101 Things the Fire Department wishes you knew

Friday, June 19

You Make the Call...Electrical room

You are assigned to a single resource Engine company responding to a report of smoke in a large grocery store. You arrive to nothing showing and what appears to be business as usual at the bustling market.

Inside you are led to the produce section where one of the open fresh vegetable cases is sparking and smoking. Then the water jets turn on causing an impressive sparking display. The produce manager, standing next to you, says they have no way to turn the jets off.

You know better. Your officer sends you and a member of the truck company now at the scene to find the panel for that display and disconnect the power.

Recalling your days as a stock boy in a similar market you were expecting clutter, but what you find amazes you.

The panels are behind a locked gate which is blocked by pallets of cola cans in multiple packages. Each pallet stacks at least 4 feet high, one on another, and they're completely blocking access to the individual panels, which you can see through small gaps. Also through those gaps you see piles and piles of discarded boxes and plastic pallets directly blocking the panels, clearly in violation of the word and the spirit of the fire code.

As you are assessing how to get in there and what to do when you do get there you see on a different wall the main breaker for the store. Often together, the store was recently remodeled and the main shutoff is accessible and requires only a cut of a lock and the throw of a switch.

You estimate it would take at least 20 minutes to ladder the pallets or find a hand truck that can move them ("Only the drivers have those" you were told) or you can shut down the entire market, including registers, freezers, lighting. Everything.

You radio the officer of the situation and she fires back, "You make the call."


Jean said...

Store have loud speaker? Give one minute warning to shoppers to leave store immediately. One minute needed to bring cutter to locked switch box. Use FF that's there to start herding people out if owner wanted to fight about it. Then... flip the switch, shutting down whole store. Think stoploss of building, not content. It was owner's choice to create such a hazard place and you must work with it. You can easily replace food stuffs, harder yet the building, and especially NOT humans. Owner not there and manager throwing a fit? Have manager to call owner first. Something is telling me that the lawyer will be on your side. Neighboring stores will also heavily thank you! Take couple pictures to back up your decision. It is stupid of them for not creating emergency water shut off valve. It is stupid of them for blocking easy access to "fuse" box.

Firecap5 said...

Pull the main. Tough crap if the whole store goes dark. Then gain access to the individual disconnect.

Another option might be to get a tarp and divert the water while discharging the CO2 extinguisher from the apparatus(Or better yet, one from the store!)on the fire.
Meanwhile, throw their crap out of the way to get to the disconnect.

They would also be candidates for a prompt visit from the Fire Marshall/ Inspector. Maybe even while units are still on scene. A nice hefty fine should get their attention.

As a side note, if wired correctly it should only behave this way a short time before tripping the breakers on the motor starter, or blowing the fuses........

As long as it isn't going anywhere you could wait for it to drop out the power and then hit it with an ABC or BC PFE.

mwheatley said...

Shut off water to the store. With water off there's no sparking, etc. while you set about unblocking the electrical panels. Once you get the power shut off turn back on the water.

Big Show said...

You have a structure fire, start the evacuation. While starting to remove all the clutter, hit the main breaker, so you can put out the main body of fire, then once all the clutter is thrown into the middle of the store (so they get the message about why fire codes should be followed), turn off the power for the specific area involved, then fire the main breaker back up.

Capt. Schmoe said...

What mwheatley said. Then, call out prevention and cite the store for the panel obstruction.

Michael Morse said...

Shut the main, the emergency generators will kick on giving eveacuees light and exit signs, and preserving the property of the store.

Have the appropriate agency or division do a thorough inspection and fine the pants off the store.

When nobody is looking grab an apple. (No, forget that part)

The Road Doctor said...

Well, for starters, I'm not moving squat.

If I am in a good mood they have 5 mins to get THEIR employees to move the stuff out of the way so I can cut power to that display. Otherwise the the customers will get a 1 min warning to leave, and the main gets shut off.

If I am in a cranky moody, obviously, the main gets cut.

In either case the fire marshall/inspector will be making a visit prior to our departure...

The Bus Driver said...

Shut 'er Down completely. Have the manager make an announcement over the loudspeaker that the power will be cut to the store for a period of time and that they should vacate the store.

basically what everyone else said...

Is there a way to cut the water supply as well? so no sparks etc??

Mr. 618 said...

FireCap has the right idea -- "shudderdown," deal with the problem, call the various inspectors. Every electrical code I've ever seen requires access to panels.

Not to mention the Health Department (you DID call them along with the rest of the inspectors, right?) will probably require all the affected produce be destroyed, effectively adding to the amount of the fine(s).

Capt. Schmoe said...

C'mon folks, unless this is a problem child occupancy, there is no need to be vindictive. Resolve the issue as quickly as possible (shut off the H20) Enforce the code as lawfully allowed and move on. There is no need to penalize these people by costing them business (us tax revenue)unless it is necessary. These are the folks that are going to support you or oppose you when you take your message to the streets. (Providence?, Vallejo?, San Bernardino?)

mwheatley said...

Thanks for the backup Capt.

Mr. 618 said...

Captain, it's not vindictiveness, it's common sense (at least to me). Most departments are woefully understaffed, making it imperative to do things as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Besides, unless the store is located in some rural backwater, at least one inspector of some sort -- building, health, fire, insurance -- had probably been through the building in the past. Most inspectors, regardless of affiliation, would remind store management not to block critical systems. Assuming (with the usual caveat) that that had happened, one could argue that management was being lackadaisical about the safety of the store, its employees and customers, and responders.