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Staffing Concerns


National Institute of Standards and Technology releases report on Fireground STAFFING.

Read the report here: www.nist.gov/cgi-bin//get_pdf.cgi


Landmark Residential Fire Study Shows How Crew Sizes and Arrival Times Influence Saving Lives and Property

For Immediate Release: April 28, 2010

and Share Contact: Evelyn Brown

WASHINGTON D.C.--A landmark study issued today by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) shows that the size of firefighting crews has a substantial effect on the fire service's ability to protect lives and property in residential fires.

Performed by a broad coalition in the scientific, firefighting and public-safety communities, the study found that four-person firefighting crews were able to complete 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks in a typical residential structure 30 percent faster than two-person crews and 25 percent faster than three-person crews.

The report is the first to quantify the effects of crew sizes and arrival times on the fire service's lifesaving and firefighting operations for residential fires. Until now, little scientific data have been available.

"The results from this rigorous scientific study on the most common and deadly fires in the country—those in single-family residences—provide quantitative data to fire chiefs and public officials responsible for determining safe staffing levels, station locations and appropriate funding for community and firefighter safety," said NIST's Jason Averill, one of the study's principal investigators.

The four-person crews were able to deliver water to a similar-sized fire 15 percent faster than the two-person crews and 6 percent faster than three-person crews, steps that help to reduce property damage and lower danger to the firefighters.

"Fire risks grow exponentially. Each minute of delay is critical to the safety of the occupants and firefighters, and is directly related to property damage," said Averill, who leads NIST's Engineered Fire Safety Group within its Building and Fire Research Laboratory.

"Our experiments directly address two primary objectives of the fire service: extinguishing the fire and rescuing occupants," said Lori Moore-Merrell of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and a principal investigator on the study.

The four-person crews were able to complete search and rescue 30 percent faster than two-person crews and 5 percent faster than three-person crews, Moore-Merrell explained. Five-person crews were faster than four-person crews in several key tasks. The benefits of five-person crews have also been documented by other researchers for fires in medium- and high-hazard structures, such as high-rise buildings, commercial properties, factories and warehouses.

This study explored fires in a residential structure, where the vast majority of fatal fires occur. The researchers built a "low-hazard" structure as described in National Fire Protection Association Standard 1710 (NFPA 1710), a consensus standard that provides guidance on the deployment of career firefighters. The two-story, 2000-square-foot test facility was constructed at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy in Rockville, Md.Fire crews from Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., responded to live fires within this facility.

fire fighter ventilating a building

A fire fighter conducts a second-story ventilation at a controlled fire during a fire fighter safety and resource deployment study funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Credit: International Association of Fire Fighters
View hi-resolution image

NIST researchers and their collaborators conducted more than 60 controlled fire experiments to determine the relative effects of crew size, the arrival time of the first fire crews, and the "stagger," or spacing, between the arrivals of successive waves of fire-fighting apparatus (vehicles and equipment). The stagger time simulates the typically later arrival of crews from more distant stations as compared to crews from more nearby stations.

Crews of two, three, four and five firefighters were timed as they performed 22 standard firefighting and rescue tasks to extinguish a live fire in the test facility. Those standard tasks included occupant search and rescue, time to put water on fire, and laddering and ventilation. Apparatus arrival time, the stagger between apparatus, and crew sizes were varied.

The United States Fire Administration reported that 403,000 residential structure fires killed close to 3,000 people in 2008—accounting for approximately 84 percent of all fire deaths—and injured about 13,500. Direct costs from these fires were about $8.5 billion. Annually, firefighter deaths have remained steady at around 100, while tens of thousands more are injured.

Researchers also performed simulations using NIST's Fire Dynamic Simulator to examine how the interior conditions change for trapped occupants and the firefighters if the fire develops more slowly or more rapidly than observed in the actual experiments. The fire modeling simulations demonstrated that two-person, late-arriving crews can face a fire that is twice the intensity of the fire faced by five-person, early arriving crews. Additionally, the modeling demonstrated that trapped occupants receive less exposure to toxic combustion products—such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide—if the firefighters arrive earlier and involve three or more persons per crew.

