Embrace "Firefighting" Maintenance

Kathy | September 1, 2007

Comparing the operations of a typical fire department with the operations of a well-run maintenance organization is not a stretch. The parallels go on and on.

For example, according to Chief Scott Tegler of the Woodstock Ontario (Canada) Fire Department, fire crews strive to attain a mean time to response target of less than four minutes, from the time the 911 call is received, to the time the fire engine and crew leaves the station. This important key performance indicator (KPI) is comparative to the response component of the meantime- to-repair (MTTR) indicator. Used to define the level of maintainability within a maintenance department, MTTR is one of a number of KPIs that denote the service level performance provided to the customer and measure effectiveness of the many preventive programs being carried out when not fighting fires.

Prevention in the firefighting world plays an important role in ensuring a “state of readiness” and confidence in knowing the equipment will perform exactly to specifi- cation every time. Preventive maintenance of all equipment is scheduled on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. It includes operation checks, lubrication and mandatory parts replacement. Much of this work is carried out by the firefighters themselves in a Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)-like fashion, promoting intimate knowledge and ownership of the equipment.

Planning the work/working the plan
One of the most striking parallels between a fire department and a maintenance department is seen in the prevention/job preparation component. In a fire department, job plans are put together in a Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM)-like fashion for all industrial facilities within the department’s geographical area of responsibility. Each shift is assigned a segment of the community and puts together a pre-plan for fighting a fire at each company. Typical plans include Emergency Response Plans (ERPs), type of operation, emergency contact personnel and numbers, chemicals and toxic waste kept on site, building construction type, etc. This information is then shared with all staff. Should an emergency occur, the suppression crew is now in possession of a planned response to virtually any condition they may find at the incident site.


Another important aspect of prevention is carried out through regular fire code inspections of building structures throughout the community, not unlike equipment condition checks performed by maintenance on a daily basis. This activity keeps the fire department in touch with its customers and allows the parties to establish a good working relationship. Categorizing and tracking incident causes, not unlike Fault Code Analysis (FCA), also allows the fire department to put together an education program aimed at future prevention of similar incident occurrences. Program success is measured through the reduction of incidents over a set time period, much like it is with equipment reliability.

Training, as with any World-Class organization—maintenance included—is foundational to achieving a minimum level of competence and rapid response. All fire departments train to the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) essentials of firefighting generally accepted standards. Firefighters are certified by examination on both theory and practical components and are expected to renew their certification every five years in a similar fashion to tradespersons.

Walk into any good maintenance department and you will find mapped-out work flows and standardized operating procedures. These are used to gain consistency in how an operation is performed—and to quickly train and refresh the maintenance personnel in the operational and work method requirements.

Similarly, fire departments develop and utilize Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) as part of their training process. SOGs are operational guidelines that detail the purpose, scope and procedure to be followed for most operations performed within the department. These things can include vehicle operation, wearing of protective clothing, use of specialized equipment and maintenance and performance conducts. These guidelines are living documents that are reviewed and updated on a regular and “as needed” basis. Although most SOGs are standardized across all fire departments, each individual department can and does tailor them specifically to its exact needs.

Another training method used for consistency and preparedness involves the use of 5S techniques. Based on these techniques, every piece of equipment, including clothing, is assigned its own space. This is a crucial factor in a fire department’s ability to achieve rapid response times.

Working as a team
To ensure that team members really work as a team, fire departments subscribe to a simple four-step plan of action for every response:

1. PLAN…Understand what can occur, prepare and prioritize actions that must occur.

2. BRIEF…Inform team of the plan and discuss prior to an event and enroute to an incident.

3. EXECUTE…Perform the required tasks.

4. DEBRIEF…Discuss what happened. This type of four-step plan is a hallmark approach in assuring availability and reliability through the understanding of failure.

Redefining “firefighting”
The successful operation of a fire department relies heavily on a total proactive approach to every aspect of its job. The seemingly reactive response to a fire alarm could not be a more planned event. A well-run maintenance department can draw many parallels to the operation of a fire department. Thus, the next time you are tempted to comment on a maintenance department as operating in a “firefighting” mode, mean it as a compliment!


In times like these, where so many companies and sites are concerned about safety and security around their facilities, there are many things a plant maintenance department can do to help its local fire department prepare for and deal with a crisis situation.

