Fire Safety for Citizens and Fire Fighters

Thomas Clark
President, WSFIA

We have been entrusted by our employer, citizens, communities and co-workers to be proactive and perform our job of fire prevention and fire education experts. We must perform a proper fire prevention inspection, provide quality fire prevention training and educate our school children. We took on this task, knowing how important it is to accomplish this to the best of our abilities. It is very important that all of the needed tasks are completed and done professionally. A good example of this is the Station nightclub. While doing research for a presentation to local safety representatives, I came across some interesting information. The tragedy at the Station nightclub fire happened ten years ago on February 20th in West Warwick, Rhode Island. During prior fire prevention inspections, the fire department had noted some of the exit doors opened inward, and also noted the foam that had been installed around the stage area. There was no follow up with these fire prevention inspection items, both of these code violations contributed to the death of 100 people. We perform a major line of defense in fire and life safety. We have to do the right thing, perform a proper and thorough inspection along with follow up of the violations that are found, making sure they are corrected in a timely manner. We are the fire prevention experts and we perform an important service to our customers who are the citizens of our communities, you cannot afford to take this lightly.

Fire prevention inspections are the employees, business owners and the local fire department’s first line of defense against the devastating effects of fire. It is important to look at the fire prevention inspections as a chance to educate the business owner or representative about fire prevention, and why these inspections are necessary. It should never come across as a punitive action against the occupancy or business. These fire prevention inspections are also the first line of defense for the fire fighters that need to go into the building after the building has been compromised by fire, natural catastrophe, or a man-made disaster. Whoever performs the fire prevention inspection, it is vital that the time is also used to document hazards and life safety concerns. Use this valuable inspection time inside a building to record the potential problems for the fire fighters and emergency responders that may have to go inside the structure when the conditions are less than desirable. This information can be shared and given easy access to the responders so they have this information of the occupancy during emergency situations. This also may give the business representative information that was never thought of, or did not think was important previously.

Fire prevention education starts with us. We need to know and believe how important this education is, not only for the children, but for elderly citizens and the general public. People tend to take a lot in their everyday life for granted. Things that people do on a daily basis can turn tragic, very quickly. In the home, something as routine as cooking a meal, can quickly put lives and the home in danger. Compound that with a decision of pouring water on a grease fire, it is a natural reaction to put water on a fire, this can make a bad situation worse. In the workplace, different processes such as handling flammable liquids on a can have tragic consequences. That is why we need to educate our own community about fire safety.

Juvenile Fire Setter Intervention programs need to be implemented in your community as part of an aggressive fire prevention program. Recognition of a fire setting problem usually starts with a parent bringing the child into the local fire department, or the intervention may be court ordered also. This event must be handled properly or the consequences can be deadly. There are several procedures to follow in order to handle these types of situations. Having a trained JFS specialist on the fire department will assure the needs of the family are taken care of.

We all know how important it is to protect the citizens and workers of this state. But, fire fighter protection and safety is also an important part of our mission. The Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association promotes the installation of commercial and residential fire sprinklers. Fire sprinklers not only hold a fire from progressing, or even extinguish the fire, but it gives the occupants of the commercial building or residential dwelling that valuable time to exit safely. We need to be out there educating the citizens and business owners on the safety provided by fire sprinklers. Fire sprinklers can mean the difference if a business survives a major fire or closes down forever. Fire sprinklers can also mean the difference if a fire fighter goes home the next day to their family. Most of us have been to a residential fire and have seen the aftermath. Even if the family members escape unharmed, many of the items are not replaceable, such as family photos and memorabilia, which are most likely damaged or lost forever. This is another benefit of installing residential fire sprinklers. Lightweight construction has been around for more than 20 years, engineers continually work to make the support members of a home more cost effective. The trade off with cost affects the stability of the structure in fire conditions. Several studies in the United States and Canada have proved this construction method fails rapidly when exposed to fire. We need to promote the benefits of fire sprinkler systems, they protect precious lives.

The next time you are doing public education, a juvenile fire setting intervention, reviewing a plan, or in a building for a fire prevention inspection, think about the importance of what you are doing. You are the first line of defense in life safety, and the protection of citizens and fire fighters. You are truly making an impact and a difference in your community.