By Kyle Romadka
I often have considered the benefit of having the availability of a residential preplan at my fingertips on the way to a house fire. Imagine the ability to quickly become familiar with the footprint of a home, knowing the location of family occupied spaces, including bedrooms. For the first due company, having this information would expedite our primary searches when lives may be in jeopardy.
My departmental administration has allowed me to pursue this idea, submit a proposal and finally implement it as policy. The initial idea of residential preplans resurfaced during a recent overhaul of the departments' commercial inspection/preplan program. Until recently, our department supported the 1901 Life Safety Code through company-level inspections and preplans, using simple hand-drawn sketches and our departmental inspection form. Given the lack of uniformity with the plans, we began to look for a computer-based program to standardize our process, making it more user friendly for our members.
At this point we began to interface the residential preplan proposal. Our search for suitable software quickly proved cost prohibitive, leading us to the development of our program around a non-fire service software package from Floorplanner.com. This architectural software is user friendly and let us design a simple building footprint, generally within 15 minutes.
We are not making a formal endorsement of a particular software program, but the Web-based software was exceptional. Additionally, we were given the opportunity to obtain an open license to develop our inspection program around their software. This agreement lets our department input 180 plans per year.
With the software decision determined, our next challenge was to develop a plan to reach out to our district households. Our solution was to implement a public outreach program encouraging the public to draft their own residential footprint in Floorplanner or draw their layout and bring it to our members who would add it into the database.
The preplan PDF files are stored and categorized in two folders, residential and commercial. The individual residential/commercial locations are contained in their own folders, easily searchable by name. While testing this process, we found it took 10 seconds from the beginning of the search to having the preplan available, allowing ample time to perform other response tasks, such as donning a SCBA. The information is available via the Windows search and easily scanned by the fire officer while driving to a scene.
Similar to our commercial preplans, the residential plan has a Building Vitals Sheet, including water supply, owner information, home propane, high-risk occupants, identified family meeting places and more.
It cost was $2,400 to implement the program, which covered the two Toughbooks mounted in the engines to access the data. The public residential drawings received by the department are inputted during normal shifts days, thus not incurring additional data input costs.
Our initial concern was that we were going to be inundated with homeowners voluntarily submitting plans did not come to fruition, thereby giving us ample time to keep up with plans that were submitted. It could be, however, that a different department could experience a large number of submissions initially, challenging your timeliness of data input. Steady progress is the solution.
Begin reaching out to the public through a simple newspaper article or during fire-prevention activities. If your department has an in-home smoke detector program, use this time to request the homeowner to let the fire department make a preplan. You may consider taking the additional step of approaching local realtors to promote this program during home sales, a program called a certified preplanned.
This idea may not be for every department given the potential workload; however, for low expense and a modest amount of legwork, over time your fire department could hold a database of many residencies in your response districts. Regardless, we have proven this program works and provides an advantage to our crews searching inside hoping to reach those trapped before the atmosphere becomes untenable.
Kyle Romadka is a firefighter/paramedic for the Taylorvillle Fire Department in Taylorville, Ill. Romadka is a 2009 graduate of Illinois Fire Service Institute Academy and of Lincoln Land Community College. He is a 2012 recipient of a Red Cross Hero Award for discovering a house fire and getting occupants out before any injury.