How many firefighters do you need?

The purpose of NFPA 1710 is to provide minimum criteria to address “the effectiveness and efficiency of career” fire department personnel and operations.  This standard outlines seven objectives that must be met.  Fire department staffing levels should be based on the ability to meet these objectives and to deploy firefighting resources as outlined in the standard. This task analysis should account for, life hazards to the public, safety of the firefighters, property loss potential, types of occupancies and properties to be protected, and fireground tactics, apparatus, and expected results.

Sunset with burning building by Petteri Sulonen

NFPA 1710 defines the following types of incidents and deployment criteria.
  • Single-family dwelling, defined as 2,000sq.ft., two-story, single family dwelling (no basement, no exposures)
  • Strip shopping center, defined as an open-air shopping area of 13,000sq.ft. - 196,000sq.ft.
  • Apartments, defined as a 1,200sq.ft. unit inside three-story, garden-style building
  • High-rise buildings, defined as structures with the highest floor greater than 75’ above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.

Minimum staffing for full alarm assignments to single-family dwelling fires require a total of fourteen personnel, divided as follows:
  • (1) individual dedicated to incident command
  • (1) personnel to establish and maintain water supply
  • (4) personnel to operate handlines, (2) per line, minimum of two handlines required
  • (2) handline support members, (1) per attack and backup line
  • (2) personnel assigned to victim search and rescue team
  • (2) personnel to raise ground ladders and assist with ventilation
  • (2) personnel assigned to the initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC)

Minimum staffing for full alarm assignment to an open-air strip shopping center fire incident requires a total of twenty-seven personnel, divided as follows:
  • (2) personnel assigned to incident command
  • (2) personnel to establish and maintain water supply, (1) per supply, minimum two required
  • (6) personnel to operate handlines, (2) per line, minimum of three handlines required
  • (3) handline support members, (1) per attack, backup, exposure line
  • (4) personnel assigned to victim search and rescue, (2) teams of two personnel
  • (4) personnel to raise ground ladders and assist with ventilation, (2) teams of two personnel
  • (4) personnel assigned to RIC, (1) officer (3) members
  • (2) personnel to provide initial medical care

Minimum staffing for full alarm assignment to an apartment fire incident requires a total of twenty-seven personnel, divided as follows:
  • (2) personnel assigned to incident command
  • (2) personnel to establish and maintain water supply, (1) per supply, minimum two required
  • (6) personnel to operate handlines, (2) per line, minimum of three handlines required
  • (3) handline support members, (1) per attack, backup, exposure line
  • (4) personnel assigned to victim search and rescue, (2) teams of two personnel
  • (4) personnel to raise ground ladders and assist with ventilation, (2) teams of two personnel
  • (4) personnel assigned to RIC, (1) officer (3) members
  • (2) personnel to provide initial medical care

Minimum staffing for full alarm assignment to a high-rise fire incident requires a total of forty-one personnel, divided as follows:
  • (2) personnel assigned to incident command, (1) officer with (1) aid
  • (2) personnel assigned incident command at fire floor, (1) officer with (1) aid
  • (1) incident safety officer
  • (1) officer, at interior staging area two floors below fire floor
  • (1) officer, building lobby operations
  • (1) officer, external base operations
  • (1) individual assigned to establish and maintain water supply to the standpipe system
  • (1) individual assigned to monitor and maintain building fire pump operations
  • (4) personnel to operate handlines, (2) per line, minimum of two handlines required at the fire floor
  • (2) personnel to operate handline, (2) per line, minimum of one handline required at floor above fire floor
  • (4) personnel assigned to RIC
  • (4) personnel assigned to victim search and rescue, (2) teams of two personnel
  • (4) personnel assigned to evacuation management, (2) teams of two personnel
  • (1) individual to manage and monitor elevator operations
  • (2) personnel assigned to firefighter rehab, (1) ALS trained
  • (4) personnel assigned to vertical ventilation, (1) officer (3) members
  • (2) personnel for equipment transport
  • (4) emergency medical personnel, (2) teams of two personnel

These numbers represent only the minimum requirements for the initial alarm. As the incident escalates, it is understood that additional personnel and apparatus may be needed.

To provide effective and efficient staffing levels, a thorough knowledge of the community must be had. This is why the conduct and maintenance of a community risk assessment is critical to, not just fire prevention, fire department operations as a whole.

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The Guide for Fire Protection Solutions

McKinsey & Company is the most widely regarded and renowned management consulting firms. Their methods of analyzing problems, creating effective solutions, and managing the process is what distinguishes them as “the most influential private organization in America”.  The systems and processes that McKinsey uses for problem solving in the manufacturing, energy, transportation, healthcare, communications, and pharmaceutical industries, can also be applied, with great effectiveness, to the fire protection industry.

This free guide, The Consultative Approach to Fire Protection Problems, walks the reader step-by-step through the problem solving process. Through a series of short articles the reader will be able to practically apply this process to create fire protection solutions.

