Fire & Life Safety (Focus on Preparation and Prevention)

The Fire Prevention Office

While there is no single definitive model that can be used to benchmark the organization of fire prevention programs, there is a set of components which can help determine a successful organizational and deployment structure for inspections, plan review and educational objectives for your school’s fire prevention program.

Authority, Budgeting and Record Keeping

To start, the Fire Prevention office should have the authority to administer the program. This might require memorandums of understanding with state and local fire officials that specifically define which functions can be performed by on-campus fire prevention staff and which require notification to state or city fire officials. Campus policy should have written statements that establish the Fire Prevention office, define services the office will provide and determine an organizational structure (including staffing size). This organizational statement should provide service delivery objectives for each major service component as well as identify a leader that facilitates efficient and effective management resources. Included with program administration should be a management information system (MIS) that is capable of providing data that indicate the effectiveness of the organization. The MIS must maintain a history of services delivered and performance outcomes as measured against established goals.

The leader of the Fire Prevention office should have responsibility for budget development and administration. Records of funds received/expended and data necessary for planning and budgeting purposes should be aligned with the organizations goals, objectives and expected outcomes.

The Fire Prevention office must develop and institute recordkeeping practices in accordance with nationally recognized standards such as NFPA or ICC, as well as any state or local requirements. These records should be the basis for the information used to publish an annual fire prevention report.

Risk Assessment and Reduction

Fire Prevention offices must conduct a campus community risk assessment and review that assessment every five years, or more frequently when changes take place that affect the original assessment. Additionally, the program must develop a campus community risk reduction plan. The development of this plan is based on the risk assessment and must identify programs and resources needed to reduce risk. The risk assessment plan should include the following elements:

  • Demographic — Information describing the composition of the population; age, gender, cultural background, language and other information to describe the people.
  • Geographic — Describe the physical features of the campus, including barriers to response such as canyons, waterways, highways and wild-land interfaces.
  • Building stock — Include information related to different occupancies and construction type.
  • Fire incidents — Describe past fire experiences and trends for the campus compared to peer institutions.
  • Event response — Describe what types of emergencies the organization responds to.
  • Hazards — Discuss natural, human-caused and technological hazards.
  • Economic — Include economic factors that when impacted by a fire event are a risk to financial sustainability.

Staffing

In order to determine staffing levels, scope of duties and time demands for each duty must be completed. In addition, there must be a commitment to ongoing training and education to ensure competency is maintained.

Once administrative functions have been completed, the model fire prevention program will identify resources for: Fire prevention inspections and code enforcement in existing structures, plan review and inspection of new and renovated buildings, frequency of inspections based on occupancy (annual, biennial, triennial), and public education activities that change behavior or demonstrate safe practices.

Each of the above components have many elements. You can find many resources online from codes and standards agencies, as well as consultants that can help your organization identify the model for the most effective fire prevention program for your campus.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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