Fire & Life Safety

Five Important Criteria

Many school districts have asked me for a model to benchmark the organization of a fire prevention program. While there is no single definitive model, there is a set of components that can help determine a successful organizational and deployment structure for inspections, reviews and educational objectives. There is certainly a set of minimum criteria to be met for an effective and efficient program.

Authority

To start, the District Fire Prevention office should have the authority to administer the program. This might require “memorandums of understanding” (MOU) with state and local fire officials that specifically define which functions can be performed by district fire prevention staff and those that require notification to state or city fire officials.

Many MOU’s allow for almost all functions, with the exception of fire investigation, to be completed by district staff. District policy should establish the fire prevention office, define services and determine an organizational structure, including staffing size. This statement should provide service delivery objectives for each major service component and identify a leader to facilitate effective management of the resources. Included with program administration should be a management information system (MIS) that provides leaders with data that indicate the effectiveness of the organization (contact me or the publisher for this information). The MIS must maintain a history of services delivered and performance outcomes as measured against goals established through the organizational document.

Budget

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.

Record keeping

The Fire Prevention office must develop and institute record keeping 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 district-wide risk assessment and review that assessment every five years, or more frequently when changes take place. Additionally, the program must develop a district risk-reduction plan. The development of this plan is based on the risk assessment and must identify programs and resources needed to reduce risk. An annual review of events must be conducted to identify emerging trends within the school system that may impact the risk reduction plan. The Risk Assessment plan should include the following elements.

  • Demographic — Information describing the composition of the population, age, gender, cultural background language. etc.
  • Geographic — Physical features, including barriers to response such as canyons, waterways, highways and wild-land interfaces.
  • Building stock — Different occupancies and construction type.
  • Fire incidents — Past fire experiences and trends.
  • Event response — Emergencies the organization responds to.
  • Hazards — Natural, human-caused and technological hazards.
  • Economic — Economic factors affected when a fire event is a risk to financial sustainability.

Staffing

Identify personnel required to provide the level of service identified in the plan. To determine staffing levels, duties and time demands for each duty must be completed. In addition, there must be a commitment to on-going training and education. Once administrative functions have been completed the model fire prevention program will identify resources for:

  • fire prevention inspections and code enforcement;
  • planning reviews and inspection of new and renovated buildings;
  • frequency of inspections based on occupancy; and
  • public education activities.

Each of the above components has many elements. You can find many resources online, and from consultants who can help identify the model for the most effective fire prevention program.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of School 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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