NFPA completes Third Needs Assessment of the US Fire Service

Published on June 16, 2011
Study finds improvements but needs continue for America’s fire departments

June 16, 2011 – The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) today released the Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, a study that looked at the current needs of America’s fire departments as compared to those identified in assessments done in 2001 and 2005. The goal of the project was to identify major gaps in the needs of the U.S. fire service and to determine if the Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (DHS/FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) programs are continuing to reduce the needs of fire departments.

“Fire service needs are extensive across the board, and in nearly every area of need; the smaller the community protected, the greater the need,” said James M. Shannon, president of NFPA. “While we are seeing the positive impact of well-targeted grants, there is more to be done to ensure our nation’s fire departments are prepared to provide the necessary protection to their communities.”

The report looked at personnel and their capabilities, including staffing, training, certification, and wellness/fitness; facilities and apparatus; personal protective equipment, fire prevention and code enforcement; the ability to handle unusually challenging incidents; and communications and new technologies.

Selected Findings:

  • Nearly half (46%) of all fire departments that are responsible for structural firefighting have not formally trained all their personnel involved in structural firefighting, down from 55% in 2001 and 53% in 2005.
  • Seven out of ten (70%) fire departments have no program to maintain basic firefighter fitness and health, down from 80% in 2001 and 76% in 2005.
  • Nearly half (46%) of all fire department engines and pumpers were at least 15 years old, down from 51% in 2001 and 50% in 2005.
  • Half (52%) of all fire departments cannot equip all firefighters on a shift with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), down from 70% in 2001 and 60% in 2005.
  • Two out of five (39%) fire departments do not have enough personal alert safety system devices (PASS) to equip all emergency responders on a shift, down from 62% in 2001 and 48% in 2005.
  • Except for cities protecting at least 250,000 population, most cities do not assign at least 4 career firefighters to an engine or pumper and so are probably not in compliance with NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, which requires a minimum of 4 firefighters on an engine or pumper.

Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service conducted by NFPA concluded:

  • Needs have declined to a considerable degree in a number of areas, particularly personal protective and firefighting equipment, two types of resources that received the largest shares of funding from the AFG programs.
  • Some innovative technologies that have not been identified as necessary in existing standards but are known to be very useful to today’s fire service – including Internet access and thermal imaging cameras – have also seen large increases in use.
  • Declines in needs have been more modest in some other important areas, such as training, which have received much smaller shares of AFG funds.
  • Still other areas of need, such as apparatus, stations, and the staffing required to support the stations, have seen either limited reductions in need (e.g., apparatus needs in rural areas) or no reductions at all (e.g., adequacy of stations and personnel to meet standards and other guidance on speed and size of response).
  • Fire prevention and code enforcement needs have shown no clear improvement over the past decade.
  • In all areas emphasized by the AFG and SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants, there is ample evidence of impact from the grants but also considerable residual need still to be addressed, even for needs that have seen considerable need reduction in the past decade.
  • There has been little change in the ability of departments, using only local resources, to handle certain types of unusually challenging incidents, including two types of homeland security scenarios (structural collapse and chem/bio agent attack) and two types of large-scale emergency responses (a wildland/urban interface fire and a developing major flood).

The full report can be obtained at www.nfpa.org/needsassessment.

About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
NFPA is a worldwide leader in fire, electrical, building, and life safety. The mission of the international nonprofit organization founded in 1896 is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.

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Contact: Lorraine Carli, Public Affairs Office: +1 617 984-7275

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