This report is a summary of information learned in the module of Practical Skills for Firefighters, targeting at developing awareness and skills of operating in a hazardous environment. The report is being written as both an assessment of knowledge as well as a collection of vital information and key facts for future practice. It is also a beneficial addition to the professional portfolio operating in the public safety sector. The report represents the first-hand knowledge and will help to demonstrate examples and achievements in this area during any potential interviews. The focus of this report is largely on public safety measures related to fire safety and firefighting. Community-based initiatives are critical to creating awareness that saves lives, assesses risks, ensures following of proper fire codes, makes observations to safety control procedure implementation and, if necessary, to investigate and analyse data regarding fires to prevent future ones. All these elements are discussed in the following report and will be the highlight of the portfolio in the context of skills that firefighters and public safety officials should strive to maintain.
Aims and Objectives
The report aims to outline the information learned in the Practical Skills for Firefighter module and present awareness of the practical applications that this knowledge has on public fire safety initiatives and operational activities conducted by fire departments and government officials in Qatar for fire prevention, protection and response.
- S – Cover all the learning objectives learned in the module, present comprehensive information and present real-world applications when relevant.
- M – The report will meet all the requirements outlined by the instructor and maintain high level of detail and quality while being easily understood and interpreted.
- A – The report can be completed as a comprehensive compiling of knowledge in the course to serve as learning material and portfolio guidance.
- R – The information presented in the report is important for academic and professional development of the writer as they seek to work in the sector of fire safety. The knowledge is key to developing, engaging or operating any fire safety initiatives or participating in firefighting, prevention or investigation activities.
- T – The report is completed in the assigned time frame and contains the most necessary information to be compiled and reviewed as appropriate.
Community Fire Education
Community safety is one of the primary functions of the QCD. A significant part of this role is community engagement and awareness to ensure that the population recognises the importance of QCD activities, what they are and how communities can contribute. Therefore, community fire education is a meaningful activity that QCD and local fire departments alongside public campaigns undertake in targeting various demographics or area in the country with the primary objective of fire prevention through awareness and responsible behaviour.
There is a widespread acknowledgement among firefighting experts and government agencies across the world that fire prevention measures are not effective without a public education component. It is a challenging concept that must address a wide range of demographic populations as well consistently enforce difficult messages, paradigms and behaviour changes. A comprehensive prevention program can include community education, adopting and enforcing fire safety codes and building plans for contingencies and response. Community education can reduce the rate of fire and fire-related injuries when effectively integrated with the overall prevention strategy. It is a long-term process which may take months or years before initiatives are fully effective and there is a paradigm shift in the community. Although at all time communities will look to local fire departments and the QCD for leadership, effective education requires a partnership with local public institutions or organizations (FEMA, 2008).
The objective to public fire safety education to reduce the fire problem in communities and reduce the fire death rate through prevention. Fires oftentimes start due to preventable measures, ranging from behaviours such as using open fire to not having proper fire suppression systems in homes and public places. While people may die in fires due to uncontrollable factors such as building structure, the actions of the occupants during a fire is critical as well. Improvements in building codes can reduce the number of fires, but public vigilance and reaction will improve occurrence and survival rates of those fires as well. The public should be taught to prevent, respond, and react appropriately until firefighters arrive at the scene. Fire safety programs help to build fire safety allies in communities who advocate for fire safety, lead by example and can even identify discrepancies in building codes which have fire risk or create dangerous situations if a fire does start. Community education is a proactive and targeted measure of fire prevention that can have extensive impact on locals.
While the public may and should rely on QSD for protection and fire suppression efforts, the key to community fire education is to educate that they should provide their protection to the best of their ability (and often with support of local fire departments) before the fire occurs. For example, smoke alarms are an accessible tool which firefighters have been advocating for decades, even installing smoke alarms free of charge. However, many fire deaths occur due to unfunctional smoke alarms or other types of residential or public fire suppression systems (sprinkler systems, working fire extinguisher). Community fire education efforts are comprehensive in that they can analyse and conduct community risk analysis. The data is beneficial to identifying causes or risks of fire and creating a plan to address them. While population education is critical, at the same time QSD can examine existing building codes, evaluate adherence and potentially institute systemic changes through various interventions.
