The NVFC has released a 119-page report entitled, "The Role of the Volunteer Fire Service in the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks". This is the first report that focuses on the actions of thousands of volunteers who responded on that tragic day and the days afterward.
During the course of the study, 375 volunteer fire departments were identified as being involved in the response to and recovery from the terrorist attacks in New York City, NY, Arlington, VA, and Somerset County, PA. In total, more than 3,000 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians provided more than 75,000 hours of service.
"The volunteer fire service played a major role in the response and recovery of the events on that horrific day," said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. "The report clearly demonstrates the spirit of volunteerism, patriotism and professionalism that exists in the fire service."
The volunteer roles varied by incident:
· In New York City, an estimated 2,600 emergency services personnel from 285 volunteer fire rescue departments provided more than 43,700 hours of service in the response to and recovery from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Volunteers performed search, rescue, and recovery operations, were involved in fire suppression activities, and backfilled fire stations of FDNY companies that were operating at the disaster site.
· Over 100 volunteer departments participated in the response to the attack on the Pentagon with a force of approximately 1,930 volunteers who provided nearly 30,000 hours of firefighting, search and rescue, backfilling fire stations throughout the region, and other critical roles.
· The crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in rural Somerset County was handled by an all-volunteer fire rescue service that was made up of 55 volunteers from 10 departments. These emergency services personnel provided more than 1,500 hours of service.
Undoubtedly, the events of September 11, 2001 have changed America's fire service. Some departments, particularly those in and around the affected metropolitan areas, noted some increase in volunteer membership, but the rise has not been enough to counteract a 20-year downward trend in volunteerism nationwide. Nonetheless, volunteers were shown to be critical to the successful mitigation of terrorist attacks. Volunteer departments must be better prepared in equipment and training to handle homeland security responsibilities. Much of the nation is protected solely by volunteer fire departments.
The report emphasizes the fire service's need for specialized equipment and training in hazardous materials incident mitigation, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and high-rise firefighting. Fire departments must train with surrounding jurisdictions on a regular basis to build trust and become familiar with one another's operating procedures. Fire department communications and the ability for firefighters to communicate with other emergency services personnel from surrounding jurisdictions must be unimpeded (the issue of interoperability). Equipment such as air cylinders and hose couplings must be compatible among departments providing mutual aid to each other.
Finally, the study found that self-dispatch and freelancing especially in the absence of a strong unified incident command system can cause myriad problems, though well intentioned. Among the problems identified as a result of self-dispatch and freelancing are: lack of accountability; inappropriate personal protective equipment; and the inability to communicate with incident commanders and other firefighters.