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

  • 60 to 75&37; 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 (FEMA/NFPA 2002).

A follow-up survey was conducted by NFPA in 2006 shows only marginal, if any improvement, in many areas. The percentage of fire departments that still do not have enough fire stations remains unchanged. There was a 1% improvement in percentage of fire engines older than 15 years in age. Significant progress was made in the percentage of departments now owning thermal imaging cameras, increasing to 55%; most of the remainder already have made plans to obtain one or more units. However, major ground was lost in crew sizes for firefighters serving communities greater than 50,000 in population. This number rose from the previous 38% to over 44% responding with less than the NFPA recommended 4 persons assigned to each engine company. This manpower shortage is magnified for many smaller communities. For the most part, many still lack key equipment, prevention programs and training (FEMA/NFPA 2006).

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 unknowing create situations that will hamper their ability to ensure the safety of all persons involved and effectively extinguishing the fire.

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