QSD may establish partnerships either within its departments or other government agencies in community education efforts. Partnerships can also occur with private businesses and community organizations. There are multiple benefits to the partnerships in this context including pursuing common objectives (community safety), pooling resources for optimization (similar goals may be pursued), combining skills of partners and agency professionals and using other informational or human resources for the common benefit when objectives are aligned. QSD may choose to cooperate with other departments in the Ministry of Interior such as the General Directorate of Public Security to ensure public safety measures are enforced and regulated. Likewise, cooperation with the Communications Department can be effective for widespread public service announcements regarding fire safety. There are multiple opportunities for cooperation even though QSD is a rather independent agency, it seeks to maximize and pool its efforts in various community safety initiatives when applicable or relevant.
Buildings in Qatar
Commonly modern and existing buildings can be classified into three distinct classes of construction, Class A, B and C based on their fireproofing and combustibility. Construction is inherently vital to in a wide variety of fire prevention, safety, and escape/extinguishing activities. It can limit fire spread, provide greater escape time and extend travel distances. Despite significant progress in fire safety management in architecture, some new techniques and materials are highly unsafe in fire-related emergencies. One example of this is the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017, in which a high rise apartment building burned for 60 hours, killing 72 people, largely due to the building’s cladding material, external insulation, and stack effect of the air gaps (BBC, 2019). Another technique is the use of ‘sandwich panels’ in many modern construction buildings which provide internal temperature-controlled environments but have significant fire risk. The ‘sandwich panels’ consist of core insulating materials inserted between two layers of metal (most likely Class A or B buildings) bonded under pressure. However, in fire hazards, sandwich panel construction does not contain integrity, and the materials commonly used such as polyethylene or polystyrene contribute to fire spread, igniting and melting, flowing as flammable liquid along the core (Crewe et al., 2018).
These examples can be considered as secondary construction elements to consider in fire proofing and response. Internal partitions, wall and ceiling linings, panelling and other elements are secondary construction but are important as it can contribute greatly to flammability even in inherently strong, non-combustible structure creating rapid and untenable fires with high casualties. Another factor to consider is the surface spread of flame, ranging from class 0 with least distance and slowest rate of flame spread to class 4 of longest distance and fastest flame spread. Circulation spaces which refer to the movement of individuals within a building using staircases, lobbies, walkways and fire escapes should optimally reach class 0 which protects surface from spread of flame and limit the amount of heat released from the surface during a fire (NFCC, n.d.).
The main feature of Class A buildings is that they are non-combustible structures. The top of the class is fireproofed, protected structural steel frames with floors and roofs with reinforced concrete on steel decking or prefabricated slabs. Exterior walls are masonry, concrete, steel studs or panels of metal and glass. There are also buildings with a reinforced concrete frame with columns and beams being formed or precast concrete (some specifications give these buildings a separate class). Exterior walls are masonry or reinforced concrete, metal, glass or stone. This class includes Types I and II non-combustible construction and ISO classes 5 and 6 if framing is protected steel (Construction class, n.d.).
This class refers to traditional buildings, used in majority of residential construction and older public or office buildings. It is characterized by non-combustible walls and combustible floors, these buildings are non-fire-resistant structures. Walls are made from masonry or reinforced concrete (including tilt-up), can be load-bearing such as supporting the roof or non-bearing with concrete, steel or wood columns, bents or arches supporting the load. Floors structure is made from wood or regular steel. Fire of any significance in such construction will create damage to the structure, instability of the loadbearing walls or elements. This construction is ISO class 2 and 4 buildings referred to as masonry or unprotected non-combustible (Construction class, n.d.).
Class C refers to combustible construction, particularly through the use of timber as the primary material for floors and walls. This material is used in simple, rural or potentially specifically architecturally designed buildings. Exterior walls are made from closely spaced wood or steel studs, such as a typical frame house. Exterior covers may include wood siding, shingles, brick or stone. Floors and roofs are commonly supported on wood or steel joists and trusses. In one floor buildings, the floor may be a concrete slab. This construction is ISO class 1 buildings with the lowest level of fire protection (Construction class, n.d.).
