NFPA national study finds some improvement yet ongoing needs persist in America’s fire departments

Published on March 15, 2007

March 15, 2007 - The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) today announced the results of a second comprehensive study examining the needs and response capabilities of the nation’s fire service and accompanying reports on each state in the country. The studies, completed for the United States Fire Administration (USFA), also compared the needs reported from the first assessment, conducted in 2001, with the resources requested under the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program and looked to see if the needs identified in the first survey had been substantially reduced as a result of the special funding.

“NFPA was pleased to conduct these follow-up studies as a way to illustrate not only the challenges facing today’s fire service, but what steps can be implemented for safer and more effective responses,” said NFPA President James M. Shannon. “The reports show only slight improvement and that is simply not good enough. The Fire Act grants have been well targeted, as the studies show, but they are dwarfed by the size of the needs. It is essential we provide the nation’s fire service with the tools to protect themselves and all of us in both traditional and extraordinary situations.”

Homeland Security Preparedness
The survey asked whether the fire department’s responsibility included a building collapse scenario and a scenario involving release of chemical or biological agents, each with a defined number of casualties or occupants in need of rescue.  If the answer was yes, the survey asked whether the department could address such emergencies with local trained personnel and specialized equipment and whether the department had a written agreement to coordinate any non-local resources that might be needed in response.

  • None of the homeland security related equipment needs showed marked improvement, nor did any of the personnel needs related to those situations.
  • There was improvement in the existence of written agreements to coordinate the use of outside personnel and equipment in a homeland security response.
  • The overall percentage of departments with written plans for a building collapse scenario increased by seven percentage points (from 19% to 26%).
  • The overall percentage of departments with written plans for a biological or chemical agent scenario increased by nine percentage points (from 21% to 30%).

Safe and Effective Firefighting

  • Many of the estimated needs for personal protective equipment – self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), personal alert safety system (PASS) devices, and personal protective clothing - were reduced but there continues to be a need for additional personal protective equipment.
  • The percentage of departments without enough SCBA to equip a shift declined by eight percentage points (from 36% to 28%).
  • The percentage without enough PASS devices to equip a shift declined by 13 percentage points (from 42% to 29%).
  • The percentage where not all firefighters have personal protective clothing was 8%, but nearly 100,000 firefighters serve in those departments.
  • The majority (53%) of departments that provide structural firefighting have not provided formal training to all their personnel involved in structural firefighting, and 42% of U.S.firefighters serve in these departments.
  • Formal training also has not been provided to all involved personnel in the majority of departments providing emergency medical service (53%), hazardous material response (71%), wildland firefighting (74%), and technical rescue (88%).
  • Despite modest progress, three-fifths to three-fourths of the nation’s fire departments still do not have enough fire stations, or the firefighters to staff them, to achieve widely recognized response-time guidelines and lack key equipment, prevention programs and training. More specifically, the estimates are 61% of fire departments protecting communities of 50,000 to 99,999 population do not have enough fire stations, as do 65-75% of fire departments protecting communities of 0 to 49,999 population or 100,000 to 499,999 population. For the small number of fire departments protecting communities of 500,000 population or more, the estimate is that 82-90% of those fire departments do not have enough fire stations.
  • Regardless of the type of need – equipment, training, apparatus or personnel – the needs are greater in smaller communities and are greatest in rural America(communities under 2,500 population).

The full national reports – Four Years Later–A Second Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service and Matching Assistance to Firefighter Grants to the Reported Needs of the U.S. Fire Services – and individual state reports are available at, which also has information on NFPA codes and standards of use in homeland security preparedness and the assurance of firefighter health and safety.

NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization 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.

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