Developing Public Education Programs

Special thanks to Prevention Connection - Public Safety Task Force for their contributions to this post.

Do Something Big Public Fire and Life Safety Education.jpg

If we treated fire and life safety education like a business, we as a fire service would be miles ahead. Businesses stay in business by offering solutions to known problems, or to problems their customers might not even know they have. As a fire service, we are pushing ourselves out of the business by not providing solutions to a very real and well known problem, the fire problem! We all know it is there, but as a “business” not always do we deliver the best solutions to our “customer”. Let’s do something big and take appropriate measures to better serve and protect communities!

We can save time and money by tapping into readily available resources that meet the critical need and address the ‘fire problem’. We also have access to codes and standards like NFPA 1730, to help us develop our own cutting edge public education programs.

firefighters 396px x 505px.jpg

Our public education efforts should focus on programs that are interactive, engaging and provide maximum benefit to the community. Determining which programs provide the greatest value can be found by reviewing the data collected in the Community Risk Assessment (CRA). Interpreting the data and identifying the risks will focus your attention on the programs that are most needed. Here’s how it’s done:

1.  Collect the data.  Data can be collected from a variety of sources and should include local population and census information, socio-econcomic indicators, fire department run reports, and local or national trends. 

2.  Compare the data.  The collected data should then be analyzed to find trends and common, or frequently, occurring incidents.  These incidents can then be broken down by population data such as age group, socio-economic status, and geographical area of occurrence.

3.  Identify the risks.  The risks that the data shows will become the basis for your public education program.  Public education efforts should be designed to reduce or mitigate these community risks.

4.  Identify root causes.  The public education program should address the actual root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. To get to the root cause will require more in-depth analysis of the identified risks.

5.  Define goals and objectives.  The best objectives are S.M.A.R.T. objectives:
     S - specific
     M - measurable
     A - achievable
     R - realistic
     T - time-based

6.  Develop strategic partners. Reach out to other public and private organizations in the community.  They will have a shared interest in your program and may provide additional resources and/or funds.

7.  Develop the program. Create the public education programming, elements, and deliverables. Prior to spending a large amount of time creating a program from scratch, explore the many ready-made resources that are available.  Get the program started and out to the public, do not get stuck in a planning and preparing mode!

8.  Implement the program.  Deliver the program.  Don't worry about everything being perfect, just get your program to the audience that needs it.  You can always make changes and tweaks as the program grows.

9.  Evaluate the process and impact measures.  Your program should be regularly evaluated to ensure that you are reaching your target audience, and the message you want conveyed is being received. 

10.  Modify as needed.  Within a set time-frame the program should be reviewed to determine its impact.  If changes to the message, audience, or delivery are needed then make them. 

Burnaby BC elementary school kids dressing the scenes of the fully involved home safe system by Prevention Connection.jpg

With the many public education options available it is easy to go for the program that has the most funding, the best resources, or something the individual educator enjoys. Chasing programs can take much time, money, and resources spent on a program that still might not be solving the ‘fire problem’. Regardless, education cannot take the back seat anymore! NFPA 1730 is timely and fantastic for those of us needing to freshen up our pub ed efforts. These guidelines will help you get a new take to some of the existing curriculums, that you can build upon. Get these tools in your hand so you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Here are some terrific examples:

Public Education Resources by Target Audience

Preliminary Investigation of Fires

NFPA 1730 addresses the staffing needs and personnel requirements for fire prevention organizations conducting fire investigations.  This standard places a large emphasis on utilizing the responding units and company officer as a resource to conduct the preliminary investigation.  If a more in-depth investigation is needed or a crime has been committed then personnel assigned with this specific task can then be called.

NFPA 1730 refers the reader to the qualifications of NFPA 1021, Standard for Fire Officer Professional Qualifications which outlines the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for a company officer to conduct preliminary investigations for origin and cause.
  • Knowledge of arson methods, fire causes, fire behavior, and documentation of investigative procedures.
  • Know when to delay overhaul operations.
  • Ability to properly secure an incident scene.
  • Ability to recognize and protect potential evidence from damage and destruction.
With stretched budgets and minimal staffing, it may be best for departments to train and equip company officers (and even lower ranks) to conduct these investigations. Below are some resources that you may want to consider as you develop a department training program.

RESOURCES - Free on-line investigation training
Incendiary: The Willingham Case - video/documentary

Elements of Plan Review

For fire prevention organizations tasked with conducting plan reviews, NFPA 1730 lists 9 plan review elements. This post will examine each of these and provide links to additional resources.

