Key findings from the report include the following1:
1. More than two thirds (72 percent) of departments have PPE
that is at least 10 years old.
2. Forty-nine percent of all fire departments have not formally
trained all their personnel who are involved in structural
firefighting. This was an increase from 46 percent in the 2010
3. Sixty-nine percent of departments have self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that is at least 10 years old, an increase
from 55 percent in 2010.
4. Forty-three percent of fire stations are at least 40 years old, an
increase of eight percent from 2001’s initial needs assessment.
5. Forty-three percent of all fire department engines and pumpers
are at least 15 years old, a decrease of eight percent from 2001.
6. Only 27 percent of fire departments have a basic fitness and
health program, down from 30 percent in 2010.
This needs assessment also identified a change toward less
frequent assignment of at least four career firefighters to an engine
or pumper. This trend in the assessment indicates the possibility of the beginning of a trend toward reduced 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, specifically the
four-person staffing standard.
An exception was noted for cities protecting populations of at
least 500,000. It’s also important to note that a department that
is mostly career responding with some volunteers would not have
its numbers reflected in these results. Although the data cannot
confirm this, it is possible that this could be reflective of a change
in management of SAFER grant program funding since the last
study, allowing for a reduced period of employment and removing a mandate for continued employment after the grant funds are
NFPA 1720, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of
Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and
Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments, calls
for a minimum of four firefighters on scene before an interior
attack can commence. The assessment shows that across communities from under 2,500 to as high as 49,999 in population, more
than 79 percent of departments respond with an average of four
or more volunteer firefighters during daytime weekday responses.
The response is even better for volunteers during evenings and on
weekends, but the survey question is more specific in 2015’s assessment than it was previously, preventing a trend-line comparison.
In this area, it’s also possible that SAFER is making an impact, as
$1.287 billion in SAFER funds was focused on hiring, recruitment, and retention from 2011-2014.
AREAS OF NEED
The most recent needs assessment has noted an increase in several
training needs since the last needs assessment survey in 2010. Key areas
defined as needs include structural firefighting, where 49 percent of all
departments have not formally trained all of their personnel in structural firefighting; hazmat training, where 60 percent of departments
provide hazmat but have not formally trained all personnel; wildland
firefighting training, where 63 percent of all departments provide wildland training but have not trained all personnel; and technical rescue
training, where 40 percent of all departments provide this service but
have not formally trained their personnel, a reduction from 48 percent
in the last survey compared to needs in the aforementioned key areas—
where all saw increases. This study also identified differences in needs
depending on the size of populations covered. Departments protecting
populations of 500,000 or more had top training needs in the areas
of fire prevention, code enforcement, hazmat, and technical rescue. In
departments protecting populations of under 2,500, the top training
needs were traffic control, wildland firefighting, and hazmat.
Stations and facilities were surveyed, and needs related to the age
and number of fire stations have been an upward trend. The average
age of fire stations increased, as two out of five ( 43 percent) stations
are at least 40 years old, which is an increase from 32 percent in the
last survey. Also, 35 percent of fire stations do not have backup power,
and 59 percent of fire stations are not equipped with exhaust emission
control. As a contrast to the 2001 survey, 78 percent of fire stations
were lacking emission control, which shows a notable improvement in
the latest review. It’s interesting to note that AFG funding for facility
modification was about two percent of total funds from 2011-2014,
which means that facility improvements were likely conducted by
The largest amount of AFG funding from 2011-2014 was focused
on providing PPE. Nearly 37 percent of AFG funding was for PPE
and nearly 33 percent for general equipment. The needs assessment
showed that almost 72 percent of departments had PPE at least 10
years old and 69 percent of departments had SCBA at least 10 years
old. This is an increase in both areas and indicates that the need for
PPE is growing faster than the AFG grants can sustain. Also facing
similar needs gaps are SCBAs, radios, and other equipment.
In terms of community risk reduction, almost all departments had
at least one educational program for fire prevention, and the population protected without any program was less than one percent.
The top needs in this area were wildfire safety programs, with 84
percent of the United States population without a program; home
fire sprinkler education, with 74 percent of the population without
a program; car seat installation, with 70 percent of the population
without a program; and a fire safety program focused on older
adults, with 67 percent of the population lacking a program.
Understanding the Needs
of the Modern Fire Service
BY NATHANIEL J. MELBY