"The results of the field experiments apply only to fires in low-hazard residential structures as described in the NFPA Standard 1710, but it provides a strong starting point," said Moore-Merrell. Future research could extend the findings of the report to quantify the effects of crew size and apparatus arrival times in medium- and high-hazard structures, she said.

The next step for this research team is to develop a training package for firefighters and public officials that would enable them to have both quantitative and qualitative understanding of the research, a project also funded by FEMA's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

The study's principal investigators were Averill, Moore-Merrell and Kathy Notarianni of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Other organizations participating in this research include the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Commission on Fire Accreditation International-RISK and the Urban Institute.

The report was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and released today in Washington, D.C., before the start of the annual Congressional Fire Services Institute meeting that draws top fire safety officials from across the nation.

The Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments, NIST Technical Note 1661, can be downloaded here.

Founded in 1901, NIST is a nonregulatory agency of the Commerce Department that promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

IAFF Contact: Bill Glanz, 202-824-1505


Download the video (38 MB, MOV format>>
Watch some footage from the experiments. (Reporters can obtain broadcast-quality video by contacting Evelyn Brown or Bill Glanz.)
Credit: International Association of Fire Fighters



“Increase the minimum staffing on all engine companies from three to four qualified firefighters.”

On April 16, 2007 career firefighter Kyle Wilson from the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department (PWCFR) was killed in the line of duty while searching for trapped occupants at a residential structure fire in the town of Woodbridge, Virginia.  As a result of this tragic death, PWCFR launched an internal investigation into the incident (http://www.pwcgov.org/default.aspx?topic=040026000110004566).
The incident that killed firefighter Wilson occurred in a single family dwelling constructed of lightweight wood trusses and highly combustible vinyl siding.  These types of building materials will fail rapidly under extreme heat and fire conditions.  This means that arriving firefighters must initiate immediate simultaneous fire attack and search and rescue in order to contain the fire and to rescue trapped residents. 
Since 1990, the population of Robbinsville Township has more than doubled (5, 815 residents in 1990 to 11,906 residents in 2006 [courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau]).  The majority of the houses that have been built here in Robbinsville during the past 20 years are all constructed using identical materials to the house that Firefighter Wilson died in.  These homes require the prompt arrival of an adequate firefighting force to insure that suppression, search, and rescue can occur in a rapid and coordinated manner prior to the catastrophic failure of the building components under fire conditions and without the senseless deaths or injuries of civilians and firefighters. 
 As a result of the Prince William incident, numerous recommendations were made to prevent future tragic events.  PWCFR has made this internal investigation available on the official Prince William County web site so that other fire and rescue agencies could learn from the mistakes that occurred in Prince William County.  No other firefighter in any other town or city has to die.  An incident like this could occur TODAY in Robbinsville Township and one of our own dedicated firefighters may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The investigative report (http://www.pwcgov.org/default.aspx?topic=040026000110004566) makes numerous recommendations.  On page 20, the report indicates that the PWCFR currently staffs their engines with a minimum of three firefighters.  This is the same minimum staffing as the Robbinsville Division of Fire.  In section 14 (page 162) of the report, the department notes, “Current unit minimum qualified staffing levels provide an insufficient amount of qualified personnel to perform all the critical, concurrent tasks associated with firefighting activities.”

Recommendation #14.1 of the internal department report (page 165) states that the department must, “Increase the minimum qualified staffing of all suppression units to improve firefighter safety and operational effectiveness.
14.1.1. All engine companies are to have at least four qualified personnel.”

The Robbinsville Professional Firefighters Association has been pleading with Township Administration and the Chief of the Fire Division for increased staffing on the engine company to comply with NFPA standards.  To date, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

PWCFR also provides an audio tape of fire ground radio transmissions at the scene (http://www.pwcgov.org/vpresentations/fnr/LODDReportVideoSection2.wmv).  At 6:08 into the audio a member of the rescue squad transmits a “MAYDAY” reporting that a firefighter from the ladder is missing.  Then, at the 6:20 mark, Firefighter Kyle Wilson transmits a “MAYDAY” reporting he is trapped in the stairwell and needs assistance.  This was his last radio transmission before his death.  This audio transmission will send chills up the spine of even the most seasoned veteran firefighter.

