Monday, July 16, 2018

On Sabbatical


An extended period of absence from a customary practice, taken in order to fulfill some goal, to rest, or acquire new skills and training.

I will be taking a short sabbatical from the blog,  I will be using this time away to vacation with family, pursue other interests, and lay out plans and goals for the rest of this year and next.  

Thank you for understanding.  Look forward to seeing you again soon.  

In the interim, here are the top ten posts people are reading right now:

Monday, July 9, 2018

Lead Like Churchill

The recent movies, Darkest Hour and Dunkirk, have served to re-introduce one of the world's most respected leaders, Sir Winston Churchill.  In a recent issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Meacham, outlines three defining principles of Churchill’s leadership. These are principles that we can apply to our own work, departments, and personal leadership.

Churchill quoted Aristotle who stated that courage is the most important virtue, for it guarantees all the others. It was his display of courage and indomitable spirit in the face of seeming defeat, that motivated the English people, and encouraged his allies to join him in the fight.

Churchill believed that leaders should always level with their followers. This allows them to see the world from the leader’s perspective.  The following quote about the British people, can be said of the people that we have a responsibility to lead, “There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”

Churchill knew that he would never be able to beat Hitler alone. He needed alliances. Having an ally is crucial, as without alliances things will begin to fall apart.  Not only should we seek alliances for our own ideas, organizations, and people but we must also be willing to ally with others in support of their ideas, organizations, and people. Churchill said, “ cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by it agonies and inspired by its causes.”

It is in the demonstration of these three principles that Sir Winston Churchill is remembered as a great leader. He was a man of broad vision, unquenchable courage, and unbreakable will - traits we could all use more of.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Why Your Company Level Inspection Program Is Failing [SPECIAL REPORT]

There are three primary reasons that a fire department’s company level inspection program may fail.
  1. Unmet expectations.
  2. Lack of support.
  3. Inadequate training.
Unmet expectations.
When I hear the term “company level inspection program”, I envision a program that exists to support fire prevention functions, specifically to assist in the completion of fire and life safety inspections. However, this is not the generally accepted definition. “Company level inspection program” is also the title given to programs that are intended to educate firefighters on a communities structures and properties, create fire pre-plans, and improve community relations and outreach. Each of these is a worthy endeavor, however, each of these possess very different goals and objectives, personnel training requirements, and crew time commitment.

If the expectation of the program is to support fire prevention and assist with inspections, then a training focus on fire and life safety codes, application, and enforcement would need to be delivered.  These inspections require a larger time commitment and more thorough walk-through of a property. If personnel are examining a structure for code deficiencies, it is difficult to also be thinking about or creating the fire incident pre-plan.   

Pre-incident planning is typically a more general overview of a property, its access, protection features, and operational hazards. Firefighters are trained, or conditioned, from the academy days on items to look for.  They are already thinking about what actions they may take in a given fire scenario at a property. The only additional training that may be needed is that related to fire protection systems, special hazards, or documentation.

Firefighter awareness or community relations and outreach, could simply be showing up to a facility, meeting the key personnel, and touring the property. This level of involvement would require no training, time commitment could be as long or short as the company officer deems appropriate, and could require little to no documentation.

Lack of support.
Company level inspection programs that lack support of the community leadership and fire department administration are doomed to failure.  There has been more than one ambitious fire marshal who has set out to institute a program that has been widely accepted by line level personnel, but has failed. A successful program takes more than ambition by personnel, and vocal encouragement from leadership.  A successful company level inspection program will require real support by means of time, resources, and perhaps operational changes.

The most effective company level inspection programs are owned by departments that have a culture of fire prevention. Fire prevention, life safety, community risk reduction are made a priority from the top leadership all the way down through the organization. Without this culture of fire prevention the company level inspection program may struggle. Initially, time and efforts may be best spent on building a department with a cultural foundation of fire prevention and life safety.

Inadequate training.
The survey results revealed a wide range of training applications, methods, and length. On-the-job training and in-house programs were the top training methods for company level inspection programs. As a component of a training program on-the-job training (OJT) is a great idea. However, to be effective the OJT must be formulaic and structured. Often times, when fire departments refer to “OJT”, what they are actually talking about is experiential or legacy knowledge.  This is training where the twenty year veteran tells the younger department member how he does things or how things have always been done. There are multiple obvious problems with this. Different people have different perspectives and passions, and will share knowledge accordingly, additionally the information presented or methods used may be incorrect or obsolete. This level of “OJT” can result in lack of uniform training, or neglect of correct knowledge and best practice engagement.

Like OJT, in-house training should be an essential component of company level inspection program. The issue with this is that it varies from “house” to “house”. Survey results show that the time allotted to “in-house” training programs varied from 1, 4, 6, 8, 12 hours to half-,full-, or multi- day programs.  To be effective, in-house training programs must be structured and standardized based on departmental needs and objectives.

