Monday, November 26, 2018

Beginners [Unofficial] Guide to Using Target Solutions for Fire Inspections

Several years ago our department was seeking to transition from paper files and inspections to an all digital solution.  I presented several software options, but in the end, I was told that we already pay for Target Solutions, can we make that work for inspections?  I did not know the answer to that question, as I had assumed that Target Solutions was only a training software program, however, as I began to search through and experiment with its other features, I quickly realized that it was a good fire inspection solution.

The key to making this work for your department is in the proper utilization of the ‘Activities Builder’ feature of the program. Knowing how to use the ‘Activities Builder’ can provide a viable solution for digital, cloud-based fire inspection activities.  The below guide will walk you through how to set-up a custom inspection checklist that may fit your departments needs.

If you have not done so already, you will need to create a ‘category’ for your inspection activities. On the right side of the screen in the highlighted area labeled ‘Categories’, select ‘Add New’.  Insert category name, and select ‘submit’ to save.

  • Select ‘Create New Activity’  (green button in the top right hand corner of the screen).
    • Select ‘Category
    • Insert ‘Name’ and brief ‘Description’ of the form
    • Select or deselect desired ‘Options’.
      • Typically for inspection forms you will want to ‘Allow Self-Assign’ as this permits all users to select and complete the inspection form
      • You may also want to ‘Require validation upon completion’ this will allow an administrator to review the report and reject or request changes.
    • Select desired ‘Privacy’ options - these pertain to who can access and change the inspection form
    • Add ‘Tags’ as necessary (your Target Solutions representative can assist with this)
    • Certificate’ is not normally required for an inspection document - this is primarily for custom activity training classes.
    • Select ‘Save

The next screen that appears will be the start of your form. The title of the form (that was given to it in the step above) will be in the top title bar. The description will be in a text box below that. The next step in building your inspection form is to add various components. Components that may be used are located in the right sidebar. These can be added by simply clicking on the title and completing the information as prompted.  For inspection forms we will only need to utilize a few of these components. You will notice that each of these components will have a checkbox labeled ‘User response required’. If this is checked it will prevent the form from being submitted until that component has been completed. It is advisable to select this option for inspection activities, as this can serve as a reminder to the inspector of items that need to be addressed.

  • Select ‘Date Complete
    • Select desired options in the pop-up box, then click ‘Submit’
  • Select ‘Units Involved’ - This is a good selection to identify the units or individuals conducting the inspection. In the question box you could enter, ‘Personnel conducting inspection’.
  • Select ‘Location’ - this is where the property address or identification can be entered.
  • Select ‘Request File’ - this allows inspection pictures or other documentation to be uploaded and attached to this specific report.

Next we will need to add some ‘Free Form Components’. The ‘Question’ component will be utilized most frequently.

  • Select ‘Question’ - 
    • Enter a brief description or instruction on the item to be inspected
    • Select ‘User response required’ (recommended for most items), if desired
    • Select ‘Answer’ - there are five options, the most common three that you will use are described below:
      • Text - allows user to enter small amount of information, anything that can be typed from the keyboard.
      • Long text - the best option for items that may require a longer explanation, or narrative material. I usually end my forms with the long text box so the inspector can provide a full narrative of any issues or deficiencies.
      • Multiple choice - this allows for the more efficient information entry of a drop down selection box.  This is perfect for limited response items (such as, pass/fail, open/closed, etc.) or to create checklist items. To create a checklist of items, select the box labeled ‘Allow multiple selections’
    • Select ‘Submit’ to save
  • Repeat this process as necessary to account for all required inspection items.

The form auto-saves as it is being created. When you are done, you should click the eyeball icon (top right corner) to preview the form. Make changes as needed.

The great thing about using Target Solutions for fire inspections is that it is fully customizable, provides data output in a variety of outputs (.xml, .pdf, etc.), and since it is cloud-based, is instantly accessible from anywhere. Although, there are other software programs available specifically for fire inspections, for departments currently using Target Solutions for training, this can be an added value received from the program.

Monday, November 19, 2018

How to Control Risk [5 Techniques]

With the record breaking and devastating wildfires in California, private fire protection services are becoming more visible. These services are offered by insurers, such as AIG and Chubb, to add an extra layer of protection to their high value insured properties. Much of the media seeks to vilify the “rich” for engaging in this practice. However, as any of us would, we merely use the tools at our disposal to reduce our exposure to loss. defines risk as, “A probability or threat of damage, injury, liability, loss, or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and that may be avoided through preemptive action." This definition, as it applies to the insurance industry reads, “A situation where the probability of a variable (such as burning down of a building) is known but when a mode of occurrence or the actual value of the occurrence (whether the fire will occur at a particular property) is not.”

