New Study Identifies Service Gaps in Fire Departments

Jan. 23, 2003
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and United States Fire Administration (USFA) released a comprehensive study that examines the needs and response capabilities of the nation's fire service and found many fire departments lacking training and equipment.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) conducted the Needs Assessment Study of the U.S. Fire Service for the USFA to establish a current understanding of problem areas to guide future planning and initiatives to enhance fire services and firefighter safety.

"This study is critical to our ability to identify the current issues in fire service delivery and to guide our decisions to address the nation's fire problem," said USFA Administrator R. David Paulison. "This NFPA study provides the understanding necessary to implement efficient and effective programs in support of the nation's fire departments and the men and women who serve their communities as firefighters."

NFPA President James M. Shannon noted the results of the study identify many areas where additional resources are needed for the fire service to operate effectively and safely, in both traditional response and the new challenges faced by homeland security. "Firefighters and the citizens they protect deserve the best we have to offer," he added.

The Needs Assessment Study of the U.S. Fire Service found:

  • Many fire departments do not have enough fire stations to achieve widely recognized response-time guidelines and lack key equipment, prevention programs and a wide range of training.
  • Approximately a third of all firefighters per shift are not equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
  • Most fire departments do not have the ability to handle unusually challenging incidents with local specialized resources and do not have written agreements to direct use of non-local response resources.
  • In general, fire departments do not have enough portable radios to equip more than about half of the emergency responders on a shift and most radios lack intrinsic safety in an explosive atmosphere are and not water-resistant.

The USFA is implementing and supportive of solutions to address the findings of the assessment. A partial list of recent activities and initiatives includes:

  • FEMA and the USFA is about to complete the distribution of over $330 million to more than 5,000 departments through last year's Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program established by Congress and the president. Funds were targeted to firefighter operations, safety initiatives, new vehicle purchases, EMS training and equipment and fire prevention programs. Planning for the 2003 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program is underway.
  • A recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed to create Incident Management Teams in large metropolitan areas for large-scale emergencies and to ensure that highly qualified personnel are available for response throughout the nation.
  • The training curriculum at the National Emergency Training Center for fire and emergency management personnel continues to expand rapidly. With the number of new challenges firefighters face, these courses enhance the planning, response and recovery from emergencies of all types and scope.
  • The Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) at the National Fire Academy has realized a 42 percent increase in enrollment. With the majority of the nation's firefighters being volunteers, the VIP provides training opportunities in respect of a volunteer's schedule and ability to be away from home and other responsibilities.

"Clearly, we have been effective in delivering some much needed support to our nation's firefighters. But it is equally clear this assessment will help us determine, seek and develop critical resources in support of the fire service," said Paulison.

The full report is available on the USFA Web site ( and the NFPA Web site (

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