FIRE SERVICE DEPLOYMENT ANALYSIS: A BLUEPRINT

FIRE SERVICE DEPLOYMENT ANALYSIS: A BLUEPRINT

MARK CHUBB

The following is an overview of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis, which took place March 19 and 20, 1999, in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Who? What? How many? Where? When? Never mind the necessity for finding the answers. Questions like these consistently provoke heated controversy in the fire service. Aside from the de-mands of firefighting, continuing fiscal pressures, increasing regulatory scrutiny, declining fire incidence, diversification of nonfire demand, development of performance-based fire codes, and development of sophisticated analytical tools and techniques have stimulated continuing interest in methods of analyzing and optimizing the delivery of fire services.

During the 1999 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), the Institution of Fire Engineers (United States of America Branch) and the Public Management Department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York (CUNY) joined forces with Fire Engineering and PennWell Publishing Company to explore some of the ways the fire service here and abroad have attempted to answer questions pertaining to deployment of fire service resources.

The two-day conference-within-a-conference attracted 15 presentations from the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The result was an opportunity for presenters and participants alike to engage in an open and frank dialogue concerning the theory and practice of fire service deployment analysis.

In the end, conference presenters and participants consistently arrived at one conclusion: Getting better answers to fire service deployment questions–questions such as How many firefighters and fire stations does a community need?–comes from asking better questions, not convincing more people that they have to accept your answer, let alone any one answer, however widely held. In other words, process, not product, defines fire service deployment analysis.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Understanding how we answer deployment questions today requires an appreciation of how we got where we are. Fire departments look the way they do for many reasons. Three presentations during the conference explored the historical antecedents of today`s deployment strategies and the emergence of deployment analysis as a technical discipline in its own right.

In his keynote presentation, Dr. Charles R. Jennings of John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) presented a comprehensive overview of the field.1 He began by describing the organic political influences that encourage most communities to establish fire service following a major loss. He contended that such approaches remain popular today largely because of their perceived responsiveness. Notwithstanding their inefficiencies, organic approaches to satisfying fire demand remain effective largely because they overestimate fire risk.

Like the Holy Grail, practitioners and researchers alike have long sought an objective function that will enable them to define optimum service delivery, noted Jennings. However, satisfying public expectations of efficiency, economy, and effectiveness has proven the essentially subjective nature of fire service deployment and delivery. This has made the evaluation of alternative strategies all the more imperative, as public administrators are increasingly held to account for their decisions.

Beyond the art of fire service deployment as evidenced by organic influences, the conference organizers recognized two watershed efforts that have come to define scientific approaches to fire service deployment analysis in the 20th century: the Insurance Services Office (ISO) fire suppression rating schedule and the models developed by the New York City RAND Fire Project.

Dennis Gage, manager of natural hazards mitigation services for ISO Risk Decision Services, presented an historical and technical overview of the rating schedule, beginning with its development by the National Board of Fire Underwriters in 1916 and ending with a discussion of how it is applied to communities today.2 This was far and away the most heavily attended segment of the program, attracting an overflow crowd–testimony to the continuing influence the rating schedule exerts on fire service decision makers. Gage underscored the rating schedule`s use as a tool in fire insurance underwriting but conceded its role in influencing fire service investment.

Although the weight associated with variables in the rating schedule`s assessment, as well as the variables themselves, have changed somewhat over time, the objective of the rating schedule remains the same: to provide a means for decision makers to assess a community`s commitment to fire service in terms that the insurance underwriting community recognizes.

Like the fire engineering approaches that followed, the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule emphasizes response to high-demand events. Today, the schedule measures communities` capacities to handle high-demand events by evaluating the fire department (50 percent), the water supply (40 percent), and the communication system (10 percent) on a 100-point scale. The results of this assessment are used to classify protection districts on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being optimal and 10 meaning no recognized protection is available.

The rating schedule reasons that each of these elements must be present to provide an effective fire defense. Water supply is evaluated with respect to fire flow demand. The evaluation of fire department capabilities hinges on the ability to deliver the needed fire flow and other services required to limit property loss in a timely and competent fashion. Of course, the ability to do all of this effectively is dependent on an efficient means of communicating an alarm of fire to responders and providing them with a means to coordinate their efforts on the fireground.

In the early 1970s, nowhere were the costs and consequences of growing fire service demand more evident than in New York City. Federal interest in the nation`s fire problem was translated into funding support for innovative programs for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of fire services. In his presentation on the New York City RAND Fire Project,3 Carl Gianino, PE, offered a glimpse of the far-sighted efforts to apply operations research and systems analysis techniques to the delivery of fire service.4 His presentation included demonstrations of computer programs developed from the RAND project that he adapted to run on personal computers running IBMT DOS.

