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Preventable damage

Hazard Knowledge

Fire and rescue services are under legal, economic and moral obligation to take reasonable steps to limit damage, reduce losses and protect the environment as a result of their actions at fires and other incidents.

At certain premises they are likely to attend, such as heritage sites or important national infrastructure sites, the owners will view salvaging the contents as the highest priority, and far more important than extinguishing any fire.

The economic effect of fires on businesses can be catastrophic. The efforts of the attending fire and rescue service can make the difference between a company going out of business or continuing to trade. Successful damage prevention and mitigation will reduce the recovery phase following an incident.

In a domestic fire, personal items such as photographs will often be irreplaceable and of enormous value to the occupier even though they may have little or no financial value.

Damage can occur at locations remote from the main scene of operations and consideration should be given to water runoff and smoke travel.

Fire and rescue services should be mindful that damage control may be a high priority and should have the flexibility to divert appropriate resources from other operational priorities to address this.

Fire and rescue services should be aware of the potential conflict between mitigating damage caused by their actions against saving life and maintaining firefighter safety. Equally, at some incidents, the most effective action to limit damage will be to quickly extinguish the fire.

In most cases, damage control will take place at fires in buildings. However, there may be other incidents when fire and rescue services will be required to implement damage control plans. Indeed, current legislation relates specifically to road traffic collisions and other emergencies. For example, it might be appropriate to implement damage control at a Hazardous Materials incident involving a goods lorry by moving the contents of the trailer to a place of relative safety or containing spilled contents for subsequent recovery.

Preventing damage begins with planning, in particular at locations where both the fabric and contents of a building are irreplaceable. Once an incident has occurred, preventing and mitigating damage can take place at any stage, including occurring at the same time as firefighting operations.

Preventing damage and harm to the environment is addressed in National Operational Guidance: Environmental protection.

At the conclusion of an incident, fire and rescue services have an obligation to hand responsibility for a location or premises and any recovered or salvaged items to the responsible person or to ensure their security until they can be moved to a place of ultimate safety. Preventing and mitigating damage control will be best achieved if it is considered at the earliest stages of an incident, and its place in the overall plan for an incident is communicated to and understood by all.

Damage can be caused by:

  • Direct fire damage
  • Firefighting methods
  • Firefighting media
  • Smoke damage
  • Collapsed structure
  • Exposure of contents to elements
  • Breaches of security
  • Economic losses: buildings, vehicles, contents, etc.

It is also important to consider the impact of damage control actions on fire investigations.