floors above the fire floor.  Through application and enforcement of this standard, America has been spared the costs and loss of these specific fire incidents.

The future prevention of these incidents, however, seems uncertain.  “Green building” and energy conservation interests have been pushing for reductions to, or elimination of, NFPA 285 testing requirements. The goal of these efforts is to allow “unfettered latitude in the use of plastics in exterior walls”.  Attempts to modify these fire safety requirements in the model codes have been unsuccessful. In Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Indiana, and Minnesota NFPA 285 testing requirements have been successfully eliminated or reduced, however, through the local code adoption process.

By examining exterior wall fires around the world, understanding the history and development of NFPA 285, and reviewing the test method, Building Exterior Wall Assembly Flammability: Have We Forgotten the Past 40 Years?, demonstrates how the continued use and enforcement of NFPA 285 is essential in preserving a fire safe America.

Monday, June 19, 2017

7 Response Objectives for Fire Departments

Fire on a rainy day, by Canadian Pacific

The purpose of NFPA 1710 is to provide minimum criteria to address “the effectiveness and efficiency of career” fire department personnel and operations.  This standard outlines seven objectives that fire departments must meet.  Stations, staffing, and systems, of the department should be organized appropriately and work together to meet these objectives.

  1. Alarm handling time.
  2. Turnout time.
  3. First unit on-scene time.
  4. Time to full alarm assignment deployment.
  5. Travel to full alarm assignment deployment at high-rise incidents.
  6. Time for AED on-scene.
  7. Time to arrival of ALS unit.

Alarm handling time. At least ninety-five percent of alarms must be answered within 15 seconds, and no more than 40 seconds for ninety-nine percent of alarms.  Alarm answering time is the length of time from the alarm being received at the communications center to the time that it is acknowledged.

Turnout time. Eighty seconds for fire and special operations, and sixty seconds for EMS. Turnout time is the time between  when the fire station receives an alarm and units go ‘en-route’, begin traveling to the scene.

First unit on-scene time. The first engine shall arrive at a fire scene within 4 minutes.

Time to full alarm assignment deployment. A full alarm assignment is to be deployed on the fire scene within 8 minutes.

Time to full alarm assignment at high-rise incidents.  A full alarm assignment is to be deployed on a high-rise fire scene within 10 minutes (610 seconds).

Time for AED on-scene. A first responder with AED (automatic external defibrillator) shall be on-scene at any emergency medical incident within 4 minutes.

Time to arrival of ALS unit. For departments that provide advanced life support (ALS) services, an ALS unit is to be on-scene at all emergency medical incidents within 8 minutes.

Additional Resources