FIRE ENGINEERING APPROACHES

The fire suppression rating schedule may have been the first organized effort to employ a scientific or engineering approach to analysis of fire service deployment decisions, but it certainly was not the last. Today, fire service deployment is again a subject of interest in fire engineering circles with the advent of performance-based fire and building codes.

In Canada, the Institute for Research in Construction`s Fire Risk Management Program at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa is exploring new ways of estimating water supply and equipment demands for firefighting. This effort complements other ongoing programs at the NRC devoted to promoting the development of objective-based building and fire codes and the development of FIRECAMTM–the Fire Risk Evaluation Cost Assessment Model.

Dr. David Torvi of the NRC described a new technique for estimating needed fire flow based on the predicted heat release rate of fires.5 The new method is being developed by the NRC in cooperation with the Department of National Defence in Canada. Torvi`s presentation contrasted estimates of fire flow developed using the new method with estimates derived from traditional approaches such as the ISO method, the Iowa State University method, the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IITRI) method, and calculations performed using the technique described in the New Zealand Fire Engineering Design Guide.6 Future efforts will concentrate on developing estimates of equipment requirements and integrating the fire flow modeling technique into fire risk evaluation programs also being developed by the NRC.

At the Australasian Fire Authorities Council (AFAC), fire service practitioners from Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong are working together to develop the Fire Brigade Intervention Model (FBIM) to assist building designers and fire engineers in evaluating how fire service intervention influences fire safety outcomes as well as how building designs influence fire service intervention. With performance-based codes already a reality in Australia and New Zealand, the fire service is interested in helping designers ensure the best possible outcomes for their sake and the community`s. Station Officer Stephen J. Wise, MASc, FIFireE, of the Australian Capital Territory Fire Brigade, a member of the committee responsible for developing and validating the FBIM, described AFAC`s efforts.7

Here in the United States, the Auburn (AL) Department of Public Safety has taken a task-oriented approach to evaluating staffing and equipment demands. Cortez Lawrence, AIFireE, JD, the department`s deputy director, described the process used by his department to develop a scenario-based system for evaluating the performance of fire crews at varying staffing levels.8 The analysis replicated earlier efforts by O`Hagan in Dallas that have become the basis for much of the contemporary debate concerning company staffing levels.9 The approach provides a framework for describing fire department staffing needs and firefighting capabilities in terms meaningful to the community in a format easily understood by lay people.

COMMUNITY RISK ASSESSMENT

Like the organic approaches that preceded the introduction of contemporary analytic methodologies, risk-assessment techniques respond to community demands that we balance fire risk with fire cost. This includes balancing the cost of delivering fire services with the services actually in demand.

Firefighting is always a labor-intensive enterprise, and demands on fire service agencies continue to expand even though the frequency of core demand fires is diminishing in many communities. Traditional approaches to evaluating fire service deployment suffer from an emphasis on what could happen rather than what is actually happening. Risk-assessment approaches take into account the community`s fire experience and the factors affecting it.

Like the United States, the United Kingdom`s (UK) approach to fire service delivery has been heavily influenced by the insurance industry. Following World War II, the UK established national standards of cover that specified the required attendance times for firefighting appliances based on four risk categories. Although local councils control the delivery of fire service, central government provides the lion`s share of financing and develops the rules by which local fire service is delivered. Mindful of its role, central government began examining the rationale behind the rules it enforces. When the officials discovered that the basis for the current standards of cover had long been lost and bore little relationship with loss experience, they turned away from rules establishing benchmarks and toward rules requiring community risk analysis for comfort.

Dr. David Peace of the Home Office, Fire and Emergency Planning Directorate, described his agency`s efforts to define new, flexible standards of cover for fire brigades in the UK. He began by noting the efforts of the Audit Commission to evaluate the manner in which fire service is delivered in the UK.10 In particular, he noted that the commission had identified a “perverse incentive” in the way fire service is financed in the UK. Local brigades are presently allocated operating funds based on call volume. These standards not only establish response time requirements but specify a uniform system of service delivery based on a common standard for firefighting appliances. The standards of cover also favor property protection with little regard for life safety, heritage conservation, or environmental risk. The new standards under development require fire brigades to define areas of homogeneous fire risk and establish plans for mitigating the consequences of events based on locally defined “worst-case planning scenarios.” Like other contemporary risk assessment techniques, particularly those pioneered in other areas of technological risk, this methodology focuses on events to which the community demands an effective response.

Cath Reynolds, MSc, MIFireE, also with the Home Office, described methods under development to facilitate fire brigade efforts to develop flexible response protocols.11 These efforts include the development and validation of software and new planning tools that local brigades can use to assess staffing and equipment requirements based on commonly performed tasks. Among the most promising application of these new techniques is the ability to define new appliance requirements for nonfirefighting applications such as response to road traffic accidents, chemical emergencies, service calls, and special rescue situations.

