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.