Recently, a fire broke out in the firehouse of the Goldens Bridge (NY) Fire Department. The early morning blaze was discovered around 9:00 a.m. with an alarm going out to the department’s volunteers around 9:25 a.m. By the time those volunteer firefighters could get to their own house, they were able to remove several vehicles, but still lost three of their seven pieces of apparatus: a rescue truck and two SUVs. One firefighter sustained smoke inhalation injuries during his efforts to get a vehicle out of the hazard area.
This incident underscores the necessity for all fire departments, career and volunteer alike, to engage in the same fire prevention practices that we communicate to the public during our public fire education efforts. We are not immune from those same hazards that pose the greatest threats to individual homeowners and business owners:
- Cooking related fires, e.g., food left on a stove when an alarm comes in;
- Heating equipment fires from lack of maintenance or misuse of space heaters;
- Improperly disposed smoking materials;
- Fires with an electrical origin, e.g., improperly installed electrical equipment or overloaded circuits; and
- Intentional fires set by members or other citizens.
Fire department leaders owe it to their members and their communities to ensure that the department’s physical facilities have the appropriate installed fire protection, e.g., fire sprinkler systems, undergo the same inspections for potential fire hazards that they expect from the public they serve. Fire stations, training facilities, and storage facilities, just name a few, represent significant financial investment on the part of taxpayers or contributors. They also represent critical public safety infrastructure whose loss or significant damage can have an adverse impact on a community’s fire protection.
A good first step is to sit down with a representative from your department’s insurance carrier to discuss the development of a regularly scheduled risk management assessment for your facilities. Many departments across the USA have their coverage through major insurance carriers like VFIS who provide on-site risk assessments for their clients that examine the full scope of risk, including fire prevention for facilities.
Have “Someone” on Duty in Your Facilities 24/7/365
A good second step is to ensure that your station is equipped with smoke detectors that are monitored by a third party, e.g., ADT or First Alert Professional. Many vendors of cable TV and Internet and telephone services, e.g., XFINITY or Verizon, now offer home security monitoring services, and this may be another affordable option for your department. (If your cable TV service in your fire station is provided as part of your locality’s franchisee agreement with a cable TV, you may be able to have fire station fire alarm and security monitoring added to that agreement).
The desired outcome, regardless of the methodology used, is to have the fire detection devices and security devices in your facilities monitored 24/7/365. While this is particularly important for volunteer fire departments, it is no less of an importance to career departments as well as those facilities are vulnerable as well when personnel vacate the premises to respond to calls for service.
“Home” Fire Prevention Inspections
Benjamin Franklin (writing as Poor Richard) wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s good advice for keeping your fire station safe from a fire, right? You bet! So take action today to ensure that you’ve addressed some of these fire risks in your fire station:
- Cooking fires. Install fire suppression systems over cooking stoves or install High End Heat Limiting Technology on electric stove tops.
- HVAC Systems. Ensure that preventative maintenance and repairs are completed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Replace all filters at recommended intervals.
- Electrical Systems. Have a licensed electrician give your station’s electrical system a thorough inspection; regularly repeat the inspection every three years. (Many things change over time in fire stations with the addition of new equipment or replacement of existing equipment and it’s easy to “max out” your electrical system’s capabilities—and be overloading circuits—and not realize it. This is particularly true as many departments have added new computer and communication technology, both of which are huge “consumers” of electricity).
- Flammable liquids. Ensure that only the necessary quantities of flammable liquids are stored in fire stations and those are stored only in an approved flammable liquids storage cabinet.
- Space heaters. Ensure that all space heaters are UL-rated and approved for use by fire station personnel. Make sure your station’s electrical service—and don’t be fooled by their size!—can support such heating appliances without overloading circuits.
- Smoking Materials. If personnel are allowed to smoke inside fire station facilities, even if only in the apparatus bays, provide a cigarette disposal device or urn, e.g., Smokers’ Outpost™, for the safe and effective disposal of smoking materials (Better yet, give your personnel an incentive to quit smoking and improve their health and fitness for duty by prohibiting smoking anywhere in and around your facilities).
Put Our “Money where our mouth is”
If your fire stations do not have fire sprinklers installed, then by all means available start planning to make that a reality—and sooner rather than later! How can we in good conscience sell the citizens we serve on the life and property saving virtues of fire sprinklers—especially residential systems—when we aren’t using them to protect “our house”? Which, in reality, is “their” house that they’ve entrusted to our care, no?
So what’s say we get going on this with all due speed? Most department’s have enough of a challenge getting the resources they need to do their job without having to recoup losses from a fire in their fire station that should have been prevented.
Drop me a line at my e-mail address below—or leave a comment in the Comment section at the end of this blog—and tell me some of the things you and your department are doing to prevent fires in your fire stations, OK?
Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.