Friday, January 16, 2009

Municipal Water Supply System Challenges

firefighters at a fire hydrant

The proper location of the fire hydrants can have a positive impact on property fire insurance rates.

There are numerous challenges in administering a local water supply system to ensure adequate water supply and pressure for fire protection. Water storage capacity, system demand, supply interruption, number and performance of fire hydrants, use of non-potable water, and alternative water supply are some of the issues that confront both water utilities and fire departments.

To support efforts in this area, USFA worked in partnership with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) Educational and Scientific Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to study and evaluate the latest trends and technologies related to municipal water supply systems and enhancing effective fire protection. Examined were interoperability and critical infrastructure protection, both key areas of interest within the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the issues of backup and redundant water supply systems for fire protection.

Two reports were developed to provide communities with comprehensive information on municipal water supply systems in support of fire suppression activities and concerns.

  • Water Supply Systems Concepts (PDF, 2.6 Mb, Adobe Acrobat PDF Help) discusses fundamental considerations for water supply systems, processed water for domestic consumption, water quality standards, water distribution system design concepts, consumer consumption and needed fire flow, alterative water supplies, impacts of fire flow on distribution system water quality/design/operation, dual water systems, effective fire protection, and separate water systems/emergency supplies.
  • Water Supply System Evaluation Methods (PDF, 5.5 Mb) covers the evaluation of municipal water supply systems, water system hydraulics, fire protection delivery capacity, storage capacity, evaluating the quality and delivery of systems, monitoring water supply consumption and security analysis, computer modeling, and establishing a community program to document effective water supplies for fire protection.

Key considerations presented in the reports that communities should be cognizant of include:

  • The installation of automatic sprinkler systems is an excellent strategy to reduce any further impact on the community water system, to provide fire protection water, and possibly to reduce some of the large fire-flow rates that may exist.
  • Fire districts or fire departments that are serious about establishing an alternative water delivery program need to appoint a Water Supply Officer to coordinate all activities associated with the delivery of water supplies to fire risks throughout the fire area, to augment any existing water supplies that have deficiencies in meeting needed fire flows, and to meet special emergency needs using alternative water supplies.
  • In suburban and rural areas without water delivery from a municipal water system supplying fire hydrants, provisions need to be made by the jurisdictional fire department to transport water to structural fires and other fire emergencies using fire pumpers, pumper-tankers, and mobile water tankers. To meet the minimum specified flow of 250 gpm for 2 hours or a higher flow as determined by the needed fire flow for specific fire risks, water supply sources need to be provided throughout a fire protection district or Graded Area.
  • It is essential that the planning of fire hydrant locations be a cooperative effort between the community water department, the fire department, the building and zoning department, and with the insurance carrier for large commercial and industrial complexes. The proper location of the fire hydrants definitely can have a positive impact on property fire insurance rates.
  • Water supply for firefighting using firehose streams is not required to meet the same quality of water standards as drinking water. This understanding provides communities with several potential options for improving the water supply for fire protection without interacting with the domestic water system. One or more of these options may be more cost effective and more efficient than trying to upgrade the existing water system to supply both domestic water and water for fire protection.
  • It is vital that municipal water systems be secured so that any interruption is minimized or eliminated. These conditions range from electrical power failures to pumping equipment to destructive interruptions from a terrorist attack.

We hope this information is of assistance to your community in meeting its fire protection needs and we welcome your comments.

Meet the Author
Bill Troup is a Fire Program Specialist with the USFA’s National Fire Programs Division, National Fire Data Center. He manages numerous research and special studies in firefighter and emergency responder health and safety areas. He has nearly thirty years experience in emergency services and continues to serve in his community as a firefighter/EMS provider.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Duty to Act

off-duty firefighters helping accident victim

Fire departments should have their own legally reviewed written policy and protocols regarding “a duty to act” to protect themselves, their members, and their members’ families. Photo: FEMA News

When does an off duty firefighter have a duty to act? Does an off duty firefighter even have a duty to act?  What if things go from bad to worse and the firefighter is injured or killed? These are important questions for each individual firefighter to answer and answer from the basis of their own local and state legal authorities.

Just as Good Samaritan laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, when it comes to a firefighter’s duty to act in the United States, there is no one single “U.S. Fire Service” guideline so firefighters need to be aware of their own fire department’s written operating guidelines and policies that are based upon local and state law.

Outside of one’s own controlling jurisdiction, or when acting in one’s jurisdiction in an extralegal manner, firefighters who do choose to render aid in an emergency are in effect Good Samaritans, who also happen to be firefighters.

There are many important considerations when it comes to one’s duty to act, or not — fire department insurance policies; local and state worker’s compensation programs; state and national benefit programs like PSOB; and negotiated organized labor contracts as they relate to a firefighter’s duty to act and compensation for death or injury while performing legally authorized actions.

It is important for each and every firefighter in the USA to be aware of the legal framework for where they live, work, travel, and play. While it is certainly a commendable notion for some firefighters to believe that they are on duty twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter where they are at … the fact of the matter is they are not.

Fire departments should have their own legally reviewed written policy and protocols regarding “a duty to act” to protect themselves, their members, and their members’ families. Circumstances addressed should include emergency incidents that occur on an everyday basis and in times of disaster.

This blog is not meant to be the first nor the final word on the matter, and certainly there are as many opinions on the subject as there are written words on this page or fire departments in the USA. Opinions, however, do not have the force of law. Cover your bases. Never self-dispatch yourself to an incident scene. In any case, be safe. To the extent practicable, call 911 or the local public safety dispatch number to get help responding before you intervene. Have appropriate retro-reflective gear in your personal vehicle. Carry emergency flares and a quality flashlight with charged batteries.  If you provide emergency medical care, use appropriate gloves and other body substance isolation infection control. Know your limits, act safely, and never make a bad situation worse.

