Snohomish County Fire District 1 Professional Firefighters - IAFF Local 1828 Stories

How Many Fire Fighters Does it Take to Save Your Life?

Snohomish | 04/18/17

When you see fire trucks pull up to the scene of a burning building, do you ever wonder how districts determine how many fire fighters it takes to put out a fire, save a building, and rescue the occupants?  Tim Hoover, a longtime Snohomish County 1 firefighter and paramedic and a member of the WSCFF Executive Board, recently sat down to try to answer some of these questions for the Edmonds News.  We have reprinted some of his answers below.

WSCFF 3rd District Rep Tim Hoover

Third District Representative Tim Hoover at FIREOPS 2016

Why does your city need 12 firefighters on duty 24 hours a day?

It’s important to know how many firefighters are required to respond to a call to allow for the best possible outcome for you and your family.  Four firefighters are required to be on-scene prior to entering a structure on fire.  The first fire engine, staffed with three people, has to wait for the second arriving unit to arrive on scene prior to entering a structure to look for trapped people.  Washington State Code requires that in order for firefighters to operate in a hazardous environment, firefighters must be in place outside the hazard to rescue them, unless signs of immediate threat to life are present.

What are National Firefighting Standards?

The industry standard used by the State of Washington that requires four firefighters on a scene before entering a structure was set by the National Fire Protection Association

The NFPA calls for 15 firefighters to be dispatched to a house fire to best protect lives and property.  These firefighters are performing three tasks: (1) search and rescue of survivors inside the burning structure; (2) work involving ladder, forcible entry and ventilation of the structure; and (3) applying water to a fire, all of which is being done at the exact same time.  For a commercial or high-rise building, the number of firefighters jumps up to 28 and 43, respectively.

What about responding to Medical Emergencies?

Medical calls are the majority of responses in today’s fire service.  A critical medical response, known as a “Med X,” requires a minimum of 10 people:  an aid crew of three firefighters; a medic crew with two firefighter paramedics; an engine crew with three firefighters; one medical services officer with a paramedic supervisor; and, finally, a battalion chief with one firefighter supervisor.  Everyone is needed and utilized during a medical emergency to provide care in a timely manner.  Snohomish County has one of the highest cardiac arrest survival rates in the world with our average annual save rate of 60 percent, more than 40 percent higher than the national average.  That high survival rate is based on a system of survival, with early citizen recognition, 9-1-1- assisted CPR instructions, fast response times by the firefighters and having the right number of people on-scene to provide high-quality, high-performance CPR.  Studies have shown that a person can only provide effective CPR for a short period of time before needing to rest and allow someone else to compress the chest.  Emergencies are dynamic, and can sometimes have multiple patients.  In a motor vehicle crash, crews are needed to attend to the patients while others are needed to stabilize the vehicles, and run the equipment for extrication.

What makes fires more dangerous now?

The number of fires may be going down, but fire danger is dramatically increasing.  Materials in today’s homes are more likely to ignite faster and hotter than ever before.  The time to get out of your house in the event of a fire has been reduced by both the energy efficient and high-tech construction materials and the furniture we use in our homes.  What used to take a home 30 minutes to fully engulf in flames, now takes just under four minutes.  Fighting fires has not gotten easier, in fact it has gotten much harder with modern materials and the close proximity of homes next to each other.

More Firefighters Equal Faster Response

By responding quickly to a fire, we keep a small incident small. When our response takes more than a few minutes, losses escalate substantially, resulting in a greater loss of life and property.

It is important to take emergency medical and fire responses into account before making any decisions to reduce the number of firefighters at fire stations.  Any reductions in 24-hour firefighter staffing will reduce our ability to save lives and meet the minimum standards set by your local government and used nationwide.