This incident was the first line of duty death in the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department’s 41 year history.  IAFF Local 3786 wants to thank PWCFR for their honest and candid report that they have made available to the public. 

There has never been a line of duty death in the history of the Robbinsville (Washington Township) Fire Department.  Currently, our fire department also operates at minimum staffing of three firefighters on an engine and sometimes uses less qualified per diem firefighters to fill vacancies.  Kyle Wilson’s death was tragic.  What would be more tragic is if the administration of Robbinsville Township fails to implement minimum staffing of four full time firefighters on an engine.  Kyle Wilson’s death need not be in vain.  We need to learn a lesson from the death of this young man and take steps to prevent a similar incident from happening here in Robbinsville.  Read the report.  Listen to the audio.  Listen to a young man die. 

We applaud the courage of Prince William County’s fire administration for admitting that fire apparatus staffing below NFPA recommendations was a contributing factor in the death of Firefighter Wilson.  Minimum staffing of four firefighters per company (in compliance with NFPA 1710 recommendations) could have saved the life of one of their own men.


FIREHOUSE.COM - Our "stand" on staffing has been real clear for several decades. It takes well- led, well-trained firefighters to fight fires based upon the pre-required tasks. How many do you need? Figure out the tasks and apply that number. If you have a small, single-family dwelling (1,000-square-foot, wood-frame dwelling in a hydrated area) fire that requires three handlines, use the guide to fire flow, it is here.

But let's look at that small house fire. What tasks do you want to perform and how many firefighters do you need minimally on the first alarm?

  • Water supply (1 firefighter on the hydrant)

  • Pump operator (1 firefighter)

  • 3 handlines (3, 1 3/4-inch lines w/3 firefighters each= 9 firefighters)

  • Force Entry, Search (2 firefighters)

  • Vent (2 firefighters)

  • Command (1 incident in front and one rear sector supervisor to allow for a 360 of the building) (2 firefighters)

  • RIT (3 firefighters)

You need at least 20 firefighters at the very minimum for your first alarm assignment. And that's just on the initial dispatch. If there are multiple calls or any indications of a working fire, double or triple that staffing number. And while those numbers are a good start, they are for a small single-family dwelling. We are not even including an aide at the command post, safety officers, rehab, EMS and other tasks. Now do the staffing math for an occupied four-story ordinary construction multi-family dwelling.

The Globe in Boston as well as Firehouse.com is reporting that staffing is again being pointed at as a possible reason why a civilian died in a fire. In Gloucester, MA, a 70-year-old man was killed Saturday after his four-story apartment building burned right near the Gloucester Fire Department (GFD) headquarters on a night when the GFD acknowledges that they were understaffed by at least two firefighters.

As it should have been, the truck company responded to rescue the man at about 1230 hours yesterday but as it shouldn't have -it had only a single firefighter assigned to it because the other two crew members had been sent to unrelated emergencies. The driver, firefighter James Capillo, had to recruit two police officers to help him set up a 35-foot ground ladder below the victim's window.

Witnesses saw Taylor waving his arms through the smoke, but by the time the ladder was set up, he had disappeared. Firefighter Marc Nicastro went inside as other firefighters below urged him to stay out. The young firefighter reached Taylor's side, but the disabled man was too heavy to move. Firefighter Nicastro had to retreat as the room was about to flash. His efforts were clearly heroic in spite of a local government and community that continues to vote down the needed funding to provide the staffing needed.

The GFD, that has had staffing shortages since voters rejected a tax increase in 2004, confirmed that there were only 15 firefighters working Friday night. Minimum staffing levels in the union contract call for at least 17. Initially, the chief said only a handful of the on-duty firefighters went to the scene because the caller had only reported a smoke alarm going off. The chief acknowledged that the shortage of firefighters could have made the fast-moving fire more difficult to contain at first. Other firefighters from 17 towns and government agencies eventually came to assist.