1.  Fire Protection Environmental Impact (Feasibility Study). The feasibility study should examine such items as response times for fire/emergency services, communications capabilities,  hydrants availability, and water main requirements.  Any special considerations, and fire protection alternatives or equivalencies, should be documented and reviewed.
    Suggested resource: Fire Protection Approaches in Site Plan Review 

2.  Water Supply and Fire Flow. These should be conducted to ensure that the available water supply requirements can be met. If they cannot, other options should be considered and decided upon at this time.
    Suggested resource: How to Conduct Hydrant Flow Testing 

3.  Emergency Vehicle Access. This should be based on the largest piece of apparatus that the responding department may have to use.  Driving surfaces, widths, overhead clearances, loads, and turn-around's, and dead-ends should be considered.

4.  Construction Building Plans. This element of plan review should be conducted to determine code compliance, occupancy classifications, construction type, required fire protection features, fire resistance ratings, interior finishes, and any special hazards or structures.
     Suggested resource: The Art of Reading Buildings ; 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School 

5.  Certificate of Occupancy Inspections. These inspections are carried out throughout the project and can include all the trades (plumbing, electric, HVAC, etc.) and fire protection systems.  These inspections ensure that what has been approved on the plans is what is being installed in the building.
     Suggested resource: Why You're Stuck in Permitting (and how to get out!)

6.  Hazardous Materials and Processes. Any hazardous materials or processes should be reviewed for proper storage, handling, transfer, containment, emergency planning, and fire protection.
     Suggested resource: What's your MAQ? ; How to Store Hazardous Materials 

7.  Fire Protection System Plans.  These reviews confirm that required systems are in place, designed properly, and work for the structure.  These systems include, sprinklers, alarms, smoke control, fire pumps, hood systems, kitchen hoods, elevator recall, and similar items.
     Suggested resource: Sprinklers where required... ; How to Design a Fire Alarm System

8.  Fire and Life Safety Systems Field Acceptance Inspections.  These final inspections are in place to visually witness the correct operation of the fire protection systems, and confirm that all systems are in place and functional in accordance with codes, standards, and approved plans.
     Suggested resource:  Testing Integrated Fire Systems ; Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems

9.  Certificate of Occupancy (CO) issued.  This is the main objective for any building project.  After all work is completed, and all items are confirmed to be installed and functional per the approved plans, the Certificate of Occupancy can be issued, and the structure can be put into use.
     Suggested resource: The Road to C.O. - the Direct Route to Building Occupancy 

Determining Frequency of Inspections

Fire codes and standard do not directly address the frequency of existing building inspections. How often should existing buildings be inspected?  Should all buildings be inspected with the same frequency? What structure should be inspected more frequently or less frequently? What determines inspection frequency?

As a definitive guide for the establishment of fire prevention and inspection programs, NFPA 1730 answers these questions and provides guidance on how to determine the inspection frequency of existing buildings. The minimum frequency of inspections should be established based on occupancy risk, as follows:

High Risk Inspected Annually
Moderate Risk Inspected Biennially
Low Risk Inspected Triennially
Critical Infrastructure Inspected per AHJ

NFPA 1730 defines these risk categories.
  • High Risk.  Buildings having a history of frequent fires and a high potential for life or economic loss; or a building in which occupants must rely heavily on the building's fire protection features, or rely on staff assistance for evacuation.
  • Moderate Risk. Buildings having a moderate fire history and present only moderate potential for life or economic loss.
  • Low Risk. Buildings having little to no history of fire with minimal potential for life or economic loss.
  • Critical Infrastructure. Vital assets, systems, networks, or structures whose damage or destruction would have a debilitating effect on the community.
High risk occupancies may be buildings such as apartments, health care, detention, assembly, and educational facilities.  Moderate risk occupancies can be ambulatory health care, walk-in clinics, and industrial buildings.  Storage, mercantile, business, and office buildings could be considered low risk occupancies. Critical infrastructure facilities are buildings such as power plants, water treatment facilities, public safety buildings, and special structures unique to the community.

All the structures in the community will fall into one of these risk categories.  The occupancy risk classification of each structure will be determined based on the Community Risk Assessment (CRA). Ample time should be spent on ensuring that the CRA is conducted properly.  The community risk assessment sets the standard and drives the direction of the entire fire prevention organization.

