Pre-planning for better fire safety

Published 6:45 pm Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brookhaven firefighter Dustin Porter looked more like anarchitect than a firefighter, wandering from room to room with apencil and pad, drawing what he and his crew found as they madetheir way through the Central Baptist Church on Whitworth AvenueWednesday.

Lt. Jake Adams walked the measuring wheel from wall to wall, andhe and Capt. Eric Smith called out measurements for Porter torecord in his drawing. It might have seemed a strange thing forfirefighters to be doing, considering their job is generallybelieved to be just about fighting fire.

But BFD officials are working on making out a “pre-plan” ofbusinesses, schools, churches, nursing homes and other places wherepeople congregate that would help with that very thing. They’reworking their way through town, and the process is slow butsteady.

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“We’re looking for utilities, hazards, firewalls, exits,fireloads and anything combustible inside the building,” said Smithas his shift measured and mapped every room, wall to wall.

The point, said Fire Chief Tony Weeks, is for the first time tohave a record of the interior of every commercial building that thefire department may need to respond to in case of a fire. That waywhen units arrive on scene, they have a map at their fingertips.

“This hasn’t been done yet that I know of,” said Weeks.”Basically we’re just getting the layout of each building, becauseit’ll help us respond better and have a better plan on how toattack a fire if we need to. This is information we would need toknow.”

The process simply involves a few minutes inside each building,measuring off walls and rooms, mapping where things are, andfinding entry points and water sources, officials said.

As Smith and his crew measured the top floor of a business onWhitworth Avenue downtown, they noted places where the floor wasweak, or where columns were. In addition, they also discovered oldsprinkler systems that were still active.

And firefighters also got a look at the buildings from theoutside, and all the potential hazards there as well.

“Anytime there’s a fire here, these walls will fall,” Smithsaid, pointing at one of the old brick buildings downtown. “They’renot going to stand much heat.”

The pre-plans not only are a positive when it comes to thesafety of the business owner and customers, Weeks said, but alsohelps the firefighters when they make entrance during afirefight.

“This is for the firefighters’ safety too,” Weeks said. “Ithelps us to know what to look for when we enter a building. Therewill still be surprises, because you can’t know everything, butthis will definitely help us.”

In addition, Smith and Weeks said, the pre-plans will help withpoints toward the city’s insurance rating.

“I know they look for things like water supply and the number ofpersonnel on duty, and this should help,” Weeks said. “It’s part ofthe training as well.”

The pre-plans will be saved for posterity, and printouts will goin notebooks in the chief’s truck and in the shift captain’struck.

“We’d have it formatted to access it in case of a fire, and itwould all be there at our fingertips,” Smith said.

The pre-plans will take a little while to get on paper, Weekssaid. Once the collection is finished, it will be a valuable tool,and one that could possibly help save valuable minutes whensomething is burning.

“Just bear with us, we’re not being nosy,” he said. “We’re justwanting to get information that will help us help you if somethinghappens.”