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Get Involved in the Plan Review Process

(Appeared in April 2017 issue of The Dispatcher)

Many changes arrive with the month of April. We begin with the promise of another spring and hope that winter does not make an appearance again. Generally, there are the spring elections that bring possible new players to the political scene in municipalities, schools, courts, and other areas of government. The much-anticipated tax deadline looms for those procrastinators. Of course, the April showers will bring May flowers, as well as the birds and the bees. It is also the time of year that construction blooms and grows. Hopefully, your fire department has prepared for this new season and the growth that will come with it.

When it comes to construction, it is important that your fire department is involved from the beginning. Does your fire department receive and review construction plans, not only being mindful of fire prevention but also strategy and tactics (pre-plans)? The fire department needs to be involved in building construction from the planning stages through occupancy. This requires working with the local building inspector to be included in the planning stages in order to avoid any issues that will arise down the road. Things to take note of are fire protection features, both active and passive; fire department access and water supply (fire flow); safeguards during construction; required permits; and occupancy type.

The next stage of involvement is the plan review process, which assures that things are “approved by the fire code official.” Many items under the codes (building, fire sprinkler, fire alarm) should be approved by a fire code official, though some architects/contractors will often assume approval if they hear nothing comes from the fire code official. Early enforcement ensures problems will not arise later in the project. Part of the plan review process may be listing fire department inspections at various parts of the construction project (rough inspection, fire sprinkler or alarm rough and final inspections, exit access, interior finishes, etc.). This is part of the fire department officials’ approval process because they will inherit the building as constructed and need to assure proper inspection, testing and maintenance of systems under the fire prevention code.

The fire in an apartment building in suburban Kansas City in March shows the dangers of fires in buildings under construction. The large wood-frame structure was framed but without any fire protection. The conflagration that occurred destroyed the building and nearby occupied structures. The fire used resources from many fire departments and affected countless number of people. Fire department access and water supply are critical for protecting nearby structures and controlling the fire. Construction is the period when the building is most vulnerable to fire. Fire protection practices and fire watches during construction will help prevent such fires. Inspections during construction not only assure the building is built as designed, but also assure fire prevention practices are in place.

In order to assure you are prepared for the plan review process, there are classes offered by the National Fire Academy and National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA). For information on these classes and how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please email me or visit National Fire Sprinkler Association – Wisconsin Chapter, NFSA, and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

-Marty King, State Coordinator, NFSA-WI

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