Determining the amount of occupancies in each category, will reveal the amount of inspections that are required to be conducted annually.  From this the fire prevention organization can determine adequate staffing levels.

The simplified process for determining inspection frequency for existing occupancies should look like this:

Step 1. Conduct a CRA.
Step 2. Classify the occupancy risk of each structure.
Step 3. Determine the amount of inspections to be conducted annually.
Step 4. Determine the necessary staffing level needed to complete the inspections.

Expressing Professional Gratitude

Gratitude is defined as “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful”. We all have much to be grateful for. We understand gratitude in our personal lives when we look at our families, enjoy our homes, and play with our “toys”. However, many of us have equally as much to be grateful for in our profession and work.  

We can be grateful for the people that we encounter in this career. Think of the individuals that inspired us to pursue a fire service career. Think of the officers and fellow firefighters, that have taken the time to teach, instruct, and pour into our professional development. Consider the people that we have the privilege of working side-by-side with each day. Have we expressed your gratitude toward these individuals? We can express this by writing a note of thanks, by passing on the lessons learned from the influencers in our careers, and by treating one another with respect.
We can be grateful for the work place that provides us with gainful employment. It is through the opportunity to work at this place, for this company, which provides us the tools to care for our families and pursue our interests, and create incredible experiences. We express our gratitude for our work place by always acting in the best interests of the customer, and by putting the needs of all over the needs of ourselves.
We can be grateful that we have the power to perform the work. Many are physically unable to work. There are still others who may not have the opportunity to engage in work or careers that they are passionate about. We have the power to do both. We are physically capable, of pursuing a career that we can be passionate about. We can express our gratitude for the power to perform by fully applying our knowledge, skills, and energy to our field each and every workday.
Being grateful and expressing that gratitude will bring out the very best in those we work with each day. As we celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, take some time to reflect and express you gratitude where it may most be needed.

Reader Survey and Free Stuff

I could really use your help, right now. In an effort to make this blog more relevant to your needs and interests I have created the 2016 Reader Survey

Would you please take a couple minutes and fill out the brief survey?  By doing so you will be helping yourself, by helping me create more interesting and relevant content.

Your input is important to me.  The survey is less than 10 questions, and should take less than 5 minutes. Also, there are no 'required' responses to hang you up.

For those of you who take the time to fill out the survey, you will be entered into a drawing to receive a package of fire prevention tools and resources. You must enter you e-mail at the end of the survey to be eligible for this.

Thanks in advance for your assistance in this!

Building a Hangar Home

For the pilot, there must be nothing like walking out of your back door, into your hangar, and taking flight from your “garage”.  The popularity of this lifestyle is evidenced by the more than 600 fly-in, residential airparks located throughout the country (see,  

These hangar homes are unique structures with specific fire protection and life safety requirements.  The International Building Code (IBC) defines a residential aircraft hangar as, “an accessory building less than 2,000 square feet and 20 feet in building height constructed on a one- or two-family property where aircraft are stored.”*

Section 412.5 of the IBC outlines the requirements for residential aircraft hangars:

  • The living space and hangar space are required to be separated by a minimum of 1-hour fire-resistance rated assembly.
  • (2) Means of egress are required from the hangar area.
  • Hangar building systems (electricity, plumbing, HVAC, etc.) are to be independent from the living space/dwelling building systems.
  • Smoke alarms are required to be installed throughout the structure.  The hangar area is required to have a minimum of (1) smoke alarm.  The hangar and dwelling smoke alarms are to be interconnected.

*This definition is not intended to limit the size of a residential hangar. Hangars that exceed these height and area requirements can no longer be classified as a “residential aircraft hangar”, and must be protected and built in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 409.

Additional resources:
Hangar Home Design -
Article - Specifying Hangar Doors
Book - NFPA 409 - Resource Guide

Firestop Special Inspection - Where Required

This post provided by Sharron Halpert at Halpert Life Safety Consulting

This requirement for third party special inspection is not going to mean that EVERY project needs this level of scrutiny. The building code clearly relegates this to three types of buildings. 1) High-rise structures 2) Risk Category III 3) Risk Category IV. Don’t go break out your code book here. I promised to save you from that, so let’s break this down a bit.  Lest we risk being called out for plagiarism, please know we give credit to the IBC for items in underlined bold italics. 

