The benefits of going digital for pre fire planning

Fire departments shouldn't keep paper site plans in binders, risking damage or being outdated. The technology exists to go digital for fire pre-planning.

December 28, 2020

As a public servant, you are committed to safety. It’s your job to help others in high-stakes and life-or-death scenarios.

But as you know, keeping your community and those in it safe doesn’t just require courage and skill. It also takes a large amount of strategy and preparation.

That’s why fire pre-planning is such an important part of firefighting. You always want to be as ready as possible for whatever situation you and your firefighters may face.

Though pre-fire planning may seem like a given, it often takes the back burner to other duties. After all, staying up-to-date with fire hydrant locations, detailed building plans, and other key structural information can be time-consuming.

Add even more time and energy to pre fire planning if you are flipping through binders and thumbing through stacks of paperwork to navigate this information. On top of taking up unnecessary time, traditional, paper pre-planning can be detrimental to your jurisdiction in a number of other ways.

The problem with traditional, paper pre-planning

Difficult to keep up to date

Another major issue with paper pre-planning is the complexity of keeping plans current. What good are fire plans if they contain outdated information?

The North Charleston Fire Department experienced this issue firsthand when they responded to a call about a fire at a local elementary school. Initially, the department had a difficult time finding their paper pre-plans for the school en route to the scene.

Once they finally dug the documents up, they found the plans were two years old and therefore useless.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss the mark with paper pre-plan documents.

With traditional 3-ring binders, every change means printing out a new copy and replacing the old version in every binder. But if just one gets missed, firefighters won’t have access to the correct information.

This poses a major safety risk to everyone involved. There’s also the consideration of cost. Keeping paper pre-plan documents means constantly replenishing paper and supplies along with added printing costs as plans evolve.

Hard to find what you’re looking for

Paper fire pre-plans can make finding what you need difficult, as North Charleston’s experience demonstrates.

Not only is there the issue of finding the documents themselves. There’s also the concern of wasting time rifling through pre fire plans to find specific information.

Every second counts when the stakes are high. There’s no time to waste when lives are on the line. Still, firefighters have adapted to working under these constraints, making the most of the resources they do have. But there’s a more efficient and safer way to preplan.

Clunky to transport

Firefighters carry enough gear. Their equipment is a big part of ensuring safety on the job, both in fires and for other special calls.

To continue doing their jobs effectively, your firefighters shouldn’t have to worry about adding to their load. Binders and booklets with pre-fire plans are better than nothing, but they can be cumbersome to carry around from scene to scene.

As a general rule of thumb, if it doesn’t help you do your job well, it’s probably not useful.


Benefits of digital pre-plans

Now that you know the potential risks and issues involved with paper pre-plans, it’s time to consider a better way of doing things. What’s the best way to move forward to ensure safety for your department and those with whom you work?

Cloud-based software for fire pre-planning could be a great solution.

Keep in mind that for every new tool you implement, there’s going to be a learning curve. But while making the switch from digital to paper takes time and resources up front, the benefits of going digital are numerous.

Quick preparation

Creating effective fire pre-plans takes a good amount of collaboration. Along with working together to develop your pre-plans, you will also need to get approval from leaders on the documents you create.

Fire department pre-plan software can be a big help in streamlining the collaboration and approval process. Rather than passing around paper plans that can get lost or damaged, you can easily and quickly work from the same document on your mobile devices.

You can also include photos and maps on digital fire plans, which adds an element of convenience and safety.

Easily keep plans up to date

In spite of the strategy it takes to create pre-plans, these documents rarely stay the same. When buildings change, so will your plans.

With paper pre-plans, it’s easy to let updates fall by the wayside due to time constraints, cost, or simply forgetting.

Fire department pre-plan software not only makes updating documents faster and simpler. It also gives you the assurance that everyone in your department is always looking at the most up-to-date version of every plan.

Ease of workflow is another helpful aspect of going digital with your pre fire plans. Updating documents will likely be a collaborative effort. With the right cloud-based software, you should be able to easily route edited plans to the appropriate person for review and approval.

Cross-reference other crucial documents

Though fire pre-plans are a significant part of your work, they aren’t the only documents you will need. You also need to easily access documents like building plans, SOPs and SOGs, and dosage charts.

Having all of your important information in one, easy-to-navigate location makes things simpler for everyone.

Storing your most important documents online means your firefighters can access what they need, when they need it. This capability not only saves time, but enhances safety on the job. After all, only when firefighters actually have access to information they need can they use it to do their jobs.

Quickly find what you need

In a high-stakes scenario, there really isn’t time to thumb through numerous binders. You need to know how to proceed, and quickly, to maximize safety on the job.

With cloud-based document management software, you can easily search for exactly what you need. Simply enter your search term, and the software will do the work for you.

As an added benefit, when your firefighters know they can find valuable information easily, they will be more likely to use resources you provide rather than working from memory.

Access anytime, anywhere

Traditional, paper fire pre-plans typically stay in binders or file cabinets, making them difficult to access.

Unfortunately, though, your pre-plans really don’t do anyone much good if you don’t actually have easy access to them. You can allay this issue by keeping all your documents in one, central, online location.

Having access to these crucial documents anytime, anyplace increases the likelihood of success and safety. Digital fire pre-planning means you can pull up what you need from any device, from a laptop or tablet to a mobile phone.

Of course, you likely won’t be able to pull out your device at the scene of a fire. However, having these documents quickly accessible en route to a call gives you a chance to plan the best way to respond.


Making the switch to digital fire pre-planning

Efficiency, time savings, and money savings are all good reasons to consider changing how you handle pre-planning. However, since safety is your biggest priority, it will also likely be the most rewarding outcome of digital fire pre-planning.

According to Captain James Langdon of the North Charleston Fire Department, going digital with fire pre-planning has drastically improved operations and increased safety. In fact, the results have been so positive that he wishes his department had switched sooner.

“We don’t yet have statistics on the number of people who have been rescued, or how many dangerous situations we’ve prevented or how much time we’ve saved by decreasing the amount of paperwork,” he said in Fire Rescue Magazine. “But we do know that if a digital system had been in place during certain incidents … the tragedies surrounding those incidents might never have occurred.”

Keep learning about policy and procedure management for the fire service.

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