Fire Chief Tegler points out that most companies/sites fail to understand that when they are performing a certain activity within the organization, they are 100% responsible for mitigating and having the ability to cope with potential negative consequences. This means a company/organization must perform a risk analysis on all plant operations and assess the training necessary to facilitate disaster prevention along with the resources required to manage any potential disaster that may occur.

“Many times,” Tegler says, “I have sat down with safety committees of various organizations and seen that their ERP plans have placed responsibilities such as evacuation and hazard rescue as the entire responsibility of the emergency responders.” As he notes, however, “It is impossible for us (the fire department) to cope with all elements associated with a disaster.”

Be aware that not every fire department is trained in all the same disciplines, such as confined space rescue, trench rescue, hazardous materials or medical response—especially in rural areas that use volunteer firefighters. Strike up a dialogue with your local fire department and determine its specific capabilities. You may have to build contingency into your ERP if your special needs are not met by your local fire department.

Keeping company/site records up-to-date, Tegler adds, is another particularly tough challenge fire departments face. That means keeping all relevant contacts current, including information on important company/ site 24-hour contact personnel.

Be proactive
The following list details a number of proactive actions a company can take in reducing risk.

  1. Provide a plant information dossier containing:
    a. A fully documented Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that includes evacuation and hazard rescue information, delegating responsibilities to assigned personnel;
    b. A current fire exit and suppression system mapping of your facility;
    c. An up-to-date 24-hr contact listing of emergency personnel that includes e-mail, office, home, pager and cell phone numbers;
    d. A listing of all chemicals, lubricants, gases and other hazardous materials (include raw materials used in the manufacturing process) stored inside and outside the plant, complete with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and locations in building;
    e. An up-to-date building drawing.
  2. Update the above list on a four-tosix- month interval basis.
  3. Work with your fire department to ensure that your facility is compliant with the latest fire code standard, allowing the fire department to perform necessary audits.

Taking these simple steps is an exercise in due diligence that may not only help minimize your risk of incident occurrence, but also reduce your insurance rates. This list, however, is offered only as a reminder of some things you can do. You MUST check with your local authorities, corporate safety and security entities and risk management/insurance carriers and consultants, and comply with their specific requirements.


Who among us doesn’t remember the 11th day of the 9th month, 2001? Known simply and collectively as “911,” the events of that fateful day changed our world forever. I, like you and countless others glued to our television sets around the globe, saw much of it unfold in real time—jet aircraft being purposely crashed into buildings in New York City and Washington, DC, taking so many souls, and, to some extent, our innocence as nations with them.

Through the smoke, however, we witnessed something that made us very proud—innumerable acts of great courage and leadership in the face of seemingly insurmountable human challenges. This was especially true in the case of the New York City Fire Department and so many other fire departments that selflessly gave of themselves to rescue others and bring the Twin Towers and Pentagon situations under control.

Watching the events play out that day—and during the days and weeks that followed—I couldn’t help but marvel at the professionalism and state of preparedness exhibited by the fire crews under the most harrowing conditions. In the years since, I often have found myself reflecting on those images, as well as on memories of my previous visits to firehouses. Among the things that have come to mind have been the cleanliness and neatness of these facilities—where everything has a place; the spotless gleam of the fire engines; the carefully rolled and positioned hoses; and the firemen’s gear— always laid out in a “ready-to-wear and ready-for-action” manner.

Thinking back on these things, I began to question the use of the “firefighting” label to describe the worst state of maintenance—wherein a maintenance department responds to breakdowns in a “first come-first served” unplanned and non-scheduled way. Prompted to find an answer that would help put this apparent paradox to rest, I sought out Fire Chief Scott Tegler of the Woodstock Ontario (Canada) Fire Department.

Through my visits with Chief Tegler, I hoped to gain a better understanding of how a typical fire department goes about its business. As documented in this article, what I saw and learned reflects what I consider to be a virtual model for World-Class maintenance—the equivalent of a truly Lean maintenance department performing both proactive activities and condition-based planned responses to incidents.

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is managing partner and principal consultant for Engtech Industries Inc, based in Innerkip, ON, Canada. Engtech provides a wide range of production & maintenance management consulting and training services for national and international clients throughout industry. Internet:; telephone: (519) 469-9173; e-mail:






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