Staffing and tactics for firefighter survival

By Jeffrey S. Parker

Are we sacrificing proven methods in tactics and strategy when fighting structure fires? We have generally improved how we do things, especially with regard to personal protective equipment (PPE) and the greater availability of technology. However, there are many examples that show that tried-and-true principles are being violated. These examples have been identified in research that studied selected incidents that resulted in firefighter fatalities. The goal of my research was to determine how tactics and strategy depend on proper staffing and directly affect firefighter survival. Adequate staffing at incidents enables departments to use proper tactics to implement a strategy that fits the scenario presented. These tactics will lead to increased firefighter survival. Where sacrifices in tactics were made, they frequently were the result of having inadequate personnel at critical times during the incident. Inadequate staffing for preincident functions such as fire code compliance enforcement, training, preincident planning, and underappreciated administrative functions also indirectly negatively impacted firefighter survivability.

The fire service in general has a severe shortage of line and administrative staffing. When line staffing is short, administrative staffing is commonly sacrificed to compensate. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has standards that guide us in our operations: 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, 2010 edition, and 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, 2010 edition. Additionally, the standards identify administrative functions that rely on educated, experienced staffing. The fundamental requirement for both standards is that sufficient personnel must be at the fire scene in the early, initial, critical, high-risk/high-benefit potential period of time to initiate proper strategic and tactical tasks. Both standards use the word minimum.

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