Active and Passive Fire Protection
Active and passive fire protection systems play a key and functional role in fire suppression in cases of emergency, thus providing time to escape, save lives and for firefighting teams to arrive. Modern and public structures attempt to incorporate more passive fire protection (PFP) systems as these are inherently more effective and pre-emptive rather the response-based active fire protection (AFP) systems. However, both PFP and AFP are vital to protecting buildings and people, working independently but supplementing each other and necessary to suppress fires (Firetrace International, 2019).
The primary PFP measure is structural fire protection integrated into structural components (steel frames and joint systems) that protect it from the effect of fire. This includes using non-combustible materials, such as spray-on thin-film, endothermic materials, and intumescent alongside fireproofing classing. Integrating structural fire protection design and application, the structural integrity of the building should withstand even the largest fires which are highly critical to saving lives. This leads to the second important method of PFP which is compartmentation, that establishes fire partitions, firewalls and fire or smoke barriers that do not allow fire spread outside of a specific part of the building, limiting its spread to other floors or structures. To supplement compartmentation, it is possible to integrate opening protection such as fire doors and windows, which will allow for people to escape but then to seal the fire in alongside builder’s hardware, dampers in duct systems and framing to form an effective barrier. Finally, it is important to use firestopping materials, particularly in fire barriers to ensure that any potential holes are impenetrable. PFP is highly effective and is an integral element of modern structures, including in public building codes and engineering considerations. It is these solutions that typical provide the protection and time for inhabitants of a building to safely escape and for the fire to be exhausted with limited damage.
Active fire protection systems are technologies or items that require motion and response to activate, the most common of which are fire suppression systems. Fire suppression is either manual or automatic. Manual tools can include fire extinguisher or hose reel system, while automatic AFP systems include fire sprinklers, gaseous clean agent or firefighting foam which activates upon fire or smoke detection. Automatic suppression systems are commonly seen in commercial and public buildings or high-risk areas (factories). Fire detection is key to activating AFP systems, identifying either smoke, flame or heat. Commonly such systems are connected to alarms (both manual and automatic) which alert people in the building to start evacuation and to dispatch the local fire department.
Safety Observations and Safe Control Procedures
Conducting rescue and firefighting operations safely begins before an incident even occurs. Most operational risks can be avoided if fire prevention activities are effectively implemented as discussed in the community education section. However, prevention fails and QCD fire departments must respond and face operational risk. Fire departments must practice caution but cannot full avoid operational risk while still accomplishing its tasks. For most fire departments around the world, the key priority in incident response is rescue since human life is the biggest consideration at a fire and rescue of humans overrides other strategic considerations. However, emergency operations must be conducted as safely as possible, even during rescue incidents in which maximum exposure is permissible, the safety protocols are still in place. Consideration of acceptable risk must be undertaken, the threshold of which is the expectation of saving lives – saving property is never an acceptable risk. Several safety-related components are established within a basic operational system for fire departments including pre-incident planning information, communication, accountability, rapid intervention teams, and rehabilitation (FEMA, 2018).
Upon arrival at the scene, the fire service must establish an inner and outer cordons. The inner cordon accessible only to essential personnel surrounds the immediate scene of operations, can be hazardous and requires high safety levels. The outer cordon is for supportive services typically managed by police. The responders must utilize dynamic risk assessment which is a continuous evaluation of risk in a rapidly shifting environment, allowing to implement flexible control measure to ensure acceptable levels of safety. Dynamic risk assessment is a vital safe control procedure consisting of:
- Evaluating the situation and persons at risk
- Selecting the safest systems of work for the situation
- Assessing the chosen systems of work
- Introducing additional control measures
Selecting the proper systems of work is a critical element of safety in response to a firefighting or rescue operations. It strongly depends on the context of the situation such as type of building, strength of fire, safety of personnel and the risk assessment. Offensive mode is committing to managing a hazardous area, such as entering the building and other internal operations including search and rescue. Defensive mode is for external operations potentially due to the risk assessment indicating significant risk for internal operations, such as building showing signs of collapse or rapid fire development. This consists of firefighting outside the hazard area or standing by for expert advice or other services. There are also tactical modes of splitting the incident site into sectors deploying offensive and defensive modes separately or transitional mode of deploying such modes simultaneously.
