The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) was founded in 1896, and is known for being the authority that sets standards for firefighting. Just about everything in the fire service has a recommendation by the NFPA, apparatus, safety, staffing, driving, and station design. Some departments adopt as many of these recommendations as they can, and other departments just read them and wish they had the resources to meet the things the NFPA says we need to have. New things are added all the time to NFPA requirements, but I don’t think anything comes off the list.
Recent NFPA information shows once again that the fire service needs more. We need more staffing, more training, more facilities, more protective clothing, and we need more wellness programs. The last things villages and commissioners want to hear these days is that we need more. They are leaning the other way and trying to see what they can cut to save a couple bucks.
For someone outside the fire service, it might seem logical that we cut the fire department because the number of fires seems to have gone down. There are a lot of arguments about whether the number of fires has gone down or not. I think the number of big fires has gone down, but the number of calls we respond to has increased. Big fires are less common because those big commercial building fires that get all the press are now controlled by sprinklers and early detection systems get firefighters on the scene faster.
So instead of going on a warehouse fire, we respond for an activated alarm and find a small fire that was put out by the sprinkler system. What isn’t so obvious to the public is the number of hours we now put into preventing those big fires. Instead of spending say 6 hours at a big fire we now spend 20 hours doing fire inspections and other fire prevention activities. Sometimes we forget how many firefighters it takes to safely put out a structure fire. The first few minutes on the scene has a big impact on how the rest of that incident will go. We need more firefighters on the first crews arriving.
Training requirements keep increasing. A lot of different agencies jump on board adding training requirements. EMS responses have made it necessary for us to meet continuing education requirements that we didn’t worry about 20 years ago. We also need to train on hazardous materials and learn how to dispose of them instead of washing them down the sewer like we did 20 years ago.
Another thing that didn’t exist 20 years ago was firefighter wellness programs. We all smoked cigars, ate whatever we wanted, and never worked out. Today there are workout rooms in most fire stations, and a good number of firefighters work hard at staying healthy and physically fit. We need to keep working on wellness to keep us all healthy and strong so we can perform when needed.
Yes, we do need more. We need more because we do more than we ever did. It might not be at that big fire but in a 24 hour shift, we certainly do a lot more. We need to educate people why we need more and our leaders need to continue to ask for more. If we don’t ask for more, we will certainly have to get by with less.
By John Morse
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