By: Sergeant Zak Haskin
Sikeston Public Safety
Many fire departments today struggle to find time. As a result, preventative tasks such as fire inspections and pre-fire planning often get behind schedule. As a fire marshal serving a public safety department, I always look for ways to save time on the job and keep records up-to-date.
In the past few years at Sikeston Public Safety I started completing pre-fire planning tasks while I walked through businesses for fire inspections. Not only did this cut down on the time it took to pre-plan, it also equipped our fire department with easy-to-access information. If you want to save time at your department, consider trying this process.
When beginning a fire inspection, start with a 360 walk around the building.
While you check for things associated with the inspection itself, also look for things that stand out: electrical placement, electrical and gas service entry points and shut offs, roof accesses, and general hazards.
As you go through the fire inspection, think about what the responders would need to know if they were responding to an incident at this location.
Here the pre-planning part comes in. Pay attention to hazards that matter to first responders and collect the data, taking pictures as you go.
During the walk around, take photos of the things you notice on the outside of the building. I put the photos into my FlowMSP app so they tie directly to the pre-plan. Sometimes I use my phone, sometimes my iPad, depending on what I photograph. They work just about the same.
When you make your 360, always try to take a picture of the sign as the first photo.
Those are the signs a person on a truck will notice during incident response.
You won’t recognize the street address during an incident, but you’ll easily identify a sign.
Start on the A side and work your way around taking pictures of each side.
As you come up to things that you know first responders need to know, take those photos, and take notes on specific hazards.
Then, go back and add notes and symbols on top of those photos later according to your notes.
Finally, I always look for a Knox box on the outside of the building and take a picture of where it is, then I add a label to the photo for quick reference.
If the business has no Knox box, I suggest that they get one and explain why.
You can always come back after they install it and take pictures to add to your pre-plan later.
Another thing you can do during fire inspections is update existing pre-plans. Check if emergency contact information has changed, a Knox box has been added, or any other updates occurred at that location. You can easily change it in the FlowMSP app so the information stays up-to-date. Because the pre-plans live in the cloud rather than a static pdf, every firefighter can immediately see any changes you make.
If there are any special circumstances that you cannot photograph, write a note about it and add a pdf note or sketch to the pre-plan in the FlowMSP app.
When inspecting inside the building, look for placement of alarm panels and placement of electrical panels.
Photograph these and add symbols so firefighters can quickly identify them at a glance.
Look for electrical boxes and make sure everything is pinned up nicely and labeled. I also look for flammable liquids and other hazards. Then, I take photos and add labels to show the specific hazards.
Look for a fire department connection, and if they have one, take a picture of that.
Check for alarm panels and make sure the building owner is doing the annual testing of their alarm system.
Since you already found it, go ahead and take a picture for your pre-plan showing the annunciator panel location.
Upload any pdf floor plans or take photos of the physical floor plans. As you walk through the building during the inspection, follow your floor plan and add symbols to show orientation of the building. Mark the A, B, C and D sides because it gives you a better idea of where you’re standing. Then, add key features such as the annunciator panel, electrical shutoff, etc.
Now that you understand the tasks to combine fire inspection and pre-fire planning in one workflow, you can plan your own trip. A few simple tips make the process go smoother so you can get in, get the job done, and get out.
Some businesses already dislike being inspected, so they get a little apprehensive if you come back a second time to do pre-fire planning even though it’s for a different reason. Completing both a fire inspection and pre-plan in one trip helps because you can quickly go around and take the pictures while you’re already there without disrupting the business a second time. Explain what you plan to do so the business owner knows why you are taking photos during your inspection.
Give yourself enough time to complete a fire inspection and pre-fire planning in one workflow. For me, doing both tasks in one trip extends the time a fire inspection takes, taking photos and taking notes, from 20 minutes to 40-45 minutes. But overall it saves time rather than making a separate trip for pre-planning.
Inspections with pre-planning can include more than one person. If your department has enough people, take a crew with you to speed up the data collection process. Not only will it help you get more details in a shorter period of time, it will also give the firefighters situational awareness in that structure. They will remember many of those details if called out to an incident.
To divide up tasks in a practical way, assign one or more people to take photos in the FlowMSP app, one person to write notes, one person to talk to the building owner, and one to add symbols to the photos in the FlowMSP app.
You don’t have to give everyone access to edit pre-plans and add data into the app. Change permission levels for different users in the Flow app to allow certain trustworthy people to upload photos and add their own notes out in the field. If you don’t want someone to add pictures directly into the FlowMSP app, have them take pictures and give them to you to upload later.
After you go through the work of collecting the pre-fire plan information, make sure your first responders can use it. I recommend FlowMSP as a really user-friendly program to get the data to the firefighters. If you’re open-minded about how you use it, it can provide great benefits to your department. The data is right there where everyone in the department can see it during incident response, so it’s easy to use the information you collected. Just tap the dispatch notification or type in the address, and the pre-plan you want shows up with all the pictures and symbols you put in. It really makes a difference for incident response.
Now that you know how to complete fire inspections and pre-plans in the same workflow, go try it out in your own department. See how you can save time and get more work done in one trip. If you have any questions about how to do this, feel free to email me at the address below, and I will help you out.
Sergeant Zak Haskin
Sikeston Public Safety
Sergeant Haskin has been in the fire service for 16 years. The past 9 years he has served in the fire department at Sikeston Public Safety.
A member of the FlowMSP team can walk you through a personal online demonstration of the FlowMSP app. In this one-on-one experience you can outline your department’s goals and see how FlowMSP can help.