It is quite a mouthful: National Fire Protection Association 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, also known as NFPA 1710. It is also quite a handful. While advocates call the standard’s approval by the NFPA in July a huge step forward for the American fire service and a boon for firefighter safety, detractors allege that the document is an attempt to force an unfunded, and unneeded, mandate on local jurisdictions nationwide.
“The local government community is outraged at what happened,” says Chris MacKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, the point organization in a major effort to shoot down or modify NFPA 1710. The anti-1710 coalition includes the International City/County Managers Association, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as 44 state municipal leagues, more than 20 fire chiefs associations, and more than 200 individual cities and counties.
The purpose of 1710 is “to specify the minimum criteria addressing the effectiveness and efficiency of the career public fire suppression operations, emergency medical service and special operations delivery in protecting the public of the jurisdiction and the occupational safety and health of fire department employees.” (1710’s sibling standard, NFPA 1720, covers volunteer fire/EMS departments and has not generated nearly as much controversy.)
Municipal officials and their professional organizations are especially steamed about the 1710 provisions setting out minimum staffing requirements for fire companies (four personnel, five or six in high-hazard areas) and for the initial full-alarm assignment (15 or 16). Equally contentious are the provisions that specify response times — to be met 90 percent of the time — for initial and full responses to fire and EMS calls. (Because of what many observers believe to be better justification for them, the staffing and time requirements for EMS calls are less controversial.)
The genesis of 1710
The municipal sector’s objections to 1710 involve both the standard itself and how the NFPA arrived at it. Regarding the standard’s pedigree, each side accuses the other of hijacking the NFPA consensus standards-writing process.
NFPA staff and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) contend that three municipal-sector representatives, including a finance director who was a former fire chief, sat on the 30-member technical committee that drafted 1710. Bernard Burk, an attorney representing the anti-1710 coalition, contends that, at the time the standard was actually being drafted, the committee did not include elected or appointed officials, risk managers, representatives of the insurance industry or representatives of municipal associations.
The 1710 committee’s chair, Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini, even wanted to get taxpayers onto the committee, says Stephen Foley, the committee’s NFPA staff liaison, but none accepted the invitation. The ICMA was invited, Foley says, but never replied.
“The ICMA asked to be included,” Burk counters. “The National League of Cities asked to be included. NACo asked to be included. The Public Risk Management Association asked to be included. They were never invited. How does that make this a consensus code?”
In addition, as the standard process moved along, the Washington, D.C.-based IAFF encouraged its members to join the NFPA (at $115 apiece, which the IAFF reimbursed) in time to be eligible to vote for 1710 at the NFPA annual meeting last May. About 2,500 reportedly did so.
After 1710 passed at the May meeting, Burk appealed to the NFPA’s Standards Council. In summary, the appeal noted that:
The vast majority of paid fire departments does not currently comply with 1710;
It would cost billions of dollars annually for them to do so; and
There is no significant scientific basis for the standard.
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger was irate. “I have been appalled by the heavy-handed tactics and the shrill rhetoric that has come from these groups in the final hours of the NFPA standard process,” he told the NFPA Standards Council.
Burk’s appeal cited Allied Tube & Conduit Corp. v. Indian Head Inc., a 1988 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a change to an NFPA standard because of what Burk called “vote-packing tactics” similar to those employed by the IAFF. In July, the Standards Council officially issued 1710, and the coalition filed a notice of its intent to petition the NFPA board. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re still in the appeals process,” MacKenzie says.
“We’re still hoping that they’ll fix what they broke,” Burk says, adding “the coalition is certainly exploring litigation options.”
Substance and structures
On top of problems with 1710’s promulgation, municipal advocates have a carload of complaints about the standard’s substance. “This is the first time the NFPA has purported to tell people the services they’re supposed to deliver,” Burk says. “The AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) always had the exclusive authority to determine the level of service.”
Gus Morrison, mayor of Fremont, Calif., notes that his city has 140 career firefighters. He estimates that, to meet 1710’s staffing requirements, the department would have to hire an additional 45 firefighters, at about $100,000 a year each, including retirement, training and necessary equipment.
Hiring those extra firefighters would not make sense for Fremont, Morrison says. Last year, of 15,000 responses by the Fremont Fire Department, which also handles EMS calls, only 150 were for structure fires. Consequently, hiring extra firefighters would mean the city was staffing for emergencies that are not frequent occurrences.
The Standards Council attempted to incorporate the concerns of cities like Fremont into its deliberations. It added an equivalency statement that says in its entirety: “Nothing in this standard is intended to prohibit the use of systems, methods, or approaches of equivalent or superior performance to those prescribed in this standard. Technical documentation shall be submitted to the AHJ to demonstrate equivalency.”
How that will help municipalities is unclear. “What’s missing in this standard is a clear life-safety objective,” MacKenzie says. “We’re left trying to determine what’s equivalent to what’s unclear.”
John Rukavina, public safety director of Wake County, N.C., and an attorney, sees the equivalency statement as a major concession in the standard. “That says there’s more than one door,” he notes.
