Firefighters know the importance of situational awareness; it leads them to safety after entering a fire building should the need to escape arise due to sudden fire growth or impending collapse. When company officers approach inspections with the same “how are we going to get out of here safely” attitude, they are bringing the same situational awareness skills they rely upon when fighting a fire - only to address code compliance to ensure everyone can get out safely in the event of a fire. The company officer’s ability to point out dangerous and hazardous fire code violations may be the only thing standing between a state of fire safety, or a fire that that could threaten the lives of civilians and firefighters alike.
The purpose of conducting fire inspections is to determine if the people who own or occupy buildings are maintaining them in a safe manner. To accomplish this, fire companies need a compass to point them in the right direction while observing the conditions of a structure. Recognizing fire code deficiencies while on inspection can be best accomplished when company officer’s know and understand the code requirements for the specific occupancy they are inspecting. The Fire Inspection Tetrahedron is designed to give company officers the ability to navigate the many codes that apply to structures by focusing on three fire prevention code principles — Active Suppression, Passive Resistance and Early Detection — throughout the process of an inspection.
Fire inspections begin by using the same information a company officer provides upon arrival at a still alarm fire. When a fire company reports “…on the scene with a 2 story [Height], Ordinary [Construction Type], 200’ X 150’ [Area], Type I School [Occupancy Classification],” the company officer is providing the same key information that a fire inspector requires to begin the annual inspection of a building. Once this key “size up” information has been established, the company officer can begin inspecting by pointing at any one of three fire prevention code principles from the fire inspection tetrahedron – using it as an “inspection filter” through which to observe the building’s built-in fire safety systems. When conducting an inspection of an elementary school, for example, the company officer can begin by acknowledging the major code requirements that pertain to Early Detection for Type I Schools. Working with a checklist that aligns with code sections that relate to the installation of fire alarm equipment and the requirements for signaling the Fire Department in a Type I school, the company officer can now determine if the school is code compliant by answering simple Yes/No questions. If the company officer is unsure of the correct answer, he/she can then reference the code section listed next to the question for clarification. For instance, if the company officer was unsure how to answer the question, “Is the annunciator panel located in the appropriate location?,” all the company officer needs to do is look to the right of the Yes/No check boxes to see the code section referenced, (15 -16 - 1390 of the Municipal Code of Chicago) to determine that the annunciator shall be installed within 20 feet of the main entrance of the school. These checklists provide a place to begin when looking up the specific code violation to cite on the notice of violation.
Fire Departments can create custom inspection check lists that acknowledge practically all occupancy classifications by consulting Fire and Life Safety Inspection Manual (National Fire Protection Association, Inc.)1. Individual checklists compiled by Wayne “Chip” Carson, provide a checklist template – it is up to your town’s fire prevention code experts to reference the relevant code sections that align with the questions being asked.