Training requirements go hand-in-hand with the two topics mentioned above, expectations and support. The goals and expectations of the company level inspection program must be clearly defined so that a proper training program can be created and implemented.  A single, initial training is not enough, on-going and continuing education and work review is necessary. Additionally, company personnel must have support from more knowledgeable and certified fire prevention and inspection personnel.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Top Posts of All Time

Today we celebrate 500 posts on! Started in 2009 as a project to educate other fire inspectors and fire prevention personnel, this site now gets 15,000 views per month (plus, many more on LinkedIn and Medium) with an email list of almost 4,000 subscribers. 

Thank you for supporting The Code Coach, through your reading and valuable input!

Top 10 Posts of All Time

  1. Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems
  2. Eating Your Own Cooking
  3. Building a Kiosk
  4. How to Conduct NFPA 80 Inspections
  6. Fire Sprinkler Design Guide [for AHJ's]
  7. Overwhelmed Fire Inspectors
  8. When Is A Fire Watch Required?
  9. The FPO Effectiveness Tool
  10. NFPA, IBC, and ISO Construction Classifications, in Comparison

Monday, June 18, 2018

Don't Leave It In Vegas - NFPA Conference & Expo 2018

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”,  may be a great slogan for your evening activities, but not for the content of the 2018 annual NFPA Conference and Expo. Every attendee receives valuable knowledge, tools, and resources that they should bring back to their respective fire departments and organizations. Educational sessions, vendors, and networking opportunities abound for all functions and components of fire protection and life safety:
  • Healthcare
  • Fire Service
  • Emergency Management
  • Fire Protection Engineering
  • Fire Protection and Alarm Systems
  • Facilities Management

General sessions featured two speakers that focused on the theme of future innovations. Futurist, Jim Carroll, provided a broad overview of the future of technology, and how that future is already here. He challenged attendees to stay attuned to the world around us and strive for continuous growth and development with the quote, “The future belongs to those who are fast.”

Keller Rinaudo inspired the audience with the accomplishments of his company, Zipline. Zipline is utilizing “futuristic” drone technology to bring life saving medical supplies to the most remote parts of the world. The company is currently in the process of opening its second distribution center which will provide the entire country of Rwanda with readily available blood and medicines.

NFPA President, Jim Pauley, introduced the “fire and life safety ecosystem” concept. The ecosystem is eight elements that must work in harmony to protect people and property. Pauley stated, “We have forgotten that safety is a system – not a singular action, piece of equipment, or event.”

My particular interests led me to presentations on pre-incident planning, human factors and behaviors, risk and resilience, media relations, and training and development.  Two of the most impressive presentations were case studies, one from Uber and the other from Carvana.

In “The eVTOL Revolutions: How the Next Generation of Air Travel Will Impact Fire and Life Safety”, representatives from Uber presented the next phase in their growth strategy and its impact on the fire and life safety industry. Celina Mikolajczak, Director of Engineering, painted a picture of the what Uber plans to do with electric VTOL travel and transportation. Rex Alexander, Head of Aviation Infrastructure, discussed the impact that this new form of public transportation would have on codes, standards, and FAA regulations.

Carvana, the online-only used car dealer, created the innovative concept of the car vending machine.  Their presentation, “Carvana: Performance-Based Design of an Automated Vehicle Storage and Retrieval System” demonstrated how they were able to implement the performance-based design process to create a product that would garner acceptance from a variety of local officials and regulatory agencies.  

The NFPA Conference & Expo is one of the world’s biggest and most comprehensive fire, electrical, and life safety events. It's an opportunity to gain valuable insights, meet with industry experts and learn about new products and solutions.  With 110 knowledge enhancing presentations, several hundred vendors exhibiting in the expo hall, and more than 1,000 attendees to network with, the NFPA Conference and Expo should be the primary event on the fire and life safety professional’s calendar.  

Handouts of the all presentations are available for download from,

Featured New Developments:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Inspectores de Bomberos abrumados

Fuente: Oakland Post  - San Pablo Apartment Fire

El Bay Area News Group publicó recientemente un artículo titulado, “Quemado: Cómo los abrumados inspectores de bomberos nos protegen. Este es un informe de investigación que detalla cómo los departamentos de bomberos del área de la bahía de California no están logrando los requerimientos anuales de inspección de incendios. Este artículo muestra las deficiencias de los organismos de prevención de incendios y pide respuestas a los oficiales de bomberos locales.

