Fire Department Safety Inspection

Fire pre-planning is a key aspect of fire-department response readiness training. Here, a woodworker tells about the day 30 firefighters showed up to view his shop, and a woodworker who is also a firefighter explains why a thing like that would happen. July 5, 2006

I had the fire department call me to do an inspection of the premises and layout of the building in case of fire. A fireman came and did an analysis. We keep a very clean shop and I thought that was the end of it. Two weeks ago, I got a call from the same fireman and he said his supervisor needed to go over the details of his inspection. I said okay, no problem. Friday, 30 fireman (that's right, 30) showed up at my door to "inspect" the building. While we passed the inspection, I thought I would pass it along to others in case you get a similar call and expect just a routine inspection. You have no idea how frightening it can be to have this many fireman looking over every inch of your shop. I am not sure what this was all about but if we hadn't kept our shop so clean, we could have been in a boatload of trouble.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
I've seen that. It's a training run for newbie fire inspectors.

From contributor T:
Several years ago we called the local fire department, to do a pre-plan. The pre-plan is in case of a fire, they know where the machinery is, and all of the material that could be a real problem if there was a fire. A year ago we had a fire in our shop. I feel that the fire department did a good job, because they knew what they were dealing with.

From contributor J:
As a professional firefighter/paramedic, let me assure you that pre-fire planning is a routine practice for many departments. When the 30 people showed up, that was most likely the first alarm assignment for your building for that particular shift. If you were to call 911 to report a fire, it could very well be that they are the companies to show up.

A major concern during these inspections is safety. You would not believe the number of buildings that are a death trap, especially if there is a fire in them. Secondly, we take very good notes to formulate a plan of action in case there is an emergency at your plant. We draw detailed floor plans, including exits, windows, stairs, etc. Also of great importance is mapping out where any HazMats are stored, what they are, and the quantity. You don't want to find out after your guys have been in a fire building for 10 minutes that there are 100 LP forklift tanks. We also want to know if there are any water supply issues and egress issues. Are there overhead power lines that would prevent us from laddering your roof?

Lastly, it's a great time for us to point out any safety concerns to you. Many people think it's okay to have a fire door locked from the inside or chained shut for security, etc. Our goal is our safety and yours, and generally speaking we don't want to write you up or dish out fines. However, if a problem isn't corrected in a timely manner, you could be fined by your municipality.

And there also is a difference between an "inspection" and "pre-fire planning." An inspection is a process that is allowed or mandated by law, and during an inspection we do look for violations. During a pre-fire planning, we do as I described above. However, if there are many violations found, you can expect to have an inspection sometime soon.

From the original questioner:
I did not mind having an inspection. We work very hard to keep our shop clean and safe. I guess what startled me was the sheer number of guys that showed up to do what I thought was a routine inspection. We are used to having insurance people show up and inspect and annually the fire department comes out with 1 or 2 people and does a walk through inspection. It was the fact that 30 people showed up without letting me know they were coming that alarmed me. I wondered why they could possibly need so many people for such a simple thing. Are they looking for something, or maybe they want to rezone the area and are looking for some reason to shut you down? It just surprised me and I thought I would let other shops know so they would not be taken unawares.

From contributor J:
You should have been notified that 30 people would show up, as this probably caused a mild inconvenience to you. That's just a simple professional courtesy, and I'm sorry that wasn't extended to you. Most likely, like I said, the 30 people were from the companies that would be on the first alarm assignment if your building were to catch fire. Or in my department, we occasionally have battalion training, which is about 8 companies and a chief, which is well over 30 people.

From contributor D:
I use to be a firefighter in central NY. One place we responded to was Cornell University. Occasionally our nightly training was to take the entire shift to a new building on campus (or an old one) so we all could see the inside and outside. It helped a lot to see it without the smoke and fire to get in your way! What contributor J said about the locations of your Hazmats is absolutely critical. At Cornell, you always have to know where the guy with the Gieger counter is (and make sure you're not there with him!). They are important, but they should have told you about the amount of people coming. I wonder how many just decided to tag along so they could see all the cool tools!