Most people view Zoning Regulations as feel-good legislation, designed to uphold community image and quality of life. But, aside from accessibility and operation of emergency vehicles, where else does Zoning play a role in emergency response?
With the advent and continued promotion of cluster style, high density, housing, coupled with lightweight construction inevitably covered in vinyl siding our suburban communities are ripe for conflagrations. Often, cluster communities provide for as little as ten feet between homes! Such housing developments are beneficial to animals and the environment by minimizing disturbed area and promoting green ways. They also reduce the Developer’s expense as they typically have less infrastructure to install. However, we all know that burning vinyl siding, burning just ten feet from neighboring vinyl siding, will allow for rapid fire spread house to house right down the street.
Incident Commanders will need to assess the immediate availability of resources. Is it better to lose the initially burning house, to concentrate efforts on placing water curtains between, or applying foam, to the sides of neighboring homes?
The crux of the fire service is to plan. Ideally, before these cluster developments are presented in your community, you should have already met with your respective Land Use agencies and commissions to design and accept regulations addressing the hazards inherent to such housing layouts. Ideas include requiring residential home sprinklers, additional hydrants and/or water supply tanks, requiring non-combustible construction (at least of the facing walls), or limiting siding choices to masonry, fiber cement, or other fire resistant materials.
If you already have these communities built, or proposed, within your town or city it behooves fire personnel to pre-plan these subdivisions. Know where your closest water source is, identify bottle necks for tanker shuttles, plan how to set up water curtains, know how the foam system operates on your respective vehicles, etc. Plan training drills to run through such a scenario. Even if you can’t get regulations in place to disallow homes closer than forty feet apart, or regulations establishing additional safety provisions, you still have nothing to lose if you approach the developer and builders to request they take extra precautions and add a sprinkler system, or upgrade the siding on the closely proximate sides!
I’m famous for incessantly touting the need to break out of our silos, the mentality of “that’s someone else’s problem.” This is another prime example of the need to share information early, and often, between multiple agencies and departments.