I currently serve as a technical member to the NFPA standard 1710. This is the famous standard which suggests response guidelines to structure fires and mandates 4 personnel staffing on all apparatus for paid fire agencies. It also supports the principle of 2 in/2 out which is defined in NFPA 1500. The standard has many other valuable suggestions and guidelines, but for the purpose of this entry I would like to concentrate on these main issues.
As many of you know, I also authored a textbook through Fire Engineering Books and Videos (Suburban Fire Tactics, 2013) which focuses on assisting agencies who lack resources (less than our large urban city brothers) and suggest tactics to compensate for these deficiencies, including lower staffing. Often, this lower staffing issue is below the 4 personnel required by NFPA 1710. Isn't this a conflict with the standard? I solicit this question frequently and receive mixed answers, including the fact that i am practicing a hypocritical oath.
The answer to this first lies within the attitude and perception toward The National Fire Protection Association. Because this association sets a high standard, many agencies feel they are impractical or unattainable. We have all heard the joke that NFPA really stands for: "not for practical application." Having attended an official first "draft" meeting for the new issuance of the standard, I can tell you this is not the case. In fact, looking across the room I watched the legend, Chief Alan Brunacini, tentatively take in the meeting's conversations and actively participate. He and many other participants; including: labor officials, chiefs, and industry advocates, actively take roles in this process to make the document practical at all levels of the firefighting spectrum.
Secondly, it is absolutely essential that we have standards in our industry. Many people don't know this, but NFPA assesses many of their standards against three critical elements: safety, efficiency, and effectiveness. Yes, I write about how Suburban America has to deal with lower staffing and I give hints on how carry out job functions on the fire ground. I have attempted to answer how to be effective and safe, given the constraints of dealing with efficiency. I will also be the first one to tell you that the most effective system in the world has 5 man engines with 5-6 man trucks in every fire house. But I am a realist and realize in this current state of the economy, this isn't going to happen over night. I also realize that truck companies are not going to pop up overnight because many city managers and fire department planners do not see a company without a pump as "efficient" in a budget constrained economy.
So, when certain agencies can't meet the standard, do they ignore them? Do we simply buy a copy of Suburban Fire Tactics and thumb our nose at NFPA? As much as I want you to buy a copy of SFT, I also encourage you to continue to strive to meet these standards. We need benchmarks. The standards have been written by industry professionals who understand the importance of staffing in relation to implementing fire ground functions. SFT was not written to help city managers cut staffing and to eliminate union jobs.
I would like to think that the writing which I have completed over the past few years is intended to make command officers think about having a plan, a plan which takes into account your specific circumstances and constraints. Prior to being promoted to Battalion Chief, I operated an engine company which sometimes operated with 3 personnel. It wasn't ideal and we were often tested, including 2 rescues in 2012. Our organization in Suburban America had to find ways to adapt, including using our crossed staffed ambulance personnel (who are both paramedics and firefighters) to supplement the engine's staffing and to satisy 2 in/ 2 out in first due responses. Would I have loved to have my assigned 4 personnel with me all the time, absolutely. However, personnel in paid departments take vacation and sick leave.
We need standards and objectives. Keep it safe, effective and efficient!