The Talkeetna Fire Department is offering pre-fire walkthroughs to businesses and residents in the fire service area. KTNA signed up to receive a walkthrough, and Phillip Manning brought his recorder along:
Talkeetna firefighter Ron Wingate says he and his colleagues know that, when they receive a call, it’s because someone is likely having a very bad day. The idea behind the walkthroughs and plans the fire department is creating is to help firefighters in the event of an emergency.
The process is fairly simple. Representatives of the fire department come to a business or residence and collect information that is helpful in the event of a call. In addition to basics, such as exterior entrances and exits, Ron Wingate says knowing the internal floor plan of a building is helpful in the event of a fire.
“We take into consideration the building description: the construction of the main floor, if there’s a secondary floor, is there any accesses under the building? Is there attic space? Because those all come into a contributing factor for fire spread. Are there fire breaks built into the building–anything that control the burn to one area of the building?”
Knowing the layout of a structure helps firefighters know how to navigate in high-stress, low-visibility situations. Wingate says basic layout information is also helpful in scenarios outside of fires.
“It may be [that] somebody fell and hurt themselves upstairs. Now we have to mitigate stairs, which we’re all trained to do…but knowing when we come in and go ‘Well I don’t see anybody, but they said he was upstairs.’ Which stairs? How do we get to those stairs?”
One of the first things the Talkeetna Fire Department does after arriving on-scene of a fire is to locate utility shutoffs. Ron Wingate says if firefighters know in advance where those are, it can give them more time to focus on extinguishing a fire.
“We look at where water, gas, and electric shutoffs are, because that’s a major thing for us to know. I want to be able to get here and control the utilities almost immediately. I don’t want to spray water on a live building, not with electricity. I also don’t want propane or heating fuel to be able to still be pumping in to the building, because then I’m spraying water for no reason.”
In addition to the building itself, the fire plan also includes occupancy during the day or night. For many businesses, there is little or no overnight occupancy, but in the event of a fire at a lodging, it’s important for firefighters to know how many people might be inside. For Ron Wingate and his colleagues, making sure everyone is clear of a fire is the first priority, but they also try to minimize damage caused by fighting a fire when possible.
“When we look at a fire, we look at creating the least amount of damage as possible to a structure. If we don’t have to bust that door open because the homeowner is across the street and has a key, give us the key. We’ll open the door instead of costing you $500 for a door. So, if we can mitigate a lower hazard and a lower risk for both ourselves and the homeowner, that’s what we’re there for.”
The pre-fire walkthroughs are completely voluntary, and Ron Wingate says only first responders will have access to completed plans. Those wishing to arrange a walkthrough can contact the Talkeetna Fire Department.