Improving Response Times for Volunteer Fire DepartmentsTuesday, 16 May 2017 00:00 Written by Super User
Guest Blog written for ATS by Robert Avsec
What's one of the most critical operational issues that many volunteer fire departments struggle with? Knowing who's available for emergency responses and knowing who's actually responding when a call for service comes in.
Volunteer fire departments have historically relied on sign-up sheets or boards located in the fire station; ad hoc scheduling at its best (or worst). And not always accurate as plans change for individual members, changes that too frequently don't get made on the schedule.
In this article, I'm going to explore some options that volunteer fire departments can use to better ensure that they have the people they need when someone in the community needs their fire department.
What is NFPA 1720?
NFPA 1720 is the Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments (The 2014 Edition is the current edition).
NFPA 1720 specifies requirements that a volunteer-staffed or combination staffed department should follow to be an effective and efficient organization. The standard covers: deployment of fire suppression operations; emergency medical operations; and special operations to the public.
Staffing and Response Times
This is one of the more controversial topics covered by NFPA 1720, especially considering the struggles that many volunteer and combination departments are having recruiting and retaining members. There are several important points to keep in mind about NFPA 1720—and really for any NFPA standard for the fire service—and they deal with compliance:
• The worst thing a department can do is ignore the existence of the standard;
• The best thing a department can do is comply with the standard 100 percent; and
• The next best thing a department can do is acknowledge the existence of the standard, work on complying with as much of the standard as is feasible, and document those efforts.
So, what are the staffing and response requirements contained in NFPA 1720? This is certainly a case where "one size does not fit all." This is a short summary of the key points for a structure fire response and they're based on types of service demand zones and community demographics:
• Urban Demand Zone (more than 1000 people per square mile) the minimum response staffing is 15 personnel, arriving at the scene within 9 minutes, for 90 percent of such calls.
• Suburban Demand Zone (500-1000 people per square mile) the minimum response staffing is 10 personnel, arriving at the scene within 10 minutes, for 80 percent of such calls.
• Rural Demand Zone (less than 500 people per square mile) the minimum response staffing is 6 personnel, arriving within 14 minutes, for 80 percent of such calls.
• Remote Demand Zone (a travel distance greater than 8 miles) the minimum staffing is 4 personnel, with arrival time directly dependent upon the travel distance, for 90 percent of such calls.
• Special Operations are defined in the standard as those emergency incidents that a fire department responds that require specific and advanced training and specialized tools and equipment. For those Demand Zones, e.g., a manufacturing facility or warehouse, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is responsible for determining the minimum staffing requirements and response times that can be achieved for 90 percent of such calls.
Fire departments should keep in mind that their community may have more than one type of demand zone. Minimum staffing includes responding members from your fire department and those from mutual aid departments. Response time begins upon completion of the dispatch notification to the fire department and ends at the time intervals for the various Demand Zones.
One way that volunteer and combination fire departments can "improve" their response times is to define which Demand Zone is appropriate for the individual areas within their community. By doing this, your department would be comparing "apples to apples" when evaluating its performance when responding to calls for service.
It makes little sense for a fire chief to evaluate their department's response performance (for both personnel and response time), based solely upon the criteria for an Urban Demand Zone, when 90 percent of their community fits the criteria for a Rural or Remote Demand Zone.
Following that, here are a couple of other things that a volunteer or combination department can do to improve its personnel response and response time performance.
Every call for service doesn't require an "all-hands" response. Establish a duty crew schedule to that every member of the department can participate in responding to calls. An example schedule would look like this:
• Schedule an officer, driver/operator, and at least one firefighter to cover a 12-hour shift from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. During their scheduled shift, those personnel would respond to all calls, particularly those that can be handled by one fire unit.
• Use a six-day schedule rotation that has each crew working every six days (The crew that's on duty on Monday would be on duty again until the following Sunday, the Tuesday crew works the following Monday, and so on.
• If a member has a scheduling conflict with their assigned duty night, it should be their responsibility to secure another qualified member to fill their spot, e.g., a driver/operator must find another driver/operator.
• You might also consider using the above schedule for Monday through Friday and give members who work during the week the opportunity to be scheduled for Saturday or Sunday once or twice a month.
There's an app for that? Yes, there is! There are a growing number of apps for mobile devices using iOS (Apple) and Android platforms. These apps, e.g., IamResponding.com, Nowforce.com, Whosresponding.com, can enable your volunteer fire department to:
• Know immediately if you have a full crew on the way, or if you need to page additional personnel;
• Stop waiting for members who are not on their way, and stop leaving the station just as others are coming around the corner;
• Know who is responding to the station, to the scene or from any other location;
• Get out with more complete, more effective and safer crews faster; and
• Reduce response times.
Using this technology, the days of waiting to see if a full crew is responding to an emergency can be a thing of the past. Volunteer fire departments and their dispatchers can know immediately if a full crew is enroute to the station or scene, or if others are still needed. This can save critical time in responding to emergencies. Getting full crews out more quickly also makes for both a safer and more effective response, which is just as critical as the time being saved.
For more information on Action Training Systems video resources call 800.755.1440 ext 3 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an active instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va.