NFPA releases state-level fire service needs assessment for every U.S. state

Findings based on Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service with comparisons to earlier studies

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released a fire service needs assessment for each state based on findings from the Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, a study that looked at the current needs of America’s fire departments as compared to those identified in assessments done in 2001 and 2005. The goal of the project was to identify major gaps in the needs of the U.S. fire service and to determine if the Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (DHS/FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) programs are continuing to reduce the needs of fire departments.

“The progress that has been made nationally by well-targeted grants is encouraging, but there is more work to be done to ensure fire departments across the country are sufficiently prepared to protect their communities,” said NFPA President James M. Shannon. “Research that identifies the needs of fire departments by state, along with details on changes in these needs over time is an important resource for states as they engage in various planning exercises.”

The report looked at personnel and their capabilities, including staffing, training, certification, and wellness/fitness; facilities and apparatus; personal protective equipment, fire prevention and code enforcement; the ability to handle unusually challenging incidents; and communications and new technologies.

Selected Findings:

  • Nearly half (46 percent) of all fire departments that are responsible for structural firefighting have not formally trained all their personnel involved in structural firefighting, down from 55 percent in 2001 and 53 percent in 2005.
  • Seven out of ten (70 percent) fire departments have no program to maintain basic firefighter fitness and health, down from 80 percent in 2001 and 76 percent in 2005.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of all fire department engines and pumpers were at least 15 years old, down from 51 percent in 2001 and 50 percent in 2005.
  • Half (52 percent) of all fire departments cannot equip all firefighters on a shift with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), down from 70 percent in 2001 and 60 percent in 2005.
  • Two out of five (39 percent) fire departments do not have enough personal alert safety system devices (PASS) to equip all emergency responders on a shift, down from 62 percent in 2001 and 48 percent in 2005.
  • Except for cities protecting at least 250,000 population, most cities do not assign at least four career firefighters to an engine or pumper and so are probably not in compliance with 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, which requires a minimum of four firefighters on an engine or pumper.

Third Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service conducted by NFPA concluded:

  • Needs have declined to a considerable degree in a number of areas, particularly personal protective and firefighting equipment, two types of resources that received the largest shares of funding from the AFG programs.
  • Some innovative technologies that have not been identified as necessary in existing standards but are known to be very useful to today’s fire service – including Internet access and thermal imaging cameras – have also seen large increases in use.
  • Declines in needs have been more modest in some other important areas, such as training, which have received much smaller shares of AFG funds.
  • Still other areas of need, such as apparatus, stations, and the staffing required to support the stations, have seen either limited reductions in need (e.g., apparatus needs in rural areas) or no reductions at all (e.g., adequacy of stations and personnel to meet standards and other guidance on speed and size of response).
  • Fire prevention and code enforcement needs have shown no clear improvement over the past decade.
  • In all areas emphasized by the AFG and SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants, there is ample evidence of impact from the grants but also considerable residual need still to be addressed, even for needs that have seen considerable need-reduction in the past decade.
  • There has been little change in the ability of departments, using only local resources, to handle certain types of unusually challenging incidents, including two types of homeland security scenarios (structural collapse and chem/bio agent attack) and two types of large-scale emergency responses (a wildland/urban interface fire and a developing major flood).

The full report and state reports are available at