MARIETTA - When fire strikes, knowing the layout of a building and who to contact beforehand can make a big difference to firefighters.
With that thought in mind, Marietta firefighters have begun a process of inspecting all commercial properties in the city.
"It's always good to know where things like utilities are located inside-where we can shut off the gas, water or electric, and the key areas for fire suppression," said Capt. Jack Hansis with the Marietta Fire Department.
He said knowing who holds the keys to a building is also important to help provide quick and safe access to a facility and any tenants.
Learning the layout of city businesses and high-occupancy buildings, as well as obtaining contacts and other vital information is the idea behind the Marietta department's pre-fire planning inspection program.
"Our mission is to be as prepared as we can in the event that an emergency would occur in your building, to quickly and safely rescue people and preserve property," Fire Chief C.W. Durham wrote in a recent letter sent to the local business community.
He said the inspections basically consist of a walk-through of the building to locate key areas important to fire suppression efforts, including any potential areas where construction is going on.
Hansis said the pre-fire planning inspections are not mandatory and are not being performed for fire code enforcement.
Fire code inspections are conducted on a regular basis by the department's fire inspector, Richard Stewart.
"The pre-fire planning inspections are just to help minimize danger and property damage from fires," Hansis said. "And an added benefit for businesses could be a better ISO rating for the city, which helps save on insurance costs."
The ISO, formerly the Insurance Services Office, provides ratings on community safety for use by insurance companies.
During a recent discussion about the pre-fire planning inspections, members of city council's police and fire committee talked about the possibility of enacting an ordinance that would require fire detection systems in all commercial buildings throughout the city.
City law director Paul Bertram III said before any such ordinance could be placed on the books, council members would have to first take a look at the recently-approved updated state fire code to see if anything in that law already requires business buildings to have fire detection systems.
"If not, council would have to call a fire and police committee meeting to discuss the issue, then form some sort of legal opinion as to how a new ordinance would apply to existing, as well as new businesses," Bertram said.
In the meantime, Hansis said each of the fire department's three shifts have been assigned a monthly list of commercial buildings, including schools, churches and other public facilities, for pre-fire planning inspections.
Joe Lemon, executive director of the Glenwood Retirement Community, said the department recently conducted a pre-fire planning inspection of those facilities.
"We invited them out to do the inspection," he said. "We want to familiarize the firefighters with the layout of our buildings to provide better safety services for our residents."
City Councilman Roger Kalter said a pre-fire planning inspection of the Unitarian Universalist Church at the corner of Third and Putnam streets will be helpful in preserving the 1850s-era facility where he is a member.
"During the inspection, Don Eifler, former county fire marshal, explained how the church was constructed, which is important so the firefighters know how to handle a fire if it would break out there," he said.
Kalter said the crews checked every room and closet in the church to gain a better understanding of how a fire might spread through the building.
"They also poked around in the boiler room and checked on what's located between floors and in the attic," he said.
"We had just installed eight new fire detection units throughout the church building, but after the inspection I learned we would need at least two more to adequately cover the attic area."
Kalter noted there are many older churches and other historical buildings throughout Marietta that need good fire detection systems to prevent further loss of property.
"As Councilman (Tom) Vukovic said during the police and fire committee meeting, we can't afford to have any more major fires in this town," he said.