February 12, 2021
I recently had the opportunity to moderate a webinar roundtable featuring three experts from the world of construction site fire safety. Our 90-minute conversation covered a range of topics, from the importance of understanding safety standards in the building code to introducing wireless technology to alert construction crews to fire hazards.
But for me, the message that really stood out – and emphasized repeatedly – is the critical role played by the Fire Prevention Program Manager (or Site Safety Director according to the 2021 IFC) in preventing fires at project sites.
This is the person involved in the writing and execution of the Fire Prevention Plan at every construction project. It’s important to note that this position is also required as part of the code. Section 7.2 of the National Fire Protection Association Standard 241 that states: “The (project) owner shall designate a person who shall be responsible for the fire prevention program and who shall ensure it is carried out to completion.” The code also gives the Fire Prevention Program Manager the authority to enforce the plan.
In other words, Fire Prevention Program Managers must be involved in every aspect of fire prevention at the job site. Additionally, those assigned this responsibility must care about fire prevention, think about it daily and embrace their commitment to safety.
Chris Towski, a lieutenant with the City of Cambridge, Mass., summed it up well by saying: “The folks assuming these roles really need to dive in and master what they’re being asked to do.”
So, let’s explore the duties of the Fire Prevention Program Manager and the keys to success.
In addition to crafting fire prevention plans, Fire Prevention Program Managers are responsible for routine inspections of the job site, training workers about the fire plan and safety and ensuring access to the construction site for first responders.
Fire Prevention Managers should be knowledgeable about the building code, have oversight for managing impairments to fire protection systems and be skilled in communicating with code officials and the local fire service throughout the course of a project’s evolution.
But there are also a set of personal traits and values that Towski maintains are essential to the position, characteristics that aren’t found in the job description or code. For Towski, Fire Prevention Managers should:
- Have a strong personal desire and mindset to keep the construction site free from fire.
- Honor and recognize the need for prevention. Prevention not only means keeping fires from starting in the first place, but preventing them from getting bigger.
- Have an understanding of the whole construction program and how fire safety fits within it. Having a grasp of the big picture makes it easier to communicate fire prevention needs and goals with the construction crew.
- Have the skills to implement and execute the Fire Prevention Plan. Be the boss of the plan.
The role of the Fire Prevention Manager is of critical importance. Just look at the increasing number of construction site fires in 2020 to understand the vital roles these people play and the need for all of us in the industry to make sure they have the tools and resources to do their jobs.