First, the term high-rise conjures up a mental image for most people, but let’s be clear about what the term actually means. A high-rise structure is defined by the code as a building with an occupied floor located more than 75 feet above the lowest level of the fire department vehicle access. This means that you can take the same building and put it in a different jurisdiction and based on the fire fighting equipment, it will be considered a high-rise structure in one jurisdiction but not in another.
Next, let’s discuss risk category III and IV. Before we start however, please understand the building code defines occupant load as the number of persons for which a means of egress of a building or portion of a building is designed. This is important, because it is part of what can land a project in the risk category III. So, let’s start there. Risk Category III is defined by the code as structures that represent a substantial hazard to human life in the event of a failure. This means that, because they are buildings that are important to the community, they should be protected with an extra level or scrutiny that is provided by this requirement for special inspection of firestop. Risk Category III structures are including but not limited to the following:
  • Public assembly building with a occupancy load over 300
  • Elementary or secondary school or day care what occupancy over 250
  • Adult education with occupancy over 500
  • Groups I-2 with occupancy over 50 (without surgery or emergency)
Medical, surgical, psychiatric, nursing or custodial care on a 24-hour basis of more than five persons who are not capable of self-preservation. Including but not limited to hospitals, nursing homes, mental hospitals and detoxification facilities
  • Group I-3 (penitentiary, jail or prison)
  • A building with occupancy over 5000
  • Power generating station, water treatment, waste water facility and any other public utility facility not included in risk category IV
  • Buildings or structures not included in risk category IV containing quantities of toxic works flows of materials that exceed certain thresholds and would be hazardous to the public if released
The occupancy load will vary based on the use of the building, but also because of the familiarity and agility of the occupants. For example, people who may be in a public assembly building are less likely to be familiar with the various ways to enter and exit the building, as compared to the people who might be in a building for adult education. And while the occupants of an Elementary or secondary school are likely to be very familiar with the building they are less likely to be expected to exit the building safely an emergency. Additionally occupants of Group I-2 (hospital) are likely going to need assistance to evacuate a building and it’s very likely you don’t want occupants of I-3 (jail) structures being able to freely evacuate a building. If there is a fire in any of these types of buildings you can see that there is a substantial hazard to human life in the event of a failure.
The difference between Risk Category III and IV is that IV buildings are considered essential to the community in which they serve. Schools in a community are essential to that community but in the event of a fire the children can still be educated in a different setting until the school is repaired. However if that same school were designated as an emergency shelter then it would fall into risk category IV because now it is considered essential to the community.
Now, let’s look at other buildings that would fall into risk category IV. “Buildings and other structures designated as essential facilities including but not limited to” the following:
  • Group I-2 with surgery and/or emergency treatment
  • Fire, rescue, ambulance, police stations and emergency vehicle garages
  • Designated earthquake, hurricane or other emergency shelters
  • Designated emergency preparedness, communications and operations centers
  • Power generating stations and other public utility needed for emergency backup for risk category IV
  • Aviation control tower, air traffic control center and emergency aircraft hangers
  • Buildings and other structures having critical national defense function
  • Water storage or pump for fire suppression
  • Buildings and other structures containing the quantities of highly toxic materials that exceed certain thresholds and pose a threat to public released
That covers where third-party special inspection is mandated by the building code. That said however, a jurisdiction can require a third-party special inspection of fire stop on any project where they may feel they have a shortfall in either manpower or expertise. This can even be required by a jurisdiction still on one of the earlier codes (2009 or earlier as this requirement first came about in the 2012 code body).
A jurisdiction could even require special inspection of a specific construction element if they wish to. One example could be requiring a third party inspection for grease duct wrap on kitchen exhaust ducts. Though it is not required in the codes, it could still be a jurisdictional requirement should it be deemed necessary in a particular jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have required this even prior to the creation of the ASTM standards for inspection of firestop; in fact to date there is no similar standard for the inspection of grease duct wrap.  

How to Conduct a CRA

Chapter 5 of NFPA 1730 outlines the requirements for the conduct of a community risk assessment (CRA). The CRA is the tool that is used to determine the priorities and strategies of a the fire prevention organization.  The CRA can be conducted in 3 steps.

  1. Gather Information
  2. Analyze Data
  3. Develop Strategy

Gather Information. NFPA 1730 describes seven content areas that should be assessed. These areas are:

1.)  Demographics - describes the composition of the communities population
2.)  Geographic overview - describes the physical features of the community
3.)  Building stock - describes occupancy types within the community
4.)  Fire experience -  describes the communities past fire experience(s)
5.)  Responses -  describes the types of calls for service
6.)  Hazards - describes the different types of hazards within a community
7.)  Economic profile - describes facilities and activities vital to the communities financial sustainability

Analyze Data.  After the above information has been gathered, the data must be analyzed and evaluated. This analysis should be applied to identify specific risks the community is exposed to. NFPA 1730 recommends the use of a risk assessment matrix.  The matrix is a visual representation that classifies hazards based on probability and impact.  

