Author(s): James Pauley. Published on November 2, 2015.

Closing Gaps

The importance of participating in, and learning from, the fire service needs assessment. BY JIM PAULEY

AS BOTH CITIZENS and fire and life safety professionals, we know the important role that the fire service plays in protecting all of us. You have also heard me talk about the important role that data plays in decision making, and in the expanded role of NFPA across the data environment. NFPA’s U.S. Needs Assessment is a great example of the intersection of the fire service and data.

We have just launched the fourth assessment survey. This assessment is an extremely important data gathering effort that is used to identify gaps within the nation’s fire service. By using proper analytics, we can provide a picture of improvements that have been made since the last survey and identify where gaps still exist.

Once completed, that analysis becomes a key tool for Congress and the U.S. Fire Administration to use in allocating funding to fill the gaps. It also serves as a great benchmark for individual fire departments at the local or state level.

Surveys have been mailed to fire departments in all 50 states, and data collection will continue into January. The survey is also available online the first time to make it easier for fire departments to provide their information. We expect to produce the national report in the summer of 2016, with state reports to follow later in the year.

In addition to the general information about the departments, we have enhanced the survey to gather information on wildland firefighting and wildland/urban interface training; technical rescue capabilities, including urban search and rescue teams and structural collapse teams; dispatch-call processing and capabilities; fire prevention education programming; basic firefighter fitness and health programs; and advanced technology applications.

Previous surveys have revealed some significant gaps that we hope have narrowed. Two examples stand out: 68 percent of the fire departments that perform wildland firefighting and 85 percent of the departments that perform technical rescue have reported that their personnel are not formally trained to perform those tasks.

Fire departments today are being deployed in an “all hazards” approach. Whether it is a structure fire, chemical spill, vehicle extraction, wildland fire, or other hazard, the public expects firefighters to be there, and they should expect to receive the proper training and equipment to perform the task at hand. The U.S. Needs Assessment Survey is a key way to help analyze where we are and what we need to do next.

I encourage fire departments that have received the survey to complete it and return it to ensure that your needs are captured.