How Does Zoning Affect Emergency Response?


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?

Monopoly Houses


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 Command.

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.

Too Late.

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.


About The Author

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Karen A. Facey is a CT Certified Fire Marshal, and works for CT’s largest geographic municipality. Owner of Fire Facts Code Consulting, Karen has her B.S. in Fire Science from the University of New Haven, and M.S. in Administrative Science with concentrations in Emergency Management, and Homeland Security/Terrorism Issues from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Fire Facts Code Consulting provides code public education; fire code consulting; design services for new construction and renovations; pre-inspection to prepare for fire and insurance inspections; and risk assessment, disaster planning, recovery and continuity planning for businesses and governments. Fire Facts can be reached at (203) 733-8380 or by email at or Facebook below.

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About romduck

Rom Duckworth is a dedicated emergency responder, author, and educator with more than thirty years of experience working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and private emergency medical services. Rom is a career fire captain and paramedic EMS Coordinator for the Ridgefield (CT) Fire Department and director of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine. Rom holds a master’s degree in public administration, is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program, and is the recipient of the NAEMT Presidential Award, American Red Cross Hero Award, Sepsis Alliance Sepsis Hero Award, and the EMS 10 Innovators Award. Rom is the author of "Duckworth on Education," as well as chapters in more than a dozen EMS, fire, rescue, and medical textbooks and over 100 published articles in fire and EMS magazines. A member of the NAEMT Board of Directors, as well as other national and international advocacy and advisory boards, Rom continues to work for the advancement of emergency services professions. Contact Rom via