Meet the Author
Mark A. Whitney is a Fire Program Specialist with USFA’s National Fire Programs Division, National Fire Data Center. He has been responsible for USFA’s annual study of firefighter fatalities in the USA beginning with the 1999 report, and working in cooperation with National Fire Protection Association, was the project officer for the first U.S. Fire Service Needs Assessment and the Four Years Later, A Second Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service reports. Previous years experience included working many disasters and emergencies with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and while serving overseas with the U.S. Army Military Police Corps.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Poor Decisions Can Lead to Holiday Fire Tragedies

Fire deaths and injuries occur year-round in our communities, and are tragic anytime, but they seem particularly heartbreaking during the holiday season.

Why is that?

As we gather with our friends and families, reflect on those who may no longer be with us, and honor the traditions of our individual faith and culture, we are particularly vulnerable to these startling and emotional events.  This time of year is wrought with potential fire and safety hazards around the home and where we work and play. 

As the winter season approaches, and liquid or gas fuel costs remain unstable, many people may turn to alternative heating sources to keep warm.  The careless use of candles and other open flames leads to many fires.  Overloaded electrical circuits for holiday lighting and decorations are an invitation to a calamity.

But not all fire safety problems are inanimate; the result of improper use of equipment or appliances.  Many are the result of poor decisions we make.

dry tree comparison with well-watered tree

This dramatic clip illustrates what happens when fire touches a dry tree and a properly maintained, well-watered tree. Watch Now »

I recall an incident when I worked as a municipal fire marshal.  A noted college professor in our community was hosting an after-Christmas party where the conversation naturally migrated to the topic of dry Christmas trees.

The professor told his guests that the commonly held wisdom of dry trees being a fire hazard was little more than a myth.  To prove his point, he took an entire 6-foot-tall tree from his living room and began to push it – tip first – into the fireplace that contained a few burning logs.

You can imagine the rest of the story.  The dried tree ignited with incredible speed and spread to the rest of the house. (Watch Christmas Tree fire video footage)

The story does not end here, though.

The professor got so excited by the fire and his attempts to suppress it that he suffered a massive heart attack.  Our fire department paramedics struggled heroically to try to resuscitate him while firefighters worked to keep his home from burning to the ground.  Unfortunately, the paramedics were unable to save him.

While this is only one anecdote from any number of tragic fire incidents, it is a reminder that we must protect ourselves from fires at all times and respect how quickly an uncontrolled fire can overtake our lives.  Keeping combustible materials away from heat sources is an important part of any fire protection strategy.

Take a few minutes to visit Focus on Fire Safety: Holiday Fire Safety and share these tips with your community so others can safely enjoy this time of year and celebrate the wonderful blessings we all have.

Meet the Author
Rob Neale is a Deputy Superintendent at the National Fire Academy where he is responsible for curriculum development. He has been at the National Fire Academy since 2001, after a 24-year career in the municipal fire service in Washington State where he worked as a firefighter, fire marshal and fire chief. He is the author of the original Coffee Break Training series for code officials and allied professionals.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Series of Coffee Break Training Topics Launched

coffee break

A current television advertisement promotes cellular telephones as these “wonderful new devices” that will do things we never imagined: Internet access, mobile texting, calendar functions, portable display presentations, database management, and, oh yes, two-way voice communication.

It seems that everywhere we turn everyday we are confronted with some new information technology screaming to capture our attention. Some experts predict we may soon reach information overload.

With all these competing interests, it’s hard for the fire and emergency services and allied professionals to keep up with current events and training. Three years ago, the National Fire Academy launched an informative program called “Coffee Break Training” to give busy fire and building officials short, timely and thought-provoking training. These weekly training vignettes cover a broad range of topics from fire protection systems to fire dynamics.

Our original goal was to reach 5,000 subscribers. Within a year, we passed that mark, and now have nearly 25,000 subscribers to our Coffee Break Training e-mail list. Coffee Break Training is consistently the most popular download on the USFA’s Web site with over 1.2 million bulletins downloaded since November 2005. The scope of influence of the World Wide Web truly is an amazing thing.

Many of our subscribers have asked us to expand the Coffee Break Training into other topics, and we have listened to what they have to say. Beginning today, we will launch a new series of Coffee Break Training topics to reach our current audience and perhaps some new ones as well.

This first new effort will be useful to those who regularly use or even may be new to the World Wide Web. The United States Fire Administration’s Learning Resource Center has developed a series of Coffee Break Training on “InfoSearch and Web 2.0” that will give subscribers useful tools and techniques to navigate the World Wide Web.

Soon you will see Coffee Break Training series from other National Fire Academy curricula as well: emergency medical services, executive development, arson and fire investigation, hazardous materials, and public education and leadership, just to name a few. We encourage you to use these tools as part of your day-to-day business.

There’s a huge world of information out there; we hope you will use it to enhance your personal and professional development. The National Fire Academy wants to play a part in your growth. Your suggestions for future Coffee Break topics and series are welcome; please send them to us through the Comments section below. We may not be able to get to them right away, but will do what we can to share your ideas.

To subscribe to or download Coffee Break Training bulletins, point your browser at

Meet the Author
Rob Neale is a Deputy Superintendent at the National Fire Academy where he is responsible for curriculum development. He has been at the National Fire Academy since 2001, after a 24-year career in the municipal fire service in Washington State where he worked as a firefighter, fire marshal and fire chief. He is the author of the original Coffee Break Training series for code officials and allied professionals.

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