The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a non-profit organization established to create standards of operation for fire departments throughout the country. The codes written by the NFPA are considered the standard that fire departments are expected to meet. These codes include everything from safety equipment worn by fire fighters, apparatus and equipment used in the fire service to minimum staffing of a career fire department. These codes not only protect fire fighters, but also protect citizens by giving cities standards of operation that are expected to be met. NFPA codes are not laws, but rather standards of quality to ensure the health and safety of everyone affected by any fire department.
NFPA guidelines are set up based on research performed by trained members of the association. Scientific research, such as fire behavior in different environments and how different synthetic materials affect the burn process, is used in part to establish these guidelines. Previous history of fire department responses across the country can help the NFPA to have standards of how many firefighters it takes to effectively perform necessary tasks. Independent studies performed by groups like the American Heart Association help the NFPA in writing codes regarding EMS response. NFPA is such a respected organization in the fire department community that many cities and departments are adopting strict NFPA guidelines to make their fire departments up to national standards.
Why does this matter here?
NFPA Code 1710-Standard for Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments- involves staffing of career fire departments. In this code, the NFPA has used scientific evidence, past history and first hand experience to establish the minimum number of personnel required to safely and effectively operate on a fire scene. NFPA 1710 guidelines say that a first arriving company must consist of 4 fire fighters and arrive within 4 minutes of the initial 911 call. For an initial full alarm assignment (any structure fire) minimum personnel on scene should consist of 15-17 fire fighters arriving on scene within 8 minutes of the initial 911 call.
International City Managers Association (ICMA) Study
Understaffing of fire departments is a nationwide problem. So much so in fact, that the ICMA has conducted studies to determine the effectiveness of fire companies based on staffing. This information was published in Managing Fire Services, 2nd edition. This international organization of city leaders recognizes the importance of a properly staffed fire department. This publication included this information:
Fire suppression operations have three basic functions: (1) Rescue; (2) work involving ladder, forcible entry, and ventilation; and (3) the application of water. To raise ladders, ventilate, search, and rescue simultaneously takes quick action by at least four and often eight or more firefighters, each under the supervision of an officer.
If about sixteen trained firefighters are not operating at the scene of a working fire within the critical time period, then dollar loss and injuries are significantly increased as is fire spread.
As firefighting tactics were conducted and judged for effectiveness:
5 -person companies were 100% effective.
4 -person companies were 65% effective.
3 -person companies were 38% effective.
Please watch this brief video discussing firefighter staffing issues: