Staffing in the fire service has dwindled because of numerous reasons over the past few decades. An engine or ladder company arriving with half a dozen personnel was once the norm; it is now a rarity. Both in the career fire service as well as the volunteer fire service, we are responding with less and less resources. Specific National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards can be used to justify resources and staffing whether the department is career or volunteer. Let's take a look at some of these sources that can be of value in our justification process.
NFPA Standards Wide Array Of Standards
To the advantage of the career fire service, 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, has identified "minimum requirements" for engine and ladder company staffing. A minimum of four personnel are identified as the minimum safe requirement and this staffing level is even furthermore enhanced to five or, even, six personnel in areas more prone to fire activity or with additional risk (see, sections 18.104.22.168.1 and 22.214.171.124.2 for engine companies and 126.96.36.199.1 and 188.8.131.52.2 for ladder companies, 2010 edition).
While also providing guidance, NFPA 1720: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments, is geared towards the volunteer fire service and discusses minimum requirements for personnel at the fire scene and goes into depth as it relates to personnel needed within specific time frames. For example, an urban area is classified as having greater than 1,000 people per square mile and requires 15 personnel within the first nine minutes of operation for a fire in a "low hazard" occupancy (see section 4.3.2 and Table 4.3.2, 2010 edition).
What is good about these standards is that they offer a defense for the ever-heavy budget axe. No, these NFPA standards are not laws like those of OSHA for example and as such we are not mandated to adhere to them. But, there is an advantage here for senior level department leadership who must go toe-to-toe with the municipal bean counter. Elected officials usually strive to do what's best for the community as a whole and if there is no requirement or minimum standard for a particular resource, they will not voluntarily give it to you. However, the higher up one goes in any organization, the greater the potential liability.
Our elected leaders are no different than anyone else as it relates to not wanting to be identified as the culprit or primary person responsible for a disaster. Therefore, we must use the system to our advantage. Take for example the apparatus or personal protective equipment (PPE) your department purchases or the training of your firefighters. The major apparatus manufacturers make apparatus that meet NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus; our PPE is made to NFPA 1851: Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting minimum standard, and our regional training facilities turn out firefighters with training that meets NFPA 1001: Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications. In addition, we use the incident management system (IMS) where the most minimum requirements are identified in NFPA 1561: Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System, and as it relates to safety, the great majority of our departments use NFPA: 1500 Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program as the primary building block for organizational safety.