If your building, whether a manufacturing plant, a distribution warehouse, or any other commercial building were to catch on fire, would your local fire department know how to access the premises? Would they know where the closest water source is? Would they know the layout of the interior of your building in order to quickly navigate their way to the source of the fire? Would they know where gas shut-off valves are, or where you store hazardous or flammable materials?
Without some pre-planning the answer to these questions is likely going to be a “no”; which is not going to help get a fire under control and put out quickly.
Having a written and tested plan will help get your employees out of the building quickly and safely, open the building for access by your local fire department, and help assure a favorable outcome. When fire and emergency officials have an understanding (in advance of a fire) of your building, its construction, layout and occupancy they gain an advantage when or if they are called in to fight a fire.
Don’t take it for granted that your local FD has knowledge of what your building layout is like or where the direct points of access are to fight a fire. Some pre-planning will go a long way to avoid a disaster.
What does pre-planning look like?
First, the plan will be written and detailed. It should be done as part of a collaborate effort between you, the property owner and your local fire and emergency departments (Police, EMS, Rescue, etc.) and include a blue print type layout of your building and surrounding areas. Access points (available, unlocked doors) should be indicated in the plan relative to where driveways, parking lots and hydrant locations are. Keep in mind that any narrow driveways or alleyways between buildings are not always accessible by firefighting apparatus, so measuring widths and turning radius’ is also important.
If your building stores or uses any hazardous or flammable materials (including propane tanks for forklifts) indicate their locations on the plan so special care can be used if firefighters need to enter those areas.
If your roof construction is made of wood trusses that too is important to note and identify with appropriate signage on the outside of buildings alerting firefighters to the potential danger of collapse.
When writing the plan, be aware of conditions that change during the year or during the day. A 24 hour operation will have easier access during evening hours as opposed to those buildings/businesses with normal 9:00 to 5:00 hours.
Once the plan is written it needs to be tested, which can be accomplished with a mock drill coordinated when there is a plant shut down, planned vacation, or after hours. This will permit local officials to actually roll trucks onto the premises and test their ability to gain access and fight a fire. A test should also be conducted during actual operating hours so employees know how to evacuate, where to meet, how supervisors will conduct head counts and more.
If a fire does occur the goal of the plan is to safely evacuate employees, notify authorities, and to quickly and efficiently bring a fire under control so as to minimize damage to your building, inventory, and interruption of business. If a fire does occur it is critically important afterwards to have an executable plan to recover quickly. Often that strategy is part of a larger business continuity and disaster recovery plan.