Fire services in the United States, like those in the UK, have long labored against misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Both services have found that the fire service itself is responsible for many of these misunderstandings. Ronny J. Coleman, CFC, FIFireE, outlined efforts by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) to develop a fire service risk, hazard, and valuation evaluation (RHAVE) model for evaluating community needs and developing local standards of cover.12 The model, developed in conjunction with the commission`s fire service agency accreditation program, provides agencies with a means of understanding how the fire problem is manifested in their community. Departments use the tools developed from the model to assess such factors as construction type, building height and area, occupancy classification, special hazards, and needed fire flow to identify the demands the local built environment is likely to impose on its agency.

MODELING DEPLOYMENT

Innovative new tools for evaluating fire service demand have become available since the New York City RAND Fire Project pioneered the development of such programs in the 1970s. Powerful geographic information systems (GIS) capable of performing complex analysis of incident data and deployment patterns are among the most promising new technologies available to assess the effects of deployment decisions.

Dr. Richard Church of the University of California, Santa Barbara, discussed some of the difficulties inherent in analyzing complex problems like fire service deployment that defy characterization by simple algorithms.13 Despite the difficulty inherent in determining optimal placement of firefighting units, identifying and adjusting staffing levels to satisfy service demands are not only possible but are extremely practical because of the labor-intensive nature of fire service delivery. Examples of staffing analyses from other emergency and nonemergency services such as police, emergency medical, and customs services illustrate the potential financial savings and service improvements.

Even when agencies experience relatively low demand levels, the risk that simultaneous demands will deplete available resources remains a constant concern. Dr. Raj Nagaraj of Deccan International, Inc. discussed software his company has developed based on his experience as a planner for the Washington, D.C., Fire Department.14 The system takes advantage of data being collected continuously by an agency`s computer-aided dispatch system to develop detailed thematic maps identifying potential service shortfalls. These maps provide decision makers, including company officers, with a means of identifying, then evaluating, the effects of alternatives to improve the agency`s future deployment posture. Examples of successful applications of the program illustrated the utility of this program as a technical and management tool.

Efforts similar to those described by Nagaraj are presently in use and under development by the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Captain Michael Byrne, the department`s chief information officer, described FDNY`s effort to develop advanced GIS capability.15 Although still approaching its adolescence, the program is already generating useful information for FDNY planners and managers regarding the status of FDNY`s large and geographic diverse resources. Efforts are ongoing to develop the system`s capabilities as a planning and simulation tool capable of aiding decision makers in evaluating natural, technological, and man-made threats to the welfare of the nation`s largest, and arguably the world`s most important, city.

CASE STUDIES

At the community level, where we like to say “the rubber meets the road,” experience is often the best teacher. Case studies from consultants and fire service managers illustrated the practical demands inherent in the analysis and implementation of deployment decisions. Social values and political demands often stand in harsh contrast to the economic or technical justification for changing a department`s deployment standards. Oddly, this is true whether the change involves increasing or decreasing staffing or unit allocation.

Dr. Harry Carter of Adelphia, New Jersey, presented a retrospective assessment of two studies he conducted roughly 10 years apart for the Evesham Township Fire/Rescue Department, which protects a rapidly growing unincorporated area east of Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, in southcentral New Jersey.16 Like most suburban communities, growth has changed not only the character of the community but demands on its fire service. Once protected solely by volunteers, the department has successfully added career staff to manage training, fire prevention, and equipment maintenance. A new station has allowed it to keep pace with its shifting population. Most of the developments and improvements predicted in the first plan were slowly instituted despite cost concerns and are widely acknowledged as major contributors to the department`s reputation as a prudent and resourceful public agency.

In Hampton, Virginia, a community widely respected for innovative approaches to delivering government services, former Hampton Fire Chief Gregory B. Cade, AIFireE, and JoAnn Chambers, MPA, now director of social services for Mathews County, Virginia, conducted a comprehensive risk analysis in preparation for their city`s successful application for accreditation by CFAI. Their innovative effort took advantage of the community`s strategic location near Hampton Roads military installations and employed graduate students from nearby Old Dominion University in operations research. Most of these students were experienced military planners with extensive experience in evaluating complex logistical problems.

In a unique demonstration of public/private enterprise, the effort to develop a risk assessment model for the Hampton Fire/Rescue Department produced valuable results in a short period of time–something not only politically expedient but academically essential because of the transient demands of military service and the rigors of the academic calendar.

The expanding role of the fire service requires that planners and managers consider not only demand for firefighting service but demands on the fire service associated with the delivery of emergency medical services (EMS). Patricia Blankenship of the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department explained the steps her agency took to reevaluate its organic deployment of advanced life support and basic life support units in light of population increases and demographic shifts.17 Using historical data from dispatch records and incident reports, the department used GIS software maps and analyzed response trends and the efficiency of its current deployment patterns. This analysis suggested a need for minor changes in deployment. More importantly, though, the study demonstrated the necessity for and authority of such analyses in support of deployment decision making.

