Fire service features

Write it down, as I do not say it often. Here is a story about a federal government entity that got something right, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"Fire Service Features of Buildings and Fire Protection Systems" is actually in its second edition. The first edition was published in 2006 and has been a valued reference in my library since. The second edition has recently been released and is truly new and improved, with expanded content and great photos and illustrations.

Interestingly, the author’s name is nowhere to be found in this manual, unless of course you look at some of the photo credits. Mat Chibbaro, P.E., CSP, is very generous with his acknowledgement of the many persons who supported this effort, but is does not toot his own horn.

Mat is a fire protection engineer for OSHA working in the national office in Washington, D.C. He started his career as a fire protection engineer for the Navy in Pearl Harbor, where I first met him, and later was with the Montgomery County Maryland Department of Fire and Rescue Services as an FPE in their Fire Prevention Bureau. Mat is also a volunteer fire fighter with the Prince George's County Fire Department being a member of the College Park Volunteer Fire Department for over 30 years. And, did I mention he is also a fellow graduate of the University of Maryland Fire Protection Engineering Program?

One thing I appreciate about this document (and it comes through loud and clear in the OSHA disclaimer on page 2 of the PDF version) is that this is not a regulatory document. This guidance document is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The recommendations are advisory in nature, informational in content, and are intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.

The purpose of this manual is to increase the safety of emergency responders and building occupants by providing information about how firefighters typically interact with building features and fire protection systems during fires and similar emergencies. By better understanding the needs of the fire service, designers and code officials can work together to streamline fire service emergency operations within the built environment.

The manual recognizes that our building codes include as part of their objective the safeguarding of fire fighters and emergency responders. This goal seems to be implicit in the many code requirements but the details are not often clear. The manual also recognizes that the fire service in the U.S. is primarily a local government function and therefore, how fire departments handle fire emergencies vary greatly across the nation.

The manual helps the designer with useful information about basic fire department operations and the considerations needed during the building design process. It also drives home the message that the designers must work with the fire service responsible for the building to address their specific local needs. It is amazing how often things as simple and as basic as the location of a fire department connection or a fire alarm annunciator panel are not properly considered by designers; myself included.

The manual has been expanded from its original seven chapters to thirteen chapters. The photographs and illustrations are excellent, contributing to a better understanding of the concepts. The end of each chapter contains a list of questions and resources. The questions can be used as a checklist to ensure one’s design is addressing key issues, as well as a basis for discussions with the fire service about their needs in a particular area for the project. The annex also contains a "Coordination Checklist" that can also serve as an agenda for use when meeting with the fire department. The chapters I found most beneficial where the chapters on: Fire Apparatus Access, Fire Fighter Access, Premises Identification, and Hazards to Fire Fighters.

I have always felt that my early experience as a volunteer fire fighter has been immensely useful in my fire protection engineering career. For fire protection engineers who have not had that opportunity, "Fire Service Features" can assist in understanding the fire service perspective. You can find a copy at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3256.pdf.

Samuel S. Dannaway, P.E., is a registered fire protection engineer and mechanical engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering. He is past president and a Fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. He is president of S. S. Dannaway Associates Inc., a 15-person fire protection engineering firm with offices in Honolulu and Guam. He can be reached via email at SDannaway@ssdafire.com.

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