First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

The Most Important Man in our Department that you probably never heard of…

Guest post by Battalion Chief Brad Cochrane

A man named David Thomas will be retiring from our Department, and most Firefighters outside of the Prevention Division have never met him or even heard of him. He works in the back corner of a nondescript building, in a small office, with the same drafting table that he's had for the last 29+ years. It’s here that he manages a small, yet elite team of mostly long-tenured engineers that specialize in fire-related code compliance and plans review.

The Engineering Plans Review Branch is probably not the most glamorous assignment in our Department, but it is arguably one of the most important. I can tell you that they do not come close to getting the recognition that they deserve. This is an area of the Fire service that I never really thought about before I came to the Prevention Division.

Throughout his long career, Dave Thomas and his team have dedicated their lives to ensuring the buildings in Fairfax County are safe for not only the citizens, but for the firefighters that arrive at them when they are on fire, sometimes years or even decades later. Plans review ensures code compliance using the USBC, the VSFPC, the Fairfax County PFM, and other codes and standards. This job requires a great deal of knowledge, skill, and a sincere passion for Firefighter safety. Dave possesses all of these qualities and more.

Developers, architects, engineers, contractors…by no fault of their own, are not always aware of the issues that firefighters face in these buildings, and Plans Review is one of our last chances to get things right. Plans are not rubber stamped…they earn their green stamp by meeting the code, and Dave is the person that makes that happen.

Many of the things that I always took for granted on a firetruck, such as knowing there would be a hydrant near the building, ladder truck access, sprinklers, fire alarms, exits, FDC's, proper size fire pumps, suppression systems, adequate water supply, and adequate fire flow capability….these things were all checked and/or corrected in the planning stages by Dave or his team. Thousands upon thousands of plans over the years have been reviewed, and they just keep on coming.

Dave happens to be a civilian, but that really doesn't matter. In fact, he’s trained many of our uniformed personnel over the years.  I will always remember him as a peer and mentor that taught me something about an area of the Fire Service that I was frankly clueless about. When I look back on my career, he is one of the individuals that I will look back on with the highest regard.

We had a small get together last week for Dave, and I was happy to be in attendance.  “Cake and Pop” with no plaques or trophies….just a small group of people that wanted to show him their appreciation for a job well done.  Dave, thank you for your service, and we wish you all the best in retirement!

Brad Cochrane Jr. – Battalion Chief
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department
Fire Prevention Services Sectionh

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