The most succinct definition of risk comes from NFPA 1250, “a measure of the probability and severity of adverse effects that result from an exposure to a hazard”.  NFPA 1250, Recommended Practice in Fire and Emergency Service Organization Risk Management, provides this definition of risk, and outlines risk managements plans and processes that should be implemented by fire departments.  Understanding that risk is an inherent part in our daily duties, there are five techniques that can be employed to manage or control this risk.
  1. Exposure Avoidance
  2. Loss Prevention
  3. Loss Reduction
  4. Segregation of Exposures
  5. Contractual Transfer
Exposure Avoidance. This is risk control by simply opting out, and steering completely clear, of a particularly high hazard activity, event, or location.

Loss Prevention. This is the use of methods and measures to reduce the probability of a loss from occurring.  These can include inspections, audits, or training programs.

Loss Reduction. Theses are measures used to reduce severity of loss, even if engaging in a high risk activity. A good example would be the use of PPE when entering a structure fire. This would also include post-accident/loss activities, procedures, and processes.

Segregation of Exposures. This could also be a loss reduction tactic. This is accomplished by breaking large units into smaller ones, and distributing equipment and resources, throughout a large area. This reduces the likelihood of a total loss if all items, personnel, resources were to be located in a single area.

Contractual Transfer. This is the use of a formal insurance policy. This is affected by the transfer of responsibility from one entity to another.

These five methods of risk management are defined and outlined in NFPA 1250.  The insurance industry, however, would add one additional method to the list - retention.

Retention. This is when an organization acknowledges that there is a risk, and prepares for the loss (financially and physically) themselves. They are self-insured, which simply means that they control all the money, instead of an outside or third-party “insurance company”.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Power Lines and the WUI

Photo from: LA Times
As fires continue to rage throughout California, investigations into the twelve fires that occurred earlier this year, and burned 245,000 acres, have been concluded. Investigators with Cal Fire have determined that these fires were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Company power lines. High winds in the area caused trees and branches to fall onto the lines, and in at least one case a power pole failed and collapsed. PG&E currently has a vegetation control program in place with a budget of $400 million per year.

NFPA 1, Fire Code provides clear guidance on how to prevent fires from electrical lines. Chapter 17, Wildland Urban Interface outlines the following  requirements for vegetation clearance around electrical transmission and distribution lines, conductors, and their appurtenances.

  • 10 feet clearance is required around all poles or towers
  • At the time of trimming, the following minimum clearances should be provided based on the line voltage:

  • As the growth returns, it is permitted to grow to within the clearances shown in the table below. Once this minimum distance is reached vegetation must be trimmed back to the required minimum clearance.
  • The AHJ has authority to adjust clearance requirements based on local needs or conditions, and vegetation type

Monday, November 5, 2018

NEC Hazardous Locations

Though many jurisdictions have electrical inspectors that enforce the provisions of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code (NEC), there are provisions and requirements that overlap with the duties of the fire inspector. Some of these areas or occupancies include high hazard industrial facilities, paint rooms and spray booths, hazardous materials storage, and fuel handling processes and operations. These areas require that the fire inspector properly classifies the hazardous location in order to ensure proper installation of electrical wiring and components.

NFPA 70, Article 500 defines these hazardous classifications as follows, “Locations shall be classified depending on the properties of the flammable gas, flammable liquid–produced vapor, combustible liquid–produced vapors, combustible dusts, or fibers/flyings that could be present, and the likelihood that a flammable or combustible concentration or quantity is present. Each room, section, or area shall be considered individually in determining its classification.”  These are divided into classes and divisions.

Class I - locations in which flammable gases, or flammable or combustible liquid-produced vapors are or may be present in the air in quantities sufficient to produce explosive or ignitable mixtures.

Class II - locations that are hazardous because of the presence of combustible dust.

Class III - locations that are hazardous because of the presence of easily ignited fibers, or where combustible flyings are handled, manufactured, or used.

The charts below show the Class and Divisions categories.

*Group E. Atmospheres containing combustible metal dusts, including aluminum, magnesium, and their commercial alloys, or other combustible dusts whose particle size, abrasiveness, and conductivity present similar hazards in the use of electrical equipment.

In some instances a “zone” designation may be used as an alternative to the division classification system shown here. These zones will either be Zone 0, Zone 1, Zone 2, or Zone 20, Zone 21, Zone 22. These are defined in NFPA 70, Article 505 and Article 506.

Article 505 defines Class 1, Zone 0, Zone 1, and Zone 2 as “locations where fire or explosion hazards may exist due to flammable gases, vapors, or liquids.” Article 506 defines Zone 20, Zone 21, and Zone 22 as “locations where fire and explosion hazards may exist due to combustible dusts or ignitable fibers/flyings.”

As a tool for the field inspector or plans examiner we have created a single page reference that provides quick access to the classification and division definitions.