The following is from the Secret List and it once again addresses the issue of firefighter safety and staffing. While it is about one fire department and one hero in that department, the discussion addresses staffing needs that face every department today. How do we do our job and still return home to our family when there are not enough people on scene to do the job properly and safely. Does the public support your efforts and what is your department doing to educate, market and sell the needs of your department to the public you are serving.
We in the fire service MUST remember that elected officials make the public policy that determines staffing levels in our departments. It is our
job to operate within the policy that they have established for the community.
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Poor Staffing = Deadly Outcomes? (The Secret List)
Our "stand" on Firefighter staffing has been real clear for several decades. It takes well lead, well trained firefighters to fight fires based upon the pre-required tasks. How many Firefighters do you need? Figure out the tasks and apply that number. If you have a small single family dwelling fire (1000 sq foot, w/f, hydranted area) with a room or two burning, that requires (minimally!) 3 handlines (use the guide to fire flow, it's on our Safety & Survival DOWNLOADS page here: http://firefighterclosecalls.com/downloads.php
...scroll down on that page and look for The ISO Needed Fire Flow Guide Download) ...and then initially you also need at least:
-Water supply (1 FF on the hydrant)
-Pump operator (1 FF)
-3 handlines (3, 1-1/4" lines w/3 FF's each=9 FF's)
-Force Entry, Search (2 FF's)
-Vent (2 FF's)
-Command (1 IC in front and 1 rear sector supervisor allow for a 360 of the bldg) (2 FF's)
-RIT (3 FF's)
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 (yeah-smoke is an indicator) etc-double or triple that staffing number immediately through pre-determined alarm assignments. And while those numbers are a good start, they are for a SMALL single family dwelling. Do the staffing math for an occupied 4 story ordinary construction multi-family dwelling.
The Globe in Boston 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 this weekend after his 4 story apartment building burned right near the GFD on a night when the FD 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 on Saturday...but as it shouldn't have--it had only a single firefighter assigned to it. The driver, Firefighter James Capillo, had to recruit two cops to help him set up a 35-foot ground ladder below the victims 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 and hero FF Nicastro had to retreat as the room was about to flash. Nicastro's 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 has had staffing shortages since voters rejected a tax increase in 2004, confirmed that there were only 15 firefighters working Friday night, even though 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 call 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, though firefighters from 17 towns and government agencies eventually came to Gloucester 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 FD's 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 FD's 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 1000 sq foot dwelling has a very significantly different 1st alarm requirement than the 1st alarm assignment in an occupied multi-family dwelling. For the multi-family dwelling, you may need 40 or more Firefighters on the 1st alarm....IF you want to have a shot at performing the needed tasks SIMULTANIOUSLY. After all, you CAN perform all the tasks with just 6 or 7 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" 1st 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 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 FD"
==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? And back-fills or station fills from other FD's helps the coverage issue.
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 Marc 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 Nicastro's" , 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 and elected officials 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. That is, unless we want to start discussing mandatory retroactive fire sprinkler systems...and that's a completely different discussion.
Take Care-BE CAREFUL,
The Secret List 12-17-07 / 0856 Hours