Fire prevention is also loss prevention, so during times of a slowing economy, the role of fire prevention in protecting the public must be expanded. But during the recent economic downturn, a rise in illegal activities directly impacted built-in fire-protection equipment.
One special area of concern is the theft of sprinkler and standpipe system components from structures and buildings; as the costs of special metals go up, so does the risk to property with these built-in fire-protection systems. The loss of such fire-suppression components for metals scrap and recycling can have devastating consequences.
The fire service has always been concerned for both the safety of the public and the security of buildings, but a fire departments' need during emergency incidents for immediate access to buildings and areas normally secured presents potential security concerns.
Emergency entree systems that allow responders access using special entry keys must continue to be maintained during economic hard times rather than risking damage to expensive storefronts and doorways. Likewise, enhanced inspection efforts must be emphasized to maintain safety for occupants and responders.
Successful prevention programs also target buildings that may pose additional risks associated with abandoned properties. Built-in fire department connections (FDCs) in distressed properties may now pose a potential threat hasn't been addressed in the past.
FDCs allow fire crews to attach supply hoses to a building's sprinkler or standpipe connection to support the systems with water if the systems are activated. Unfortunately, these attachments are typically made of brass and so are attractive to thieves; many jurisdictions have seen connections removed and stolen. This leaves the piping open to the elements, allowing deleterious materials to enter the piping.
The Lake Stevens Fire Department reports that one FDC was stolen in the middle of the day, and thieves even attempted to remove an FDC connection with locking caps.
Even so, locking FDC caps provide security to the systems and ease of access for fire crews; they also hinder thieves' ability to remove the connections and help to eliminate expensive back-flushing.
Inspection programs must be set in place before a new connection can be attached; systems need to be back-flushed to remove any foreign materials, posing a weighty expense to the property owner. However, the initial cost of locking FDC caps is typically less than the cost of having to back-flush the system.
Working with building owners and occupants to convert to locking connection caps will be challenging. But economic-driven inspections can help fire departments deal with the new challenges we're all facing in these tightening financial times. Provide your inspectors with cost-comparison information to offer to owners to help justify the program.