|Codes and Standards Spotlight: NFPA Journal Interviews Carl Peterson about NFPA 1710
NFPA Journal® online exclusive, May 2008
By Lisa Nadile
NFPA regularly receives media calls about NFPA 1710, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, and Carl Peterson, NFPA's assistant director of the Public Fire Protection Division, is often on the phone with journalists clarifying the standard's requirements and helping them understand how the fire service works.
Celebrating his fortieth year at NFPA, Peterson has been a fire investigator, software developer, and staff liaison, to name just some of the posts he's held. But to a man whose uncle, father, and grandfather were all volunteer firefighters-which meant Peterson's been chasing fires as long as he was old enough to walk-he has kept the safety of the fire service his first priority. Currently, Peterson is serving as staff liaison to the technical committee responsible for NFPA 1710. He stresses the use of this document as a tool for promoting effective communications between fire departments and the communities they serve. This standard directly affects the wellbeing of the fire service by addressing issues of staffing and deployment of resources.
LN: What are the most frequently asked questions for this standard?
CP: The majority of questions focus on two issues. One is staffing. How many firefighters should there be on a piece of fire apparatus? That question is easy to answer: For an engine company or ladder company, a minimum of four firefighters. For special service vehicles, the standard states the apparatus must be staffed with the appropriate personnel to accomplish the tasks that the company will be expected to perform in a safe manner.
The second issue is response time. How quickly should the apparatus and firefighters get to the incident? NFPA 1710 says that the first company apparatus with appropriate staffing needs to arrive within a travel time of four minutes and that all companies assigned on the first alarm must arrive within an eight-minute travel time. The standard gives companies another minute for turnout time, which is the time to receive the alarm at the station, identify where they are going, get their protective clothing on, get on the apparatus, and start moving.
However, as I talk to reporters, I explain there is another minute in the whole equation, and that is the alarm handling or dispatch time. That time comes from NFPA 1221, Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems. It says the dispatch center has to be able to process the call and notify the appropriate companies in one minute 95 percent of the time.
From the public's perspective, there is a potential of six minutes from the time they dial 911 until they have a fire truck in front of their house.
LN: Why was the number of firefighters required for the minimum staffing for engine and truck companies set at four?
CP: That question comes up a lot when I talk to reporters. The reporter will say, "The community has only three firefighters for an apparatus." I explain that if they only have three firefighters, they aren't going to be able to do certain things safely. I discuss the two in/two out rule, which requires that firefighters work in teams of at least two persons when in a hazardous atmosphere and that there be two properly equipped firefighters outside the hazardous area who are monitoring the activities of the two in the hazardous area and who can rescue them if they get in trouble. This is a federal government requirement, as well as a requirement in NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program. If the first-arriving company has only three firefighters on the apparatus, it means that the company can't do interior firefighting until a fourth person arrives.
With a four-person engine company, the pump operator and one other member, typically the company officer, remain outside the hazardous area, and there is a team of two firefighters available for interior search and rescue or firefighting. As the operation escalates and additional companies arrive, the company officer should be in a position to move into the structure and provide closer supervision of his or her crew.
The same thing applies to truck company operations. With one firefighter remaining with the apparatus to operate the aerial device, it leaves three persons to raise ground ladders, perform search-and-rescue operations, perform ventilation operations, and many other tasks. With a three-person truck company, the officer has to become more of a working member of the team and can loose focus on supervising and overseeing the safety of the team.
LN: Does the standard take into account population distribution and the intangibles of travel-traffic, weather, etc.-when requiring the four-minute and eight-minute travel times?
The community also needs to understand why the fire department is not achieving a higher percentage of compliance with the time objectives. Is it simultaneous alarms during peak times, traffic delays at certain times of the day, or an oddly shaped community that has a number of narrow peninsulas with very few structures but longer travel distances? The residents in those remote areas should consider installing residential sprinklers, because it's not economically feasible to build and staff a fire station for a small number of incidents a year.
The important point is that the fire department should be proactive in letting the community leaders and citizens know before and not after the fact, what the fire department capabilities are. The time to explain this is not when the citizens are asking why the fire department took 10 minutes to reach an incident.
LN: How does the standard require this communication between the fire service and the local government?
CP: The standard says that every four years the fire department has to report how they are meeting these objectives. This is an area of the standard that is still maturing. NFPA 1710 is currently based on a fire in a typical single-family, two-story, 2000-square-foot (186-square-meter) house without basement or exposures.
In setting objectives and evaluating response data, the question becomes what data should fire departments include for this analysis? If one looks at the overall response numbers just as raw data, they have grass fires, car fires, trash fires, and other types of incidents all mixed together. The fire department should look at the different types of fires it responds to, and the quadrennial reports should separate these for reporting how it meets its time objectives. These are issues that the committee may provide more guidance on in the future.
LN: How can NFPA members learn more about this area of the standard and how it may change?
CP: The Report on Proposals for the next edition of this standard, which is in the annual 2009 code cycle, will be available for public review and comment this summer, with a comment closing date of August 29, 2008.
LN: How are fire departments using NFPA 1710 to help them manage resources?
CP: NFPA 1710 is a good planning document. It's not just for firefighting, but emergency medical services (EMS), as well. With strokes and heart attacks, the first 10 minutes are generally pretty critical. Some fire departments have justified response times and staffing needs based on the level of EMS they deliver, in addition to the firefighting services they provide.
LN: What else does this standard help manage?
CP: The standard focuses mostly on staffing and deployment. Currently, it deals with response time, but the committee realizes that simply arriving in front of the building isn't enough. With a typical house fire, once you are in front of the property, you are generally at the location of the fire. With a large apartment complex, a hotel, or a large shopping mall, the fire or medical emergency may be deep in the building or on the 19th story. By the time the firefighters reach the fire or the patient, another three or four minutes or longer may have passed. The committee has started to discuss that time, which it is calling "initiating action/intervention time." The draft of the 2010 edition currently calls for documenting that time. I expect as the standard matures, more attention will be paid to that timeframe.