From this article, “Preemptive Strike” (Fire Chief, May 2011), by Gerald Hughes we see the purpose of fire prevention and how balanced fire protection is required to maintain the highest level of fire protection and life safety. Utilizing the well-known fire triangle, Hughes inserts three points of prevention and how they can break up that fire triangle. Fire prevention and life safety is at its strongest when all of these components are effectively in place. Hughes calls this the Fire Prevention Triangle, and states that “it illustrates how human actions and engineering principles combine to have a synergistic effect on the prevention and extinguishment of unwanted fires”.
1. Engineering Principles – By understanding fire, its patterns and behavior, structures and facilities can be engineered so that the threat of fire or loss of life is grossly minimized.
1. Active suppression – on-site equipment that suppresses/extinguishes fire, this could include fire extinguishers, fire sprinkler systems, and standpipes.
2. Passive resistance – structural elements created to separate human beings from fire, these are fire rated walls and smoke barriers, protected openings in these walls, fire stopping, and flame retardants.
3. Early detection – installed systems that provide advance warning of fire, this can be as simple as a smoke alarm or as complex as a full fire alarm system.
2. Human Responsibility – support of fire prevention and firefighting
1. Fire inspections – to determine compliance with fire codes, and create pre-plans
2. Code enforcement – to enforce the correction of violations
3. Firefighting – to suppress fires, and investigate to determine cause and origin
3. Fire Safety Education – center of an effective fire prevention program
1. Public education – disseminates fire/life safety messages to the public, creates awareness, trains building managers on the proper maintenance of engineered systems (fire walls, sprinkler systems, and fire alarms)
2. Training – technical training providing fire inspectors with the skills needed for effective job performance
Just as in the original fire triangle, if you take one of these items away, then it all falls apart (in the case of fire triangle, the fire is extinguished). This illustration aptly demonstrates the necessity of balanced fire protection. For example, if a facility was to install active suppression (i.e., a fire sprinkler systems), then eliminate its passive fire protection, then that level of protection between fuel and heat has been removed, and risk of fire and life loss is increased. Furthermore, if the public education and training component is missing, whereas building owners or facility managers are not educated as to the necessary inspection and maintenance of the engineered systems (active suppression, passive resistance, early detection) then the whole prevention triangle is at risk of falling apart, and the three elements of fire move ever closer together, once again increasing fire and life loss risk.
Even with this knowledge, in an effort to increase profits, the health care industry is attempting to remove these components and rely primarily on active suppression (which, in itself, is not 100% successful). Removing the fire prevention control of, passive resistance, and with no guarantee of proper systems maintenance the fire elements – fuel, heat and oxygen – are permitted to come together, virtually unhindered.
With these systems missing how safe will your local health care facility be to the members of your community? Take action now!