Whether or not your barn is close to a road or not easily seen or accessible from the road, request that your fire department make a plan (called a pre-fire plan or preplan) of your property. The request has to come from you because unlike commercial establishments, which may require annual fire safety inspections, fire department personnel cannot inspect your home or barns unless you invite them onto your property and request a fire inspection.
A preplan for a given property or structure begins with a walk-through, in which all fire department members tour a building or property to become familiar with the layout and location of fixed-installation firefighting equipment (standpipes in buildings, for example, or a dry hydrant that is used for obtaining water from a farm pond), location of electrical panels, and anything else that could provide an advantage or prove to be detremental in case of a fire. As fire department members do their walk-through, they will be looking for fire safety problems that need to be corrected. The members who do this inspection are on your side—they’re not looking to create a legal problem for you or to promote expensive corrections. They’re going to spot potential hazards or existing shortcomings and they’ll tell you what you can do to save the lives of your animals, your life, and possibly, in case of fire, their lives. One benefit of making improvements that impact on your risk factors is that you may be able to get reduced insurance premiums.
What your fire department needs to know:
- What is the layout of the barn? Is there a center aisle with stalls on each side or only on one side? Are there adequate exits that can be reached in low to zero visibility by going in a straight line? What alternate exit will be used from each stall or enclosure in case the primary exit is blocked?
- In what order (if the situation allows) should the horses or other animals be evacuated?
- How many animals are in the barn and what kind of animals are they (stallions, bulls, heifers, sheep, mares with foals, cows with calves, etc.)? Which animals will require special handling?
- What paddocks, riding rings, other barns, or neighbor’s property are designated for emergency use?
- How much access is there to the barn for apparatus placement?
- What is the water supply? If none on property, which mutual aid departments will supply water tankers?
- Where is the electrical panel?
- Are there hazardous materials stored in the barn or close by, such as gasoline- or diesel-fueled farm equipment, or ammonium nitrate fertilizers?
- Is there a sketch of the property available showing the location of utility lines, underground gas lines and alternate water supplies?
Here’s an example of a preplan, using the farm belonging to Laura Darvey, one of the characters in my Firehouse Family series of novels. This fictional preplan looks like it was created in the 1930s, which is the setting for Memories, The Quarry, The Farm Fires, and The Demise of the Horse Fairly. While I was writing these novels, I used this form and its information to keep track of “what was where” on Laura’s farm. (Click image to view full size PDF version).
Although this preplan of Laura’s farm is less complicated than todays preplans tend to be, had Fire Chief Jake McCann needed it, this information might have made a big difference in how much of Laura’s property could be saved.
Using modern information collection systems, fire department members will inspect your property to acquaint themselves with factors that will be advantageous or might be detrimental in case of fire. They will often make their preplan available to neighboring fire departments because in almost every barn fire, mutual aid is required for personnel, equipment, and water supply. Neither you nor the fire department want any surprises in the event of an emergency—an up-to-date preplan helps everyone.