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The issue of staffing comes to the attention of everyone with each and every firefighter's death on the fireground. This occurs whether the death occurred at a high-rise building or a one-story home. Much will be said for a short time, then the conditions of staffing will return to the same levels as before the firefighter was killed. Think about your experiences. How many close calls have you been involved with? How many after-action reports have you read that talk about being shorthanded?
I have spent 30 years of my life with the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department. During that period, the department has been hacked and slashed to the present form. When I became a member, there were 32 two-piece engine companies with a staffing of one officer and four firefighters. This let us become 64 single-piece engine companies with the call-back of personnel. Since 1991, we have had 33 single-piece engine companies with one officer and three firefighters. We have 16 truck companies staffed with one officer and four firefighters. When I started, we had 17 trucks staffed by an officer and five firefighters.
Recently, the department was slashed by an additional $5 million. An appointed political official informed us we were actually better off than the year before and we were supposed to believe it, I guess. Is this insanity? No, it is the mentality of our officials, which we have allowed to prevail. How did we get here? Why has so much rhetoric taken place and yet we still have fire apparatus across the country going out the doors of the station with two or three people onboard?
The answers lie on many fronts. If you read the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA Handbook, 11th edition, 1954, it states that seven-member engine and truck companies are needed for high-hazard areas. By 1969, they had changed their position to four-member engines and trucks, regardless of the area. Warren Kimball wrote in Fire Attack I that seven-member ladder trucks were needed to perform the necessary duties, but in his later book Fire Attack II he changed his message to whatever you can bring. Even International City Managers Association (ICMA) wrote in its Managing the Fire Service, 1967 edition, that five-member staffing was a minimum. Yet, in the 1988 edition they reserved the right to staff at any level. Thus began the unsubstantiated, in my opinion, reductions to our service and direct correlation to the impact on firefighter safety. Plus, most of our work is EMS related. How many people are required to perform EMS assistance? The answer is three. One person to drive the fire rig and two to assist with patient care.
The last staffing study of national significance was performed in Dallas in 1984. This only measured the ability of different-size crews to complete specific tasks; the ability to stretch a line by three-, four- or five-member engine companies, for example. Now, I'm sure other departments have also done testing, but how was it done and who published it nationally?
The problem with the testing conducted so far is that it has missed the most important concept. We don't perform separate tasks to perform our job. An article was written by Dr. Denis Onieal in 1992 in which he talked about the total picture of what is needed. He referred to tasks that must be performed concurrently and also those that can be performed consecutively. For example, an engine company making an attack down a hallway will be safer if a truck company is on scene and performing ventilation both vertical and horizontal. (Dr. Onieal is the superintendent of the National Fire Academy. See page 82.)