  • Analyzing fire protection problems
  • Creating a work plan
  • Achieving solution buy-in
  • Managing the implementation team

Braidwood's Fire Prevention Principles

In the year 1824, Edinburgh, Scotland was faced with a fire crises. Major fires were occurring throughout the city, the insurance company fire brigades were less than effective as they lacked discipline and failed to work together. The municipal leaders, not happy with the situation, set out to take control of their fire problem.  So it was that, one of fire service history’s most influential and progressive thinking officers, James Braidwood was selected to become the first Master of Engines for the Edinburgh Fire-Engine Establishment (EFEE).

In 1830, Braidwood wrote, “Not having been able to find any work on fire engines in the English language, I have been led to publish the following remarks, in the hope of inducing others to give further information on the subject.” These “remarks” became the 138-page book, On the Construction of Fire Engines and Apparatus: The Training of Firemen, and the Method of Proceeding in Cases of Fire.

Braidwood's book covers much more than how to build a fire engine. It is a guide to building a fire service. He details fire engine use, maintenance, equipment, and water supply, he discusses hiring practices, firefighter training, and self-escape.  Most importantly, Braidwood's book provides one of the earliest guides "on the causes of fires, and the means of preventing them".

His fire prevention plan can be broken down into the following seven principles:
  1. Know your community.
  2. Have a plan.
  3. Enforce the code.
  4. Conduct plan review and field inspections.
  5. Investigate fire incidents.
  6. Educate the public.
  7. Ensure adequate staffing.

#1 Know your community --

“...every exertion should be used to keep the firemen on good terms with the populace.”
“He should also make himself well acquainted with the different parts of the town in which he may be appointed to act, and notice the declivities of the different streets, etc. He will find this knowledge of great advantage.”

“...[in examining the Table, 1824-1829] serious fires decrease as the number of alarms increase...the cause of so many alarms...arise from foul chimneys...the number of houses, shops, and assessable 29,000...average of fires for...five years is about 105...cases of foul chimneys...being one fire to each 276 houses.”

#2 Have a Plan --

“The person having the principal charge of the engines should frequently turn over in his mind what might be the best plan, in such and such circumstances, supposing a fire to take place.  By frequently ruminating on the subject, he will find himself, when suddenly turned our of bed at night, much more fit for his task than if he had never considered the matter at all.”

#3 Enforce the code --

“As almost all fires arise from carelessness in one shape or another, it is of the utmost importance that every master of a family should persevere in rigidly enjoining, and enforcing on those under him, the necessity of observing the utmost possible care, in preventing such calamities, which, in nineteen cases out of twenty, are the result of remissness or inattention.”

#4 Conduct Plan Review and Field Inspections --

“Great carelessness is frequently exhibited by builders, when erecting at one time two or three houses connected by mutual gables, by not carrying up the gables or party-walls with a skew on the outside, so as to divide the roofs.”

“It is not uncommon thing, too, to find houses divided only by lath and standard partitions, without a single brick in them.”

“In theatres, that part of the house which includes the stage and scenery should be carefully divided from that where the audience assembles.”

“The subject of fire-proof buildings might occupy a considerable space...To make a building fire-proof, the stairs must be of stone, and the doors of iron…”

“...the next thing to be considered is a supply of water.”

#5 Investigate Fire Incidents --

“The most immense hazard is frequently incurred for the most trifling indulgences, and much property is annually destroyed, and valuable lives often lost, because a few thoughtless individuals cannot deny themselves the gratification of reading in bed with a candle beside them.”

“...leaving their houses to the care of children.”

“Intoxication is also a disgraceful and frequent cause of fire.”

“...approaching with lighted candles too near a bed or window curtains.”

“...going under a bed with a lighted candle, and placing a screen full of clothes too near the fire.”

“...cinders falling between the joints of the outer and inner hearths.”

“...foul chimneys.”

#6 Educate the public --

"When a fire actually takes place, every one should endeavor to be as cool and collected as possible…”

“The moment it is ascertained that fire has actually taken place, notice should be sent to the nearest station where there is a fire-engine.”

“...shut all the doors and windows as close as possible, which greatly retards the progress of the flames…”

#7 Ensure Adequate Staffing --

“...however complete in its apparatus and equipments, must depend for its efficiency on the state of training and discipline of the firemen.  Wherever there is inexperience, want of co-operation, or confusion amongst them, the utmost danger is to be apprehended in the event of fire.”

“The description of men from whom I have been in the habit of selecting firemen are slaters, house-carpenters, masons, plumbers, and smiths.”

“In each company there is one captain, one sergeant, four pioneers, and six or eight firemen.”

James Braidwood would eventually leave Edinburgh for London where he became  
Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment. At the age of 62 the "Father of the British Fire Serivce", James Braidwood, was killed in a building collapse, while fighting a large warehouse fire.