Additionally, the standard contains “some pretty significant ‘and/ors,’” Rukavina says. For example, 90 percent of the time, a fire department is supposed to assemble an engine company on scene within five minutes and/or the initial full-alarm assignment within nine minutes, but doing both is not mandated. (The EMS part of 1710 mandates two first responders with an automatic external defibrillator within five minutes and two paramedics within nine minutes.)
The standard’s flexibility means that even jurisdictions without significant resources can cope with 1710, says Chief Jay Reardon of the Northbrook (Ill.) Fire Department. “1710 gives you all kinds of latitude,” he insists. “It’s loaded with compromises.”
For example, the standard mandates response times of four and eight minutes, respectively, for initial and full-alarm responses. But the times include one minute of “turnout time,” the period between when the alarm is received and when the vehicles begin rolling.
Besides the extra minute for turnout time, Reardon notes that the standard specifically requires four firefighters per company, not four per engine or truck. Therefore, if everyone were dispatched simultaneously, it would be acceptable under 1710 to assemble an initial on-scene company from one person on an engine and the rest arriving in three separate cars. One small volunteer fire department in Wisconsin even dispatches cross-trained public works employees, who would count in the staffing requirements, to fight fires. Or, Reardon says, automatic aid from a neighboring jurisdiction could help meet the full-alarm assignment.
The standard requires a force of 15 in a full-alarm assignment (16 if an aerial ladder or other aerial device is in use). However, “those numbers are not definitive for all situations,” Reardon says. For example, if a department were fighting a fire defensively with four ladder pipes, only one incident commander, four pump operators and four additional personnel should be required.
Reardon also suggests that a combination paid/volunteer department could follow NFPA 1710 during the day and 1720 at night. “There are a lot of ways to skin this cat called 1710,” he says.
Additionally, it is a misconception that NFPA standards are equivalent to law, Rukavina says. “There’s no automatic application of NFPA 1710,” he explains. “It’s a benchmark, not a law.”
Three possible problem areas
There still are three possible routes by which 1710 could impinge more directly on local jurisdictions: adoption, collective bargaining and federal regulation.
As for adoption, just say no, Rukavina says. Once it is adopted, he warns, “it’s not a consensus standard any more. It’s your duty.”
In collective bargaining situations between firefighters and their employers, 1710 may be more of an issue, according to Rukavina. “This isn’t an issue that will be fought out in a courtroom,” he predicts. “[It will be fought out] over a negotiating table.”
Finally, some 1710 critics fear that the standard’s provisions will creep into Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, which many consider already onerous. They point to other OSHA regulations that they insist have evolved from NFPA standards, but Rukavina says 1710 does not lend itself well to incorporation as an OSHA regulation.
Despite all that, Rukavina insists that cities and counties should not be complacent. “Above all, do something” about 1710, he says, although he is concerned that, for some jurisdictions and fire departments, doing something may mean nothing more than producing a “paper analysis that ratifies the status quo” without really examining the situation.
“This is a practice-what-you-preach challenge,” he warns.
Calm in Castle Rock
Despite the controversy over 1710, the standard has many supporters, not all of them diehard IAFF members. Chief Rob Brown of the Castle Rock (Colo.) Fire and Rescue Department, is upbeat about 1710’s goals as well as its substance.
“1710 is a good reference document,” he says. “It is a goal-setting standard that I can use in Castle Rock. These are things we’re already trying to do.”
The department, which was mostly volunteer when Brown became chief five years ago, now has 70 career personnel and 15 volunteers protecting a population of 35,000 in Colorado’s fastest-growing county. Castle Rock has four stations, is planning to open three more and is aiming for nine eventually. “Station 9 may not be built for 10 years, but it’s already sited,” Brown says.
That level of foresight is a key to Brown’s openness regarding 1710. For planning purposes, the department divides its 35-square-mile coverage area into nine “fire management zones,” each with subzones. Response times, which can vary widely depending on a call’s location and on the sometimes severe weather in Colorado’s Front Range, are tracked carefully.
Brown admits that, in terms of having a growing jurisdiction, department and budget, he is in a different position than are most fire chiefs. “What 1710 did in our community was reinforce that we’re doing the right thing,” he says.
Knowledge is key
Critics and proponents of 1710 agree that knowledge of the standard is the starting point for any discussion. “First of all, read the standard, top to bottom,” Rukavina says. “There’s a lot more maneuvering room in this than people have been led to believe.”
MacKenzie agrees. He says he’s “seen a lot of exaggeration” about 1710 by those with vested interests in hiring more firefighters or building more stations. But, he advises, it would not hurt for cities to look at their deployment policies and practices to check how they might better protect their residents — and to confer with legal counsel should questions arise.
Scott Baltic is a Chicago-based freelance writer and the former editor of Fire Chief magazine.
For more information
To purchase a copy of NFPA 1710, visit the association at www.nfpa.org.
At presstime, a task force of the International Association of Fire Chiefs had convened to develop a “decision guide” for 1710. The guide was scheduled to be distributed at the Fire-Rescue International conference in New Orleans in late August, after which it will be available for downloading from the IAFC site at www.ichiefs.org.
The Commission on Fire Accreditation International offers a comprehensive accreditation program for fire agencies, including a deployment model that is intended to be customizable for each local jurisdiction. Contact the commission at www.cfainet.org.