The Town vs. The Fire Department: The Determination Of Fire Risk Levels

At some point after identifying the level of fire risk in your community, you will have to address the most serious question of all: Just how much fire protection is needed to address the risk? Before going any further, an important distinction must...


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At some point after identifying the level of fire risk in your community, you will have to address the most serious question of all: Just how much fire protection is needed to address the risk?

Before going any further, an important distinction must be made. The fire protection system in any community consists of several components. Each component has a role to play in keeping citizens safe from fire, and none should be ignored.

The suppression arm of the fire department is only one part of the equation. Public fire safety education, code enforcement, fire prevention inspections and installed private fire protection devices all contribute to the level of safety in any community. Each must be supported to the maximum extent possible.

Other agencies play parts in a community fire protection program. The support of government officials is essential; it is their control of the purse strings which we need to win for our efforts to be successful. The building department can assist in upgrading and maintaining the structures in every jurisdiction. Advice from attorneys can help to avoid problems in the development of legal remedies to lapses in protective remedies. A planning department serves as an important guide to the future. What types of building are currently permitted or might be in the future? How many people currently live in the community? What projections for the future exist?

These and other groups should be brought into your efforts. They can all be of assistance in providing a proper level of fire protection. Whether they have a statutory role or not is of little consequence. Having them buy into your team concept of fire protection is critical. They can raise your level of protection, and it may not even have to come out of your budget.

To protect a given level of risk, we must first know what level of fire protection is available to perform this function. If we are measuring risk in terms of fire flow, we must assess our capabilities in comparable terms.

This is the suggested methodology recommended by the National Fire Academy in its "Fire Risk Analysis" course. As part of this program, it urges you to use gallons per minute (gpm) to estimate suppression capability. The academy suggests this approach because it allows for direct comparison with the gpm fire flow demands that you have calculated for your target hazards.

This mechanism of comparison is useful because it can be utilized in a wide variety of circumstances. It also provides an actual mathematical determination as to whether a fire department can achieve the required level of protection.

The same two fire flows which were determined for the target hazards must be addressed for fire department suppression capability. The following department flow capabilities must be determined for analytical purposes:

  • Initial attack flow delivery capability.
  • Sustained attack flow delivery capability.
  • The provision of sufficient personnel to perform the support functions ancillary to the delivery of fire attack flows.

The initial attack flow can be determined by a study of actual fire company operations on the drill ground. We strongly recommend that NFPA 1410 "A Training Standard on Initial Fire Attack" be used as a guide for evolutions.

To provide a realistic appraisal of any fire department's capability, an appropriate response time must be determined. We must consider all of the time needed to discover the fire, report it to the fire department and have the department respond.

The National Fire Protection Association's Fire Protection Handbook states "it is generally considered that the first-arriving piece of apparatus should be at the emergency scene within five minutes of the sounding of the alarm, since additional minutes are needed to size-up the situation, deploy hoselines, initiate search and rescue, etc."

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