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Technical Article

"Know your patch"

One of the most important duties firefighters can carry out to optimise operations at emergency incidents is incident preplanning. This encompasses operational plans, emergency plans but most importantly tactical & risk plans.

A well developed and current risk plan can provide an emergency response crew with most of the information pertinent to a risk, information which most of us would find hard to retain given the diversity of our response zones and the large number of risks we are expected to protect.


At the incident ground, fire attack and rescues can begin more quickly if details about the risk are known prior to arrival, much less time will be spent on size up and decision making allowing operations to begin immediately.

Collection of pertinent information can be done in conjunction with fire safety visits, trial evacuations and key checks to minimise the inconvenience to the occupants. Information that might affect fire fighting operations and fire spread and details such as building construction, exposures, utilities, water supplies/hydrants and occupancy should be addressed. 

Building construction: 
Construction is a factor that comes into play at every fire, It can help you or work against you. Buildings constructed from materials that are somewhat fire resistant are an ally to firefighters, whereas steel trusses, steel joist beams and expanded polystyrene sandwich panels (EPS) are a nightmare. Remember all forms of masonry eventually fail (as the heat drains the moisture away). Pre-incident planning is the perfect time to gather construction information you will need for the size up process. 


Occupancy type:
A study of the occupancy type can give you a lot of clues as to the hazards you may encounter at an incident. At residential type buildings (hospital, rest homes, etc.) the associated hazard may be the occupants as opposed to a cabinetmakers workshop where the hazards are more diverse. An indication of the numbers of people occupying the building in what hours is also important. 


Active/Passive fire protection:

A large variety of features can be built into structures/risks to provide a certain level of fire protection. These can be the ‘passive’ type, which are part of the building itself, or active systems that augment fire suppression operations.

Passive protection includes fire resistive walls and apertures, self-closing fire / smoke doors and compartmentation.  Active systems which interest us most as firefighters include Sprinkler systems, automatic fire alarms, rising mains and gas flood systems. Knowledge of where these systems are controlled from, the mode of operation and isolation and their limitations will all allude to what level of assistance they are likely to provide. The location and operation of HVAC controls will also assist in smoke management and limitation of fire spread through ducting. 

For instance, is the entire building sprinkler protected? Where can they be boosted? Is it a wet, dry or charged riser? What area does gas flooding cover? Are there domestic hose reels?

Water supplies:

Nothing much will happen at a fire until you put the wet stuff on the hot stuff, so water supply is a critical factor in pre-planning. Not only should you know the whereabouts of the nearest hydrants and capacities of static supplies, but you must have an appreciation of the likely flows from hydrants and whether or not static reservoirs are full all year round. You should also familiarise yourself with any special adapters/fittings that may be required, and ensure these are available when required.  For isolated risks in non-reticulated areas consideration should be given to automatic upgrading of tankers/hose layers as appropriate.



Certain risks/areas will provide the added problem of communication loss. This may be because of the type of construction, basements, tunnels, solid concrete construction or because of the associated risk, explosives, flammable vapours or bomb threats. Contingencies or alternatives should be addressed in these situations.

Specialist appliances:

If because of the size, location or risks associated with a building, specialist appliances are required these should be addressed in the plan and even dispatched with the pre-determined response. In large open areas like supermarkets and warehouses, fires will spread more rapidly, especially in the absence of fire protection systems, in these cases additional appliance should be considered at the pre-planning stage. This will provide the incident controller with sufficient resources to readily manage the scene. Bear in mind also the likely type of construction in these open plan buildings as use is often made of trusses and I beams.


Exposure Risks:

When planning for a likely emergency in a building/risk, consideration should also be given to the likely impact a fire will have on the neighbouring buildings. The plan should address this by providing a summary of the distances of the exposures and the contents likely to be affected by the fire.


Appliance placement/Tasks:

Some incidents/risks will require appliance placement or duties that are different from standard procedures. This may have evolved from exposure protection priorities, water supplies or access problems.


Where there is a need to position apparatus at positions differently from what might be anticipated this should be on the plan. The Officer of a later responding appliance can determine this enroute, or the first responding officer could transmit the request via RT once established.


Risks/ Hazards/ Special needs:

Reference should be provided to any risks or hazards associated with the building that may hinder operations or provide a significant risk to personnel. This could include radioactive sources in hospitals, PCB’s in power sub stations or unprotected openings between floors. Special needs from an occupier’s perspective may include archive stores, computer suites or files.

Site plan:

A basic drawing of the building and surrounding roadway(s) is the single best means of providing the above information. These plans should include the locations of stairs/lifts, access to the building, brigade inlet connections and control valves, fire alarm panel location, hydrants and water supplies, evacuation areas and exposures. Be careful not to cram diagrams too full of information as they can become confusing.


This report is not intended to replace the standard operating procedure or to be a comprehensive list of all that is required for incident pre-planning. It is intended to stimulate some interest in this area and provide a few tips when next carrying out pre plans in your areas.

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