The goal of this SAFER project is to provide the 32 member companies with more firefighters, to motivate firefighters to earn higher levels of certification, and to encourage firefighters on company rosters to remain active firefighters.
The AMFI member companies have an average of 31 members. Companies consistently report difficulty in summoning enough firefighters to respond to alarms, especially in daylight hours when many active members are at work. It is not uncommon for AMFI member companies to have only three or four firefighters respond to alarms in daylight hours. This situation was noted among both companies with low membership numbers and also among companies with higher than average membership. It is readily apparent that low responder turnout increases the risk of fatality and serious injury among both firefighters and civilians. The risk of significant property loss is also increased.
In order to meet NFPA 1720 on minimum response and time on scene, AMFI member companies routinely need the assistance of four or five neighboring companies. The consortium includes both suburban and rural fire companies. Companies located in more rural areas report even greater difficulty achieving compliance with NFPA 1720 because of travel time from station to the scene of an alarm.
Due to these staffing concerns, automatic and mutual aid has become a way of life in the four counties. Dispatch centers in all four counties now include more companies on first, second, and third alarm assignments in large part to assure chiefs that they will have enough personnel to cope with emergency incidents. AMFI members indicate that in nearly every case, structure fire alarms include automatic aid, and nearly all include mutual aid, as well. Even automatic fire alarm calls routinely involve two or three companies. Officers admit they might need only two or three pieces of apparatus to fight a fire, but must request twice that many or more in order to have sufficient personnel to mount an interior attack.
Risks associated with this high number of automatic and mutual aid alarms include a greater number of firefighters from multiple companies being exposed to the risks inherent in any fire or rescue alarm. Risks also include the possibility of apparatus becoming involved in a traffic accident while en route to an alarm. Operating costs are increased as an increased number of responses increases fuel consumption and the normal wear and tear on apparatus, equipment, and supplies.
In order to meet OSHA Standard 1910.134(g), firefighters in the region say they need more time to get enough firefighters on scene to mount an interior attack. In daylight hours, that standard becomes even more difficult to meet.
Because of the rural nature of much of the region, firefighters spend a disproportionate amount of time commuting to and from work. Also, the depressed economy has forced many members to work second jobs to help make ends meet. Longtime fire service leaders also believe that many local employers are unwilling to allow workers to leave their jobs to answer alarms. Even firms with a reputation for allowing workers to leave to answer an alarm are now less lenient. These leaders say employers were more able to absorb the lost time and productivity in the past.
Pennsylvania state law prohibits employers from disciplining workers who come in late because of an emergency call, but employers are not required to pay workers for lost time. For that reason, we believe a lost wage reimbursement will enable more people to join the member fire companies or stay on as members.
Surveys of the 32 member companies found that less than 40% of active firefighters in the region are certified to NFPA Standard 1001 Firefighter-I and less than 20% to Firefighter-II. An informal assessment of member companies identified time constraints, cost, and other commitments as the primary barriers to earning certifications. As with emergency response, time spent commuting to work and increased need for second jobs translate into less time to devote to department training.
The addition of 300 firefighters to fire company rosters across the region will ease the difficulty member companies now report in gathering fire and rescue crews for emergency incidents, simply by adding to the number of trained and certified personnel available for response. Adding an average of nine firefighters to each AMFI member company will provide company officers and leaders with additional personnel resources to answer alarms. Similarly, the measures in this plan designed to encourage retention of current members should also help to ease VFC’s concerns over the number of members available to respond. The net effect of this recruitment and retention plan should be to assist the AMFI-member companies in meeting NFPA 1720 on minimum response and time on scene. As VFCs increase new membership and hold existing members, the need for automatic and mutual aid could be diminished, reducing the risk to responding companies. By definition, additional firefighters will reduce the risk facing current firefighters and civilians alike.