Los autores del artículo analizaron las estadísticas de un período de ocho años y muestran
que las inspecciones anuales requeridas en las escuelas K-12 (nota del traductor: desde
Kinder hasta grado 12) y en las propiedades residenciales multifamiliares no se llevan a cabo. Varios departamentos de bomberos admiten que ni siquiera saben dónde están estas propiedades o cuántas existen en su jurisdicción. Estas brechas en las inspecciones se atribuyen a los bajos niveles del personal y a los inadecuados sistemas de recopilación de datos. Estos dos elementos críticos conducen fácilmente a "departamentos de bomberos abrumados y a menudo desorganizados". Un Fire Marshal (Inspector de Bomberos)  afirma que los hallazgos en este informe de investigación revelan "una falla sistemática de los programas de inspección en su departamento y en otros".

Este es un artículo importante para que todos los inspectores de incendios lean: →

El libro “Fire Prevention Blueprint: Seven Disciplines for Building Effective
Fire Prevention Organizations”, (disponible en, aborda estos problemas y proporciona siete disciplinas que los departamentos de prevención y seguridad de los cuerpos de bomberos deben implementar para lograr un rendimiento eficaz y eficiente.

Las siete disciplinas descritas en el Fire Prevention Blueprint, están estructuradas para
ayudar a los departamentos de bomberos a evitar el abatimiento y crear un camino claro
de acción para sus organizaciones en la prevención de incendios.

Disciplina # 1: Conocer a la comunidad.
Disciplina # 2: Tener un plan.
Disciplina # 3: Hacer cumplir los códigos (normatividad).
Disciplina # 4: Realizar revisión del plan e inspecciones de campo.
Disciplina # 5: Investigar incidentes de fuego.
Disciplina # 6: Educar al público.
Disciplina # 7: Tener el personal adecuado.

Puede utilizar nuestra herramienta "FPO Effectiveness Tool"
para evaluar dónde se encuentra su institución y qué áreas deben mejorarse para lograr la
máxima efectividad.

Autor:  Aaron Johnson
Traducido por:  Fernando Castillo, Colombia

Monday, June 11, 2018

Overwhelmed Fire Inspectors

San Pablo Apartment Fire - Oakland Post
The Bay Area News Group recently published an article entitled, “Burned Out: How Overwhelmed Fire Inspectors Fail to Protect Us.”  This is an investigative report that details how California’s Bay Area fire departments are not achieving annual fire inspection requirements.  This article shows the deficiencies of the fire prevention organizations and calls for answers from the local fire officials.

The article’s authors looked at statistics over an eight year period, and show that annual required inspections in K-12 schools and multi-family residential properties are failing to be conducted. Several departments admit to not even knowing where these properties are or how many exist in their jurisdiction.  These inspection gaps are blamed on low staffing levels, and inadequate data collection systems. These two critical elements easily lead to “overwhelmed and often disorganized fire departments”. One Fire Marshal states that the findings in this investigative report reveal “a systematic failure of inspection programs in his and other departments”.

This is an important article for all fire inspectors to read →

Fire Prevention Blueprint: Seven Disciplines for Building Effective Fire Prevention Organizations addresses these issues and provides seven disciplines fire prevention organizations need to implement for effective and efficient performance.

The seven disciplines outlined in the Fire Prevention Blueprint are structured to help fire departments prevent overwhelm and create a clear path of action for their fire prevention organizations.

Discipline #1: Know the community.
Discipline #2:  Have a plan.
Discipline #3:  Enforce the code.
Discipline #4: Conduct plan review and field inspections.
Discipline #5:  Investigate fire incidents.
Discipline #6:  Educate the public.
Discipline #7:  Be adequately staffed.

You can utilize our "FPO Effectiveness Tool" to assess where your organization is, and what areas need to be improved on to achieve maximum effectiveness.

More about the Fire Prevention Blueprint:

Monday, June 4, 2018

When Is A Fire Watch Required

The Fire Code (NFPA 1) provides the authority to require standby and firewatch personnel to the AHJ.  Standby and fire watch personnel can be required “when potentially hazardous conditions or a reduction in a life safety feature exist”. Section 1.7.17 provides an exemplary list of situations in which this may occur, and clearly states the cost of these personnel is not to be incurred by the AHJ.

Though this section provides the blanket statement allowing AHJ’s to require a standby or firewatch personnel there are eight situations  within the fire code where the requirement for a standby or firewatch is expressly stated.

