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The 411 with the Man from 911: CFD Chief Schroeder Talks about Building Preparedness

BOMA/Chicago Preparedness Committee Chair Erin Parks with Sterling Bay recently interviewed Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Walter Schroeder, who is celebrating his 30th year anniversary with the Chicago Fire Department.

What is your role at the CFD?

Chief Schroeder: I conduct education for the public, which includes all residents from preschool to senior citizens, in addition to property management teams and tenants in commercial buildings. Some of the areas I oversee include safety director training, evacuation drills, fire safety seminars, and community outreach.

What documents should each building have at the ready for first responders?

Chief Schroeder: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping the First Responder Book updated.

There are some specific areas that should be updated regularly and treated as living documents. The first is a list by floor and tenant space of individuals who have an inability to ambulate, or other mobility disability, including those with temporary injuries. Property management teams should ensure tenants are aware of the importance of keeping this information up-to-do date, encouraging regular, two-way communication.

Another document that should be updated regularly is the emergency contact list for the property management team. Don’t wait until the emergency happens to discover you are unable to reach a key team member. These are the people who know your building the best and should be on the scene.

The property management team should review the entire First Responder Book at least once a year to make any necessary changes.

How can buildings be better prepared for a CFD response?

Chief Schroeder: Make sure the key property management team members – including the property manager, security director and chief engineer – are at the building fire panel for the first arriving CFD officer. It’s imperative that the property management team is on-hand and prepared to share basic facts with the fire department such as:

  • reason for call
  • location of incident
  • situation details
  • best and safest route to get to the location
  • location access requirements (is a key or pass card necessary?)

Additional information you may need to share with the fire department could include:

  • location and access to fire pump
  • condition of fire pump (are there water pressure problems? any operational issues?)
  • water shutdowns, if applicable
  • construction areas in the building
  • location of trapped elevator (what floor? is it a blind shaft?)
  • elevator company and arrival status

It’s crucial that building engineers and other team members should never personally investigate the area after a fire alarm has gone off. This thought process can be deadly. Not only does it delay contact to the fire department, it could allow the fire to spread or even trap the person in the fire. One of the many benefits of the Chicago Fire Department’s Fire Safety Director Training is its focus on raising awareness about this issue. If the fire panel goes into fire mode, the building engineer and all others should trust there is in fact a fire and immediately contact the fire department. Let the fire fighters who have all the necessary training, equipment and capabilities address the situation. It is imperative that the building engineer – who knows the building the best – be on-hand when first responders arrive.

I would also suggest that buildings schedule a preparedness tabletop exercise once a year with property manager team and invite the CFD and other first responders to participate. This provides another opportunity for the CFD to get to know you, your building, and your tenants.

What is your biggest pet peeve that buildings do in emergencies or fire drills?

Chief Schroeder: One of my biggest pet peeves is when the building team isn’t prepared for the drill, such as not knowing the drop plan – the floors where tenants are relocating.

Another pet peeve is not checking the fire panel to confirm it’s operational. The Chicago Fire Department checks the panel once a year and the building is responsible for checking regularly throughout the year, optimally on a weekly basis, along with the fire pump.

Tell us more about the Chicago Fire Department’s 2020 “All Hazards” Conference

Chief Schroeder: The Chicago Fire Department will host an “All Hazards” conference on July 20-25, 2020 (tentative dates). We’re incredibly excited about this conference, as it will be the first of its kind that teams together the public and private sectors. Conference sessions will address all kinds of emergency situations and ways to mitigate them, with the ultimate goal of keeping our citizens safe. We already have commitments from leaders all over the world that will bring different experiences for the benefit of learning.

Between now and then we want to make the conference as collaborative as possible and encourage feedback from property management teams, including security directors and building engineers, about what content would be most useful to include. Some specific questions we have for your members are: what hazard skills does your property management team need? What topics would be most helpful to review? What types of hands-on demonstrations would you like to see? Please send your feedback to me at

What is the best thing about being part of the CFD?

Chief Schroeder: I have been blessed to live my dream of being a part of the greatest fire department in world. The camaraderie on the job as well as the feeling of helping others is just incredible.