Another type of risk assessment matrix prefer presents hazards and risk level in a numerical format. I have written extensively on, and utilized, this numerical assessment matrix format. Read more about this method at, Fire Risk FAQ and Conducting the 3 Step Risk Assessment. You can also take my free on-line course, Risk Assessment Workshop.

Develop Strategy.  After you have defined your community needs, and identified risks and hazards, a strategy for prevention and mitigation can be developed. This strategy is referred to as a community risk reduction (CRR) plan. The CRR outlines the programs and strategies that will be utilized to reduce, mitigate, or eliminate the risks posed to the community.  The CRR will be different for every community common elements include, existing building inspections, plan review, origin and cause investigations, and public education. 

It is essential that a CRA be conducted. It is only through this analysis that fire prevention organizations can be effective.  A valuable tool for assisting departments with the CRA is the on-line Community Risk Assessment Guide, created by Vision 20/20. This guide can be accessed at

Fire Prevention Week 2016

The week of October 9-15 will be nationally recognized as Fire Prevention Week. The theme this year is “Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years”. Research conducted by the National Fire ProtectionAssociation (NFPA) has shown that a large majority of the population are not aware of the need to know the age of smoke alarms or that they must be replaced every 10 years.

Fire Prevention Week has been observed every October (always the week of the 9th) since 1922. The NFPA established this week to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This fire, rumored to have been started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, claimed more than 250 lives, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres.

For more Fire Prevention Week information and resources visit,

Related Posts:

The Commissioning Agenda

Commissioning is a "process that will ensure fire protection and life safety systems perform in conformity with the design intent". NFPA 3, Recommended Practice for the Commissioning of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, creates a 4-phase plan to commission new structures.  Each phase has several items that must be completed in order to move on to the next phase.  Annex A of NFPA 3 provides a workflow diagram of what must take place in each phase of the project.  This is helpful to the commissioning team to ensure that all items are completed. 

For an introduction to commissioning read, Commissioning New Occupancies.

If you are new to commissioning, or a building owner that is thinking about commissioning, what can you expect?  What does the commissioning look like? What is involved in each phase? The below layout provides a proposed commissioning schedule and agenda to help understand the time commitment and team involvement that will be required.

For an overview of the documents listed here read, The 5 Documents Commissioning Requires.

Planning Phase

  • Planning meeting to establish OPR (owners project requirements)
  • Cx team meeting to assemble, establish, and introduce team members
  • Commissioning plan is developed and reviewed

Design Phase
  • Develop the BOD (basis of design)
  • Operation and maintenance manuals provided and reviewed
  • Training program content, duration, and objectives are developed

Construction Phase
  • Pre-construction meetings
  • Rough-in inspections
  • Final/finish inspections
  • Acceptance testing/completions
  • Owner training
  • Closeout documents delivered

Occupancy Phase
  • Deferred testing completed
  • Inspection, testing, maintenance is conducted
  • Training of occupants and managers

Related Posts:

Fire Door Safety Week 2016

A door’s a door’s a door, right? No, a fire door is an engineered safety device.

Fire doors are a crucial part of the passive fire protection of every commercial, public and multiple occupancy building.  They save lives and property.

Fire doors are often the first line of defense in a fire and their correct specification, maintenance and management can be the difference between life and death for building occupants. However, they remain a significant area of neglect, often the first thing to be downgraded on a specification and mismanaged throughout their service life, propped open, damaged and badly maintained. UK based, BWF, created Fire Door Safety Week:
  • To raise awareness of the critical role of fire doors, drawing attention to specific issues such as poor installation and maintenance.
  • To encourage building owners and users to check the operation and condition of their fire doors and to report those that aren’t satisfactory.
  • To link together the initiatives of many organisations with common interests in the fire door and passive fire protection industries.
  • To engage and educate people, helping the whole building industry and every property owner to understand the correct specification, supply, installation, operation, inspection and maintenance of fire doors.

For updates, resources and events visit,, follow Fire Door Safety Week on Twitter, and search for tweets with hashtag, #firedoorsafetyweek.

Fire Door Resources from