Fire service operations take place in stressful, time-sensitive environments (Figure 1.4). Delaying operations, even slightly, especially during the critical initial phase when the first arriving resources are committed, can adversely affect subsequent operations and the outcome. Delays caused by poorly located fire hydrants, confusing alarm information, ineffective communication systems, or inaccessible valves will have a ripple effect on the other portions of the operation. During these delays, the fire will be growing exponentially.
Members of the fire service perform their functions during all times of the day or night, in any weather conditions, and frequently in unfamiliar environments. Their work environment is dangerous, mentally stressful, and physically exhausting. Decisions must often be made without an ideal amount of information, due to the many unknowns on the fireground (such as what is on fire, how much is burning, where the fire is spreading, and where the occupants are located).
These factors stack the deck against the safety of firefighters. Even simplifying the firefighters’ job in small ways will increase the level of safety for them, and thereby for building occupants. Design features that save time or personnel can make a great difference. Any feature that provides additional information regarding the fire, the building, or the occupants, as well as any method to speed the delivery of this information also helps.
Pre-incident plans (often called “preplans”) are documents prepared by fire departments to assist in emergency operations in specific facilities. They should contain the location of, and information about, the fire protection features discussed in this manual. Preplans are usually prepared and maintained by the unit that normally responds first, or is “first due,” to a particular facility. One could argue that some of the considerations in this manual are not necessary if the fire department prepares thorough preplans. However, the best pre-incident planning cannot overcome situations where the first due unit is committed on another response, out of position, or out of service. Nor can it foresee changes in personnel. It is simply unrealistic to count on all responding personnel to be aware of the pre-incident plan.
Pre-incident planning makes sense but it will always have limitations. Fire departments and firefighters that are more familiar with features of buildings in their response area are better prepared to deal with fires and other emergencies. Designers can assist in pre-incident planning by providing copies of building and system plans (paper or electronic) to the fire service after first seeking permission from the building owner.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics show a steady decline of fire-related deaths in the U.S. during the 1990s. During that same decade, however, the number of firefighter fatalities has remained relatively steady. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has developed a list of safety initiatives to reduce firefighter line-of-duty deaths and is playing a lead role in their implementation.