Study finds deficiencies in nation’s fire response
Many of the country’s fire departments lack the equipment and training to respond adequately to emergencies. Those are among the findings of a recent study conducted by the Qunicy, Mass.-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the Emmitsburg, Md.-based U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).
“A Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service,” which was released in January, collected information about the current role and activities of fire services, the adequacy of current funding levels and problem areas in fire services and firefighter safety. The report summarizes the responses of 8,416 fire departments from across the country.
Based on survey responses, the NFPA estimates that approximately one million firefighters are active in the country. Three-fourths of those firefighters volunteer to serve in their communities, and the rest are career firefighters. Most respondents (99 percent) are responsible for fighting structural fires in their communities. Of those that do not fight structural fires, nearly all of them are in rural communities serving less than 2,500 population. Approximately one-third of respondents reported that they do not provide emergency medical service, and one-fourth do not provide hazardous material response. One-sixth of survey respondents do not fight wildfires, including 11 percent of departments in rural communities and 30 percent of departments in urban settings.
The survey asked respondents whether they could handle a variety of emergencies entirely with local personnel and equipment, including the collapse of a building containing at least 50 people, a wildland fire affecting 500 acres and mitigation of a developing flood. Based on responses, NFPA estimates that only 11 percent of fire departments can rely on local personnel to handle a technical rescue with EMS at a building collapse with 50 occupants; only 26 percent of fire departments can handle a wildland fire affecting 500 acres; and only 12 percent can handle flood mitigation with local personnel.
The survey also asked fire departments about their use of new technologies and their plans for acquiring new technology. Based on the responses, NFPA estimates that one-quarter of fire departments own a thermal-imaging camera, only one department in 28 has mobile data terminals and one department in 23 has equipment to collect chemical or biological samples for remote analysis. NFPA found that most departments did not have plans to acquire any of the new technologies named in the survey.
To address the findings of the survey, USFA is working with FEMA to distribute money to fire departments through the Assistance to Firefighters grant program. Funds for that program are targeted to firefighter operations, safety initiatives, new vehicle purchases, EMS training and equipment and fire prevention programs. Additionally, NFPA, USFA and the International Association of Fire Chiefs recently signed a memorandum of understanding to create incident management teams in large metropolitan areas for large-scale emergencies and to ensure that highly qualified personnel are available for response throughout the nation.
To view the full needs assessment study in PDF format, visit www.nfpa.org.