QCD holds vital information on all buildings in Qatar including permits and site information such as hazards, photos, engineering, and architectural plans. This information is stored and then transmitted to response teams in route to the scene. This is highly beneficial as it allows for the firefighting team as well as the incident command to formulate a plan and strategy using the known information about the ongoing incident as well as the building with data regarding its structure, anti-fire systems and other hazards. Pre-incident surveys help for responders to learn about the hazards of the facility and which features it has that can assist or endanger firefighters. Each incident has an assigned site safety officer which overviews operations. They collate and summarise safety development of the incident, passing the information to the Incident Manager periodically during the incident response.
A major challenge to operational risk management in firefighting is time. Most critical decisions have to be made quickly under significant pressure. Incident command and those in charge must recognise dangerous situations, evaluate information and make appropriate decisions in considerations of risk. Time plays a key role in firefighting operations where structure deteriorates for the continuation of the fire burning, with evolving risk factors such as the potential for collapse of the roof or structure or development of new origins of fire internally. Typically, an ordinary construction building will collapse after 20 minutes of fire. Structural firefighting should adhere to the following rules of engagement:
- No building or property is worth the risk of life
- Interior firefighting involves inherent risk
- Risk is acceptable but should be measured and controlled
- No risk is acceptable unless there is potential to save lives or critical property
- Interior offensive tactics should not be used on abandoned or derelict buildings
- Feasible measures of safety and risk avoidance are undertaken by qualified officers
- Incident command should evaluate risk at every situation
- Risk assessment is continuous for the whole duration of the incident
- Conditions change and so does risk, strategies and tactics should evolve (FEMA, 2018).
Investigations on Cause of Fire
Fire investigation is a standard practice after fire-related incidents to determine the origin and cause of the fire. It may sometimes overlap with criminal investigations as fires may occur due to intentional activity or negligence; therefore, cooperation between departments at QCD and the Ministry of Interior is critical. Investigations require a systematic and scientific approach which vital data regarding the fire occurrence and attempts to extinguish it. Areas documented in the investigation may include data on the fire ignition, development, effects on building construction and interior, smoke movement, fire detection, suppression scenarios, human reaction and evacuation, firefighting and rescue and the extent of loss of life, injury and property damage (NFPA, n.d.).
Although the QSD and fire departments are legally obligated to conduct fire investigations, it also allows for improvement of service to the community. Departments may conduct operational critique since it is an effective tool to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the response, operational efforts and suppression performance. It is also linked to fire prevention efforts in a variety of ways. Fire prevention is based on elements of inspection, education and regulation/enforcement as discussed in the community education section. However, not all fire-related issues in the community can be linked to these efforts. Unfortunately, the nature of the fire service is reactive rather than proactive, with policies or codes being modified after major incidents. While this is beneficial as well, fire investigation data can be applied to fire prevention not just fire response. Outcomes of the fire investigation should influence regulation code development, permits granted by QCD as well as community education measures undertaken by the fire department (Firehouse, 2007).
However, collecting and drawing conclusions from data is only a partial step. The data can be analysed for patterns and trends. Through identification of patterns, target hazards are more easily identifiable, alongside the human stakeholders in the community that can be education. As an example, if a number of fires occur in the manufacturing sector over the course of the year, it may viable to investigate and determine similarities which are then applied to building codes or fire prevention measures specific to industry.
In Qatar, 2012 was a tragic year due to fire deaths due to the infamous Villagio Mall fire where 13 children died because the nursery only had a small access passage with no emergency fire existing, essentially creating a death trap. Multiple other high-profile fires also occurred that year creating significant concern for fire standards in the country. The QSD and Qatari government conducted thorough investigations, particularly for the highly publicised Villagio Mall incident. It highlighted both negligence and a lack of preparedness in terms of fire safety measures in the building as well as first responders. The QCD report found that lack of adherence to required laws and systems including design, license and safety conditions contributed to the tragedy. Shortly after, stricter regulations were imposed at nurseries and malls. Public buildings must now have multiple exits, functional fire suppression systems and conduct regular fire drills. Over the years, QCD significantly reformed firefighting capabilities and first responder competency alongside its protocols (Chatriwala & Mokhatri, 2013). This major incident in Qatar highlighted the importance of fire investigations, drawing much needed conclusions for change in QCD operations and the overall state of the firefighting system in the country.
