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Fire-Rescue Staffing Requirements Explored
National Standards and State-wide Practices Help Guide Staffing Levels
Recent questions about staffing requirements for Fire-Rescue have prompted an exploration into the national guidelines Augusta County follows.
As a combination agency, Augusta County Fire-Rescue serves the citizens and businesses of Augusta County by providing career staffing to 13 of the 17 stations either on a 24 hour – 3 shift rotation or Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Stuarts Draft Fire, Craigsville Fire, Riverheads Fire, Wilson Fire, Swoope Fire and Weyers Cave Fire provide 100% volunteer staffing from their respective locations. In a combination system, career staff and volunteer staff work together to respond to emergencies that include medical emergencies, fires, motor vehicle crashes, technical rescue incidents, and hazardous materials events.
Minimum career staffing at each location is two (2) personnel trained at the firefighter 2 / EMT-Basic level. In many cases, the medical certification is at the advanced life support level such as Advanced-EMT or EMT-Paramedic. In addition to career staff, trained volunteers respond to provide additional staffing for all incidents.
Fire-Rescue Chief David Nichols emphasizes, “Augusta County is fortunate to have career firefighters who are trained for fire and medical emergencies who work alongside highly trained volunteers. We would not be able to provide the level of service without the working relationship between our career and volunteer staff.”
As a combination agency where volunteer staffing provides personnel to more than 50% of the geographic areas within the County, Augusta County Fire-Rescue operates under the National Fire Protection Association standard 1720 that applies to volunteer and combination fire departments and more consistently represents the type of services being provided to the citizens of Augusta County.
NFPA 1720 utilizes the concept of establishing “demand zones” to determine staffing recommendations based on factors such as population density, type of hazards present, travel distance, and travel times. Acknowledging the diverse landscape and population of Augusta County, NFPA 1720 does not apply a “one size fits all” but rather an approach to safety that considers economy and effective flexibility of resources. In applying the recommendations of NFPA 1720, Augusta County Fire-Rescue, along with our partner Volunteer Fire & Rescue agencies, can better serve the citizens of Augusta County.
Table 4.3.2 (below, from NFPA 1720) shows the minimum recommended response levels based on the four demand zones defined by the standard.
Urban areas would include the City of Staunton and City of Waynesboro. In those areas, NFPA 1710 may apply and Augusta County Fire-Rescue does provide automatic aid to both cities.
The immediate areas of Fishersville and Stuarts Draft fall within the suburban demand zone criteria. NFPA 1720 recommends a minimum of 10 personnel respond and arrive on scene within 10 minutes 80% of the time.
The remainder of Augusta County is consistent with either the rural zone with 6 personnel within 14 minutes or the remote zone with 4 personnel with response time based on travel distance. Any structure fire within Augusta County is dispatched with the three (3) closest fire stations alerted. It continues to be Fire-Rescue’s goal to meet and exceed these nationally accepted standards.
Augusta County Fire-Rescue staff recently conducted an email survey where approximately 50 fire departments within the Commonwealth of Virginia were asked about their minimum staffing for an engine company, ladder / truck company, heavy squad company, basic life support ambulance, and advanced life support medic. Twenty-five responses were received with only seven indicating they comply with NFPA 1710 at a minimum staffing level of 4 personnel 90% of the time. These include several departments in the Northern Virginia region and the Cities of Harrisonburg on their truck company and Staunton on their engine companies. These respondents serve urban areas and make up 28% of the respondents.
The balance of the respondents serve suburban, rural, and/or remote areas. Respondents serving a majority of suburban areas, such as Chesterfield and Albemarle counties, indicated a minimum staffing of 3 and those with mixed service areas of suburban and rural, like Rockbridge and Rockingham counties, indicated a minimum staffing of 2. This comparison and level of staffing is more consistent with service areas within Augusta County.
Augusta County provides staffing of 2 career personnel at each of our stations that service those rural and/or remote zones. Additional volunteer staff respond to assist on structure fires, motor vehicle crashes, and other similar emergencies. When the career staff respond on a medical emergency and are not available to staff the engine, volunteers are alerted and also the next closest fire station is dispatched simultaneously. One Fire-Rescue goal is to provide additional dedicated staffing for Company 10 (Richmond Road) and Fishersville to enhance the specialized units (Squad 10 and Truck 11). Through the dedicated partnership of career firefighters and trained volunteers, Fire-Rescue works diligently to, not only keep in line with national standards and state-wide practices, but continually improve the quality of services for County citizens.