Mayor John Bell said, "We have suffered from the same pain as most of the other cities and towns in Massachusetts, which have been cut back in local aid over the past six or seven years." Things are not great relative to funding levels," he said. "Cutbacks have been made against increased levels of health insurance, energy costs, contractual agreements." He expressed his support of the fire department's response to the fire. "My hats are off to the entire fire department," he said. Hmmmm.

It is difficult to think that most departments these days can expect to provide all the needed staffing to handle all the emergencies. But when it comes to fire response, planning ahead and a true automatic mutual aid system (where your neighbors are dispatched at the same time you are to provide the minimally needed staffing) between departments can help solve the problem potentially saving civilian as well as firefighters' lives.

How much staffing do we need? Well-that depends on what is reported to be on fire. Do the fire flow and task math (and do it well before the fire!). The above example we provided for a 1,000-square foot dwelling has a very significantly different first alarm requirement than the first alarm assignment in an occupied multi-family dwelling. For the multi-family dwelling, you may need 40 or more firefighters on the first alarm...if you want to have a shot at performing the needed tasks simultaneously. After all, you can perform all the tasks with just 10 firefighters, eventually and at the risk of lives including your firefighters...and often you will simply run out of building as it burns down while you try and do the work of 40-50 firefighters with a half dozen.

Folks who do not support this concept of "full" first alarm assignments often want to "wait until we get there and see what we really need" Why? Isn't the person on the phone saying their house is on fire isn't good enough?!

Or, "we don't want to risk all that equipment on the road." Why? Just slow down, drive sanely, stop at red lights (stop on red or someone is dead) and stop signs" That's a training and supervision issue. Not a "too much equipment on the road" issue.

Or, "we don't want to bother or neighboring fire department" Why? What else were they doing besides listening to your fire and wishing they could come help as you try and do the work of many with few?

When taxpayers say no, sometimes we need to do what they ask, provide the level they asked for and make it clear what we can do with what they provide us with-and what we cannot do. Firefighter Nicastro went above and beyond attempting to save that man. He went above and beyond even though the majority of taxpayers told him not to. The voters and elected officials decided a level of staffing and that's the level of service they should get. No emotions. It's simple math.

Fortunately, for most communities, there are other "Marc Nicastros," firefighters who are willing to do what it takes in spite of it all...even though that firefighter shouldn't have had to be predictably placed in that position.

Fortunately the poor staffing issue didn't cost Marc his life this time - but it may have cost Mr. Taylor his. Some say you just can't say that, that you just really never know if the correct staffing would have mattered in saving a life.

The simple response to that is to ask the naysayers what they want when their loved ones are inside the house? That's the real answer. Ask them what they want responding when their kid, their wife, their husband, their Mom or Dad, whoever they say "I love you" to...when they are trapped in a dwelling fire. No dramatics. No nonsense. Just answer the question. What do you want responding, how many do you want and how long do you want them to take to get there? And when they, the firefighters, arrive, what tasks do you want them performing for those who you love?

Simple questions on the issues of staffing, costs of staffing, what the taxpayers expect and the potentially deadly outcomes.

That's really the issue and the questions that have to be asked-and answered. Unless we want to start discussing mandatory retroactive fire sprinkler systems...and that's a completely different.


This page tells about fire department National Staffing Standards.
These standards are defined by NFPA 1710.
It also tells how the Washington Township Fire Department compares
to these national standards.

NFPA 1710 Fact Sheet for the Public

Who is the NFPA?

     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.

     Presently in Washington Township due to staffing numbers, the first arriving company consists only of 2 to 4 fire fighters. However, due to understaffing, the number of personnel on scene are not up to the standards that are nationally accepted. Typically, we run with not less than 3 at all times.

The video below will help to explain what NFPA 1710 is and how it helps communities.



Page Last Updated: May 26, 2010 (07:45:13)
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