The Importance of Fire Pre-plans

importance of fire pre plans

What is pre-incident planning?

Pre-incident planning, fire pre-plans, preincident plans all say and mean the same thing. 

We can think of a 911 call as an operation, and in the military we know that operations take gaining intelligence:

“Military intelligence is the key to war; without it, you cannot win.”

The better the preincident plan, plan analysis, and SOPs, the fewer on-demand decisions will be needed in the heat of battle. Pun intended. 

We are fighting less fires due to increased safe construction practices, fire prevention, and building codes. This means we must shift our methods of obtaining and gaining intelligence. As we run EMS calls, we can use this time to gather pre-incident intel.  It is a great time while you have access to your bread and butter structures in your fire district to look around and begin to build an understanding of layouts in your area. 

Many agencies do safety surveys and/or pre-incident planning of commercial buildings in their response areas. This is a great time to write down, draw diagrams, and table-top exercise with your crews scenarios that you may face on the next unknown structure fire or hazmat incident.

Regardless if your agency requires preplanning, we are going to offer you some resources to conduct your own. Your life, your crews life, and the citizen’s life you swore to protect could very well depend on it.

Visiting the location

I have found through my experience in the fire service that with very few exceptions do business owners not want you to visit and preplan their properties. Calling ahead of time, and attempting to avoid busy business hours with respect to the property owner, tends to lend the most support from the property owners.

A tour from a property owner is one of the best ways to obtain specific information about the location in question. There are many free templates online of pre planning forms, but the main concept is to document the following:

  • structural conditions
  • resources needed
  • contents
  • occupancy type
  • access limitation
  • water supply
  • special challenges.

Having a basic understanding of building construction is a HUGE benefit in performing these plans, so we recommend taking a class such as Building Construction for the Fire Service. 

Free tools available

We have linked to a great template above, and most departments utilize special applications to help preplan and share preplanning with other responding firefighters. However, if your department does not do this, you can use a host of free tools to help plan with professional precision. A department’s lack of preplanning should not stop a fire company from doing their own plans, when the lives of many hang in the balance. 

Google Earth: Satellite Images 

satellite preplanning using google earth for pre incident planning

You can download a satellite image like above  and load it into a free online editor like Canva. Then make keys, captions, amendments on the screen shot to share with your crews in table top exercises. You can also use Canva to help you create building and room diagrams like Microsoft Paint. 

Canva online editor

NFPA 1620: Standard for pre-incident planning

Pre-incident planning is so important, there is an entire chapter devoted to it in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). There is free access to this chapter via their online document portal. 

This document gives the reader a basis to build a pre-plan, and discusses special considerations that are necessary in the planning phase of an incident. 

Annex B contained in NFPA 1620 contains case histories of several fires where pre-incident planning led to success or where lack thereof led to failure.

NFPA 1620, B.11 discusses a fire in a nursing facility on March 29, 2008 where a plan resulted in safer and more effective operations. The fire began in a hard to access laundry room and due to the implementation of a pre-incident plan, the first arriving officer was able to appropriately move resources around to cut the fire off before any harm to the immobile residents.

Relevant classes offered by Couch Courses

We offer many classes related to the safety of firefighters. We know education is by far an amazing life safety consideration. In our classes we can help you analyze and dive deeper into preplanning and firefighting to help you safe the lives of your peers and citizens. 

These are some of the classes we recommend related to this topic: 


Get out there with your crews and plan for the unexpected. Do not wait for your department to implement a program or process. It is important for us as firefighters to take our own safety and those of our citizens into our own hands. Brainstorm, practice, and table-top what we think maybe issues in the future in our response areas. 

With the tools I have shared above, you can take a basic conversation to the next level with a pre-plan that can be shared with your own station, or even entire department. 

Be the change you wish to see. 

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