The purpose of a fire investigation is to identify the fire origin and causes to its behaviour. Data collected is vital to addressing the community fire problem. Finally, to complete the cycle, the conclusions drawn should play a role in implementing changes and addressing prevention efforts. Overall, there are a number of benefits to conducting fire investigations including:
- Improving public awareness and community education efforts
- Implementing aggressive inspection and regulation efforts
- Providing input and changing local or national firefighting tactics and operations
- Modifications to regulatory requirements and permits for buildings, construction and/or fire suppression systems
- Preventing or mitigating similar fires from occurring (Firehouse, 2007).
The module and report present several key lessons learned. The primary lesson is that fire prevention measures, either through awareness, programs, protocols or engineering are the most effective of any firefighting activities. The most critical elements in terms of fire prevention come in the form of community initiatives and public awareness. Fire remains a national problem for many countries, but it commonly has a local origin. The majority of fires, some of which tragically destroy lives and infrastructure, are preventable on an individual or community level. Fire prevention and protection strategy is multifaceted, focusing on educating, engineering, economic incentives for AFP and PFP measures, enforcement of fire safety regulation and finally the effectiveness of emergency responses. This is on par with the strategy of the Ministry of the Interior to focus on the public safety sector. However, this approach must be supplemented with strong safe control procedures and systemic factors such as building permits/construction, optimisation of firefighting resources, strong regulation and enhanced procedures. QCD is shifting towards focusing and improving public services. It can do so by raising the levels of efficiency and skills of its officers and professionals while taking steps of greater availability and engagement with the community. However, the factor of coordination both with relevant authorities and community leaders or stakeholders is critical to ensure following of laws and regulations as well as implementation of planned projects and programs at the highest standards.
The Qatar Civil Defence is an inherently complex organization which carries multiple responsibilities in ensuring internal and civil security and safety. In its annual meeting in 2019, the QCD highlighted two of its major objectives being to overcome difficulties and to develop work mechanisms which will strive to provide high standards of security and safety in all facilities and projects in Qatar (Civil Defence to ensure highest standards of security and safety, 2019). These are relevant objectives that QCD should continue to pursue with continuously improving key indicators of time, cost, quality and procedures. The incident of fire responses is decreasing year-over-year because of steps taken by the QCD to review engineering plans in both residential and institutional units, approving those that have appropriate fire safety systems.
The biggest improvement that QCD can make to be of more benefit to the people of Qatar is to improve and innovate its procedures. These can range from issuing building permits to construction certification to consultation and other services offered by the department. Some procedures may need to be reduced or integrated with others while others should be innovated. In the context of fire safety, prevention and response – greater emphasis should be put on developing programs which work with the community, partners and stakeholders seeming permits to integrate fire prevention measures at every possible step. QCD must become more engaged and available, as it currently remains less than efficient and active, particularly at the community levels.
BBC. (2013) Grenfell Tower: what happened.
Chatriwala, O. and Mokharti, S. (2013) ‘Qatar mourns deadly mall fire on anniversary’, Aljazeera.
Construction class (n.d.).
Crewe, R.J., Hidalgo, J.P., Sørensen, M.X., McLaggan, M., Molyneux, S., Welch, S., Jomaas, G., Torero, J.L., Stec, A.A. and Hull, T.R. (2018). Fire performance of sandwich panels in a modified ISO 13784-1 small room test: the influence of increased fire load for different insulation materials. Fire Technology, 54(4), pp.819–852.
FEMA. (2008) U.S. Fire Administration public fire education planning. Web.
FEMA. (2018) Risk management practices in the fire service. Web.
Firehouse. (2007) Fire investigations and their role in prevention.
Firetrace International. (2019) What are differences between active and passive fire protection?
NFCC. (2013) Lining spread of flame.
NFPA. (n.d.) Fire investigations.