Admitting that enough is not enough comes difficult for the fire service. Patrick Coughlin, a former fire chief and now director of Operation Life SafetyTM, has experienced this before.18 What a community is willing to accept in terms of public fire service cost often cannot deliver what it wants. Many communities have predicated fire service deployment decisions on time from ignition to flashover. Unfortunately, in today`s built environment, firefighters rarely arrive before flashover occurs. In most cases, the early warning and rapid intervention required to achieve acceptable outcomes can only be achieved through private investment in the kind of fire service best provided by smoke alarms and automatic sprinklers.

The reality of fire service delivery is that improving unit response times alone will not improve fire service efficiency very much and may not improve effectiveness at all. If economy is a predominant consideration (and we all know it usually is), the total cost of the fire problem to the community must be considered. This requires focusing on all of the public and private costs of fire–losses, fire service, built-in fire safety, and insurance.

WHERE WE GO FROM HERE

Instead of specifying a uniform approach to fire service delivery–a product or some sort of standard unit of service delivery–the conference presenters identified a number of processes or procedures that can aid decision makers in conducting technically sound analyses. In the hands of reasonable decision makers, these tools produce results that facilitate economically responsible, politically responsive, and socially just deployment strategies.

Some of the methods presented permit broad assessments of community risk. Others allow highly individualized analyses of fire demand at the event level. In reality, these approaches represent two sides of the same coin. Communities need efficient ways to evaluate demand and delivery at the macro level. At the same time, they need ways to evaluate the effectiveness of their decisions by examining potential effects at a building or incident level.

In the end, whether you need answers to questions about standards of cover or company staffing, standards alone won`t suffice. All of the papers presented during the conference highlighted the value of asking better questions about the local fire problem and developing an appropriate response to it. None of these methods assumed that a single right answer existed or was even desirable. Try as we may, asking these questions at a national level and agreeing, however broadly, on the answers is no replacement for gaining the consent of the people who pay the price not only for fire losses but for fire service as well.

The proceedings of this conference present a blueprint for asking better questions about fire service deployment. The organizers hope that future conferences will provide a forum for ongoing discussion of these questions and the answers developed by individual communities.

References

1. Jennings, C. R. “The Promise and Pitfalls of Fire Service Deployment Analysis Methods,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis, March 19-20, 1999, Indianapolis, Ind. Alexandria, Va.: Institution of Fire Engineers, United States of America Branch, 1999 (publication pending).

2. Gage, D.N. “The ISO Fire Suppression Rating Schedule,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

3. Walker, W. E. Fire Department Deployment Analysis, Rand Document No. P-6351. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Institute, 1979.

4. Gianino, C. E. “A Retrospective on the New York City RAND Fire Project,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

5. Torvi, D. A. “A New Method for Estimating Water and Equipment Requirements for Firefighting Operations,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

6. Buchanan, A. Fire Engineering Design Guide. Christchurch, New Zealand: University of Canterbury, Center for Advanced Engineering, 1994.

7. Wise, S. J. “Development and Application of the Fire Brigade Intervention Model,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

8. Lawrence, C. “Fire Company Staffing Requirements: An Analytic Approach,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

9. O`Hagan, J. T. “Staffing Levels,” Parts I through VI; Fire Command, Nov. 1984 through May 1985 (consecutive issues). National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, Mass., 1984-1985.

10. Audit Commission. In the Line of Fire. London: Stationery Office, 1995.

11. Thomas, M. and C. Reynolds. “Fire Service Emergency Cover–Planning a Flexible Response,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

12. Coleman, R. J. “The Risk, Hazard, and Value Evaluation Method of Determining Standards of Cover,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

13. Church, R. “Modeling Deployment of Emergency Resources,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

14. Nagaraj, R. “Computer Mapping-Based Move-Up of Fire Resources,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

15. Byrne, M. “Building a Geographic Information System for Public Safety Agencies: The FDNY Experience,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

16. Carter, H. E. ” Study of the Impact of Master Planning on the Evesham Township (NJ) Fire/Rescue Department,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

17. Blankenship, P. M. “Strategic Placement of Fire-Based EMS Units,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

18. Coughlin, P. “Improving the Utility of Deployment Analysis for Policymakers and Fire Service Management,” Proceedings of the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis.

MARK CHUBB represented the Institution of Fire Engineers, United States of America Branch, on the organizing committee and chaired the First International Conference on Fire Service Deployment Analysis. He is fire engineer for the Transalpine Region of the New Zealand Fire Service in Christchurch. Prior to assuming his current duties, Chubb served as fire code coordinator, and later executive director, of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1993-1999. He is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board and a regular contributor to fire service publications.

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