In recent years standards such as NFPA 1730, NFPA 1452, NFPA 1300 have been created to discuss and present the "new" concept of community risk reduction or CRR.  I share the story of James Braidwood from 1830 to demonstrate that the principles of fire prevention, and effective fire prevention organizations have been around for a long time. Though the terminology may change, new buzz word may come and go, these seven tenants for effective community fire prevention remain the same.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricanes and storms require that a myriad of tasks, both professional and personal, be completed in a short time span.  Due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma, and its potential impact on my home in South Florida, there will be no blog post this week. Thanks for understanding. 

The "All In" Approach to Firefighting

Photo courtesy of BLMOregon

I recently finished reading the book All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. Written by Paula Broadwell, and published in 2012, the book chronicles the General’s “career, his intellectual development as a military officer, and his impact on the U.S. military.”  The fire service is often touted as a para-military organization and I have found it  increasingly beneficial to read books on military strategy, leadership, and personalities.  These resources provide a broad variety of lessons that can be readily applied to what we do in the fire service.

Among many other accomplishments, Petraeus is known for answering the call of President Obama to provide leadership of the war in Afghanistan. He had previously penned “King David’s Bible”, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual (COIN).  COIN provided guidance to all military forces on how to win the battle in Afghanistan.  Early in his leadership of these forces, he sent out a four-page counterinsurgency guidance letter, that boiled the COIN down to “24 Commandments”.  These are what Petraeus felt were essential to victory in this war.

Here are six that stand out and their application to the fire service.

  • Secure and serve the population.  The decisive terrain is the human terrain. The people are the center of gravity.  Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and ISAF prevail.

People are why we do what we do.  Maintaining relationships with the people of our community, and our community leaders, is what allows us to be effective in what we do. Our first duty is to “secure and serve the population”.  Do what is best for the community and its members.  Keeping in mind, that sometimes this might not be what’s best for ‘us’.

  • Live with the people. We can’t commute to the fight. Position joint bases and combat outposts as close to those we’re seeking to secure as feasible.  Decide on locations with input from our partners and after consultation with local citizens and informed by intelligence and security assessments.

If to “secure and serve the population” is our objective, to “live with the people” is our strategy.  How can we best secure and serve? What is it that our population needs most from us, and how can we provide that? How can we be proactive, provide a service to the many, and not just reactive, responding to issues of the few?

  • Pursue the enemy relentlessly. Together with our Afghan partners, get your teeth into the insurgents and don’t let go. When the extremists fight, make them pay. Seek out and eliminate those who threaten the population. Don’t let them intimidate the innocent. Target the whole network, not just individuals.

Our enemy is those natural and man-made disasters and incidents that threaten to destroy the lives, property, and prosperity of the members of our community.  It is more than just fire, we now take an “all-hazards” approach to the work we do. We pursue this ‘enemy’ through prevention, mitigation, and public education. We fight this ‘enemy’ with the most current use of tools, technology, and personnel training.

  • Walk. Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population. Take off your sunglasses. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.

Leadership expert, John Maxwell, says “Walk slowly through the halls. One of the greatest mistakes leaders make is spending too much time in their offices and not enough time out among the people.” There is a need and true value in getting out of the office, out of the station, and walking through the community (and for more than just the daily grocery run). Walk through the buildings in your industrial areas, walk through the shopping malls, walk through the new communities and construction, walk down the streets at community events.  Walking gives a new perspective on structures, systems, and processes.  Walking is welcoming, it allows people the opportunity to stop, engage, and communicate.

  • Be first with the truth. Beat the insurgents and malign actors to the headlines. Preempt rumors. Get accurate information to the chain of command, to Afghan leaders, to the people, and to the press as soon as possible.  Integrity is critical to this fight.  Avoid spinning, and don’t try to “dress up” an ugly situation.  Acknowledge setbacks and failures, including civilian casualties, and then state how we’ll respond and what we’ve learned.

Address problems, concerns, issues, and failings head on. There have been multiple times when a decision made could have been detrimental, however, I directly went to the leaders of my organization, explained the issue, how I went wrong, and what I was doing to fix and prevent. Address issues quickly and head on, and most importantly, provide a solution for how to do better in the future.

  • Live our values. Stay true to the values we hold dear. This is what distinguishes us from our enemies. We are engaged in a tough endeavor. It is often brutal, physically demanding, and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we must not give in to dark impulses or tolerate unacceptable actions by others.

Today’s fire departments provide a blend of generations, cultures, beliefs, backgrounds, and ethics.  Our values on the job, are what the departments we work for value.  When we show up to work, we put our beliefs, ethics, and values to the side and we take on those of our employer. Several years ago, the USFA produced a firefighter code of ethics.  This is a document that members of our profession can look to and know what this business is all about, and what it stands for.  These are the values we must live.

“This isn’t double down, Mr. President. It’s all in.”

-Gen. David Petraeus