Report cites risks to public safety posed by budget cuts

Published on November 4, 2011
Warns against decisions by municipal officials without adequate knowledge of fire safety and emergency response standards

IAFCNovember 4, 2011 – Failing to manage the challenges of budget cuts, rising call volume, personnel and equipment shortages, security issues and the overall expectation to do more with less, can leave individuals, fire departments and communities vulnerable to undesirable events, according to a new report being released today.

Fire Service Deployment: Assessing Community Vulnerability (PDF, 1 MB), a report on fire safety released by the Urban Fire Forum, an educational group representing metropolitan fire departments warned that, ”in many communities, the sustained economic recession is forcing decisions to cut fire department resources faster than fire service leaders can evaluate their impact.”

“The white paper report was prepared to provide municipal leaders relevant information to consider when making decisions about fire department resources in a strained economy.  As fire chiefs, we recognize the stress of dealing with cash-strapped budgets, but there are some resources that must take priority particularly when the decision can put the public and firefighters at greater risk,” noted Chief Ned Pettus, Jr., president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association.

Statements from the report

  • Expectations placed on the fire service, including Emergency Medical Services (EMS), response to natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, technical rescue and acts of terrorism, have steadily increased. However, fire chiefs are often faced with policies created by municipal officials who are challenged to balance community service expectations with finite budgetary resources and who do so without a solid technical foundation for evaluating the impact of staffing and deployment decisions on the safety of the public and firefighters.
  • This is often a situation of planning fire department resources to budgets rather than budgeting to the proper plan. These whirlwind cuts can leave a community without sufficient resources to respond to emergency calls safely and effectively.
  • If fire department resources are deployed to match the risk levels inherent to hazards in the community, it has been scientifically demonstrated that the community will be far less vulnerable to negative outcomes.
  • You’re going to have longer response times and less quality of care and it’s going to be more dangerous to the public in general. While it might sound like a scare tactic, what it says only reinforces what the fire chief told city leaders when he warned them about the potential for big problems to emergency services if jobs were lost, saying, fewer personnel and EMS units responding increases EMS response time, which directly impacts survivability of individuals experiencing medical emergencies.
  • It is imperative that fire department leaders, as well as political decision-makers, know how fire department resource deployment in their local community affects community outcomes in three important areas:  firefighter injury and death; civilian injury and death; and property loss and environmental impact.

The report also recommends a framework for decision-making to ensure public and firefighter safety.  The framework compiles relevant resources that must be considered in decision-making including industry standards, government regulations and science. Based on the resources available to decision- makers and fire service leaders, the report offers a suggested policy.

Suggested Policy
For 90 percent of all incidents, the first-due unit shall arrive on scene within a four minute travel time. The first-due unit shall be capable of advancing the first line for fire suppression, starting rescue or providing basic life support.

“Prior to the release of recent research reports supporting the ability of local community leaders to make science-based deployment decisions, a fire chief was often forced to act in the absence of complete information. Today, we have research, standards, and regulations that establish the complex links between resource allocation and the array of risks found in their communities,” said William "Shorty" Bryson, fire chief Miami Dade Fire and Rescue. “Many budget cuts already in place and others being made by elected officials [in the absence of informed technical knowledge of fire safety and emergency response needs] fall far short of these minimal considerations,” added Bryson.

About the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association
The Metropolitan Fire Chiefs (Metro) Association brings together fire chiefs from large metropolitan fire departments to share information and focus on major issues effecting policy changes in the U.S. and abroad. The Metro is a Section of both the NFPA and the IAFC and its members are the fire chiefs of jurisdictions with minimum staffing of 400 fully paid career fire fighters. For more information, contact Metro Executive Secretary, Russ Sanders.

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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