New Study Shows Larger Fire Fighting Crews Save More Lives and Property
We already know that cuts to fire department resources can jeopardize public safety.
Now we know that the risk to the public – and to fire fighters – increases exponentially for those who live and work in high-rise buildings. And now we know the potentially catastrophic effects that inadequate staffing can have in high-rise building fires, thanks to new federal government study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
This first-ever comprehensive study of the tactics used to attack high-rise fires serves as a red flag as too many elected officials put politics ahead of public safety by not funding the right level of fire fighter staffing.
Unlike structure fires in single-family homes, high-rise fires can cause significant civilian casualties and catastrophic property losses if they are not contained swiftly.
The NIST study – Report on High-Rise Fireground Field Experiments – outlines the difficulty of fighting fires in high-rise structures by quantifying the time it takes for fire fighters to respond to an emergency. Even adding a single fire fighter to a crew can result in a substantial reduction in emergency response times.
Having more fire fighters respond to an emergency in high-rise buildings results in a measurably faster, safer and more efficient emergency response, according to the report, and that has a direct impact on the safety of the public.
It’s not just that larger crews have more people. Larger crews can actually use different tactics and as a result are more effective.
There are on average 15,700 fires in high-rises annually, according to the independent National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), with an average of 53 deaths each year. The risk of high-rise fires increases every year as our city grows and commercial and residential development spreads.
Forty-one percent of U.S. high-rise office buildings, 45 percent of high-rise hotels and 54 percent of high-rise apartment buildings are not equipped with sprinklers, as compared with 25 percent of hospitals and related facilities, according to the NFPA. Moreover, sprinkler systems fail in about one in 14 fires.
Researchers measured 14 “critical tasks” required when potential risks to building occupants and fire fighters are greatest, and found that three-member crews took almost 12 minutes longer than crews of four, 21 minutes longer than crews of five, and 23 minutes longer than crews of six to complete all tasks. Four-person crews took 9 minutes and 11 minutes longer than five and six-member crews, respectively.
According to the study, a crew of six fire fighters responds nearly twice as fast as a three-person crew.
Simply stated, smaller crews and longer response assembly times are a direct threat to the safety of the public. When a fire department lacks adequate resources to effectively fight fires in tall buildings, those who live and work in these buildings – and the fire fighters who respond to high-rise fires – are put in greater danger.
This study serves as a warning that our community should closely examine our ability to respond to fires in tall buildings and take steps to ensure a safe, efficient emergency response to protect the public.
We realize times are tight, but we cannot ignore this independent new research that outlines the threat to public safety created by cuts to our resources. Our community deserves to have a fully staffed, fully resourced fire department. Your fire fighters will do all we can to make sure you have one.