According to "A Needs Assessment of the U. S. Fire Service," published jointly by the National Fire Protection Association and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2002, it is estimated that:

  • 60 to 75% of all fire departments do not have enough fire stations to meet ISO guidelines for response times and distances

  • 50% of all fire engines are over 15 years old

  • 38% of firefighters in communities of 50,000 population and larger are responding on crews with less than the NFPA-recommended 4 persons on the first-due apparatus

  • Only 25% of all departments own thermal-imaging cameras vital in performing efficient searches for victims in smoke filled buildings. (NFPA-A Needs Assessment)

These statistics identify some issues that may reduce the ability of a fire department to handle your emergency. As a result, the steps you take prior to that event take on a higher level of importance. Understanding the resources that might be available, their limitations, as well as some of the basic strategies and tactics employed by fire departments, may help you in the pre-fire emergency planning process. Understanding what actions the fire department will likely be able perform upon arrival and during their ongoing efforts to control the situation should help you develop realistic expectations about that department's capabilities. Without this information, you may be unknowingly creating situations that will hamper their ability to ensure the safety of all persons involved and effectively extinguishing the fire.

Given improvements in fire safety efforts, hostile fire events still occur and are often catastrophic in nature, resulting in personal injuries, the loss of human lives and disruption of business operations. The number of structure fires, civilian deaths and firefighter fatalities (from structure fires) has been steadily declining since 1977, although the total number of firefighter fatalities is not decreasing at the same rate. (NFPA c.2005) While improvements in fire safety, technology, training and equipment have been credited for these reductions; fire departments as a whole still suffer from a serious lack of funding, equipment, manpower and training across the United States. (NFPA-A Needs Assessment) The capabilities of the responding department can vary greatly, so the Safety Professional should meet with the responding agency to assess their capability and resources; then compare this information to your "worst case" scenario needs.

Fire Service / Public Protection Rating System
ISO Public Protection Classification

Municipal Fire Departments are rated by the Insurance Services Organization (ISO), using a complex matrix known as the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, which is based on 3 major categories of data: fire alarms, engine companies and water supplies. Within each of these broad categories, many individual criteria are evaluated to arrive at the final rating. Each department is assigned a numerical rating that defines their Public Protection Classification (PPC), 1 being the best protection to 10 representing no recognized protection or protection that does not meet minimum ISO standards (ISO c.2005)

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.