Staffing and Its Impact On Firefighter Safety

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...


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So what can we do? I hear about what the cops get all of the time. If you have ever attended a council meeting, when it comes to the police they will always phrase every question posed to them with, "If I only had the funding; in fact I stay up at night worrying about your issue, but I need more money." Yesterday and today and tomorrow, every fire and EMS response in this country will be mitigated to 100% closure. The average closure for police departments is between 20% and 30%. The fire service will consistently come out on top of customer surveys and yet come out a distant second or third when it comes to dollars and staffing. The reason - we can't predict when fires will occur and therefore the public's fear factor is not as great as a rise in crime. BUT we can predict with certainty what will happen when a fire does occur. With the current fears surrounding weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents there hasn't been too much written about the fact that firefighters will be killed in higher numbers even though we more than proved that fact on 9/11.

Instead of attacking each other, labor vs. management, whenever firefighters are killed, let's work with each other to package the programs necessary to educate politicians and the public everywhere regarding the nature of this thing that we do. Educate our own as to when unwarranted aggression becomes suicidal. Educate our commanders and hold them personally accountable for the safety of those under their command.

We can and should be able to remain safe only when adequately staffed and not have to depend on luck or statistics. We operate as a team and that has been proven to be safe and effective when we can accomplish all of the tasks of engine, truck and rescue work necessary in the time span where they are required. Stay safe!


Michael L. Smith, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 30-year veteran of the District of Columbia Fire Department, currently deputy chief/suppression and shift division commander, commanding all fire, EMS, hazmat, special operations and special events activities in the District on shift. He is a 30-plus-year fire service veteran and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. Smith is a Certified Municipal Manger (CMM) from George Washington University and has degrees in fire science, construction management and public administration. He holds a journeyman's card with United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and lectures nationwide on fire service topics, including management, command, rapid intervention, building construction, and strategy and tactics for all types of buildings.