  • Special outdoor events, carnivals and fairs. Section 10.14.4 states, “where required by the AHJ, standby fire personnel shall be provided…”
  • As part of a fire protection system impairment plan, for systems that will be out-of-service for more than 10 hours within a 24-hour period, a fire watch is one of the options that can be required to adjust for the increased fire risk. []
  • Facilities with impaired or chronic nuisance prone fire alarm systems. Chronic nuisance alarms are defined as those that produce “5 or more nuisance alarms within a 365-day period”. []
  • During building demolition operations and at hazardous demolition sites. [16.5.4]. Section 16.2.2 requires construction sites utilizing trash chutes to submit a safety plan to the AHJ. A component of this safety plan is fire watch personnel.  This can be found in the Annex, and refers the reader to NFPA 241.
  • Fire watch and standby personnel can be required in any assembly occupancy []. The annex section provides guidance as to what specific types of assembly occupancies a fire watch may want to be implemented, “such locations would include...the spaces underneath grandstands and the areas inside and outside tents and air-supported structures”. [25.1.8]
  • Soundstages and motion picture production facilities when pyrotechnics are being used or during other hazardous operations and activities require firewatch and standby personnel. [32.4.4/32.5.4]
  • For storage occupancies, section states that a fire watch “shall” be required whenever the sprinkler system is out-of-service. Additionally, anytime hot work (cutting, welding, soldering, brazing, etc) is being conducted, a fire watch must be in place. []
  • A fire watch is required during hot work operations in which combustible materials, or wall openings are within 35 feet of the work area, or if the material is greater than 35 feet but easily ignited by sparks. [41.3.5]
The following list represents a compilation of fire watch personnel responsibilities and requirements.  These are listed throughout the various code areas and annex sections.

Fire watch personnel shall:

  • Be properly trained on their specific duties and responsibilities
  • Be equipped with fire extinguishers or extinguishing equipment
  • Have emergency services and fire department notification capabilities
  • Be assigned no other duties, fire watch only
  • Continuously patrol the affected area
  • Remain on-site throughout duration of the work and up to 2 hours upon completion of work
  • Detect and document the presence, or lack of, fire
  • Confirm other systems and egress are functioning properly
  • Prevent accumulation of flammable materials
  • Maintain work area in fire-safe condition
  • Possess authority to stop work if unsafe

Orr Protection has created a great toolkit for conducting a fire watch. This free download includes, standard fire watch rules and patrol patterns, a fire watch log, and a complete checklist for personnel and responsibilities.

Access the Orr Protection Fire Watch Toolkit here -->

Monday, May 28, 2018

NFPA, IBC, and ISO Construction Classifications, in Comparison

Building construction classifications are determined based on the buildings structural elements and the fire-resistance rating of those elements.  These elements include, structural framing, exterior and interior bearing walls, and floor and roof construction and their supporting features.

There are three governing “bodies” that provide building construction classifications.  Each group provides a different classification designation, however, they all contain the same construction elements and fire-resistance ratings of materials. These three organizations are:
The National Fire Protection Association defines each construction type and classification in NFPA 220, Standard on Types of Building Construction. The International Building Code defines these construction types and classifications in Chapter 6, Types of Construction. The Insurance Services Office defines these construction types and classification in its Construction Briefs page on its website.

The chart below shows a side-by-side comparison of all three construction type classifications.

Type I and II - Fire Resistive, Noncombustible

NFPA: “...those types in which the fire walls, structural elements, walls, arches, floors, and roofs are of approved noncombustible or limited combustible materials.”

IBC: “...those types of construction in which the building elements...are of noncombustible materials.”

ISO Class 6 (Fire Resistive): “The exterior bearing walls and load-bearing portions of exterior walls must be of noncombustible materials or of masonry, but exterior nonbearing walls and wall panels may be slow burning, combustible, or with no fire-resistance rating.”

ISO Class 5 (Modified Fire Resistive): “...Building construction consists of fire resistive materials such as masonry and protected steel materials not less than 4” thick.”

ISO Class 4 (Masonry Noncombustible): “...Buildings with walls made of masonry, consisting of concrete block, reinforced masonry and can be combined with steel framing..”

ISO Class 3 (Noncombustible): “...Buildings with exterior walls, floors and roofs of noncombustible or slow-burning materials.”

Type III - Ordinary

NFPA: “... that type in which exterior walls and structural elements that are portions of exterior walls are of approved noncombustible or limited-combustible walls, interior structural elements, walls, arches, floors, and roofs are entirely or partially of wood…”

IBC: “...that type of construction in which the exterior walls are of noncombustible materials and the interior building elements are of any material permitted by this code.”

ISO Class 2 (Joisted Masonry): “...Buildings with exterior walls of masonry or fire-resistive construction rated for not less than one hour and with combustible floors and roofs.”

Type IV - Heavy Timber

NFPA: “...that type in which fire walls, exterior walls, and interior bearing walls and structural elements that are portions of such walls are of approved noncombustible or limited combustible materials...other interior structural elements...shall be of solid or laminated wood without concealed spaces…with the allowable dimensions of [this code]...”

IBC: “...that type of construction in which the exterior walls are of noncombustible materials and the interior building elements are of solid or laminated wood without concealed spaces.”

Type V - Wood Frame

NFPA: “...that type in which structural elements, walls, arches, floors, and roofs are entirely or partially of wood…”

IBC: “...that type of construction in which the structural elements, exterior walls and interior walls are of any materials permitted by this code.”

ISO Class 1 (Frame): “...Buildings with exterior walls, floors and roofs of combustible material.”