Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meeting the Standards

The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) was established to answer the questions asked by cities on how to run a fire department. It is a compilation of standards that are recognized by the American National Standards Institute and are regarded as a legitimate blueprint for local government. "Most importantly, it will provide the body politic and the citizens a true picture of the risks in their community, and the fire department's capabilities to respond to and manage those risks." - NFPA 1710.

NFPA 1710 is the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments.

Why is this standard important to me?

This standard clearly defines what type and how many personnel are needed to perform certain operations safely and efficiently. As residents, we have certain expectations from our local safety organizations. We expect the best quality employees and expect that our city meet and exceed the minimum standard of safety.

As El Segundo expanded throughout the years, so did its hazards and complexity. Therefore, the fire department expanded as well; not just staffing levels, but scope of practice and training requirements. Currently El Segundo houses 21 high rises buildings, an oil refinery with over 150 fuel storage tanks, Aerospace, Boeing, Northrop, Raytheon, an Air Force Base, multiple hotels, a dense industrial row nicknamed "smokey hollow", scatter-good plant, an energy plant (NRG), and all adjacent to one of the largest target hazards; LAX Airport. Can anyone really compare our city to surrounding cities?

We may call it Mayberry, but the farms and strawberry fields are gone. El Segundo is a potentially volatile city with many liabilities. These factors dictate how a city determines its fire personnel staffing levels. Under the current circumstances, the El Segundo City Council has decreased the staffing level of your local fire department. This is unacceptable and burdens the citizen and firefighter for reasons that are unfounded and can be construed as political malfeasance.

NFPA 1710 clearly outlines in of the code that "On-duty fire personnel shall be comprised of the numbers necessary for fire fighting performance relative to the expected fire fighting conditions. These numbers shall be determined through task analyses that take the following factors into consideration:"
  • Life hazard to the populace protected (17,000 to 100,000 people)
  • Provisions of safe and effective fire fighting performance conditions for the firefighters
  • Potential property loss (billions of dollars)
  • Nature, configuration, hazards, and internal protection of the properties involved (listed above)
  • Types of fire ground tactics, apparatus and results expected to obtain on fire ground.
With this understanding the code continues to define how many firefighters should staff certain apparatus. through states:
  • Engine companies shall be staffed with a minimum of 4 on-duty personnel
  • Truck companies shall be staffed with a minimum of 4 on-duty personnel
Furthermore, section outlines the minimum initial full alarm assignment, (a first alarm in El Segundo):
  • This determines that a minimum of 15 firefighters shall constitute a first alarm assignment (a basic single family dwelling structure fire would require a first alarm assignment; a commercial or high-rise fire require much more personnel)
The current City Council wants to reduce the daily staffing to 14 firefighters per day, thereby condoning substandard working conditions, jeopardizing the safety of its employees and citizens.

So your next question might be, how do Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach get away with having low staffing levels?

Lets compare them:

This graph indicates the size of the city as well as its residential, commercial and industrial zones as a percentage of that size.

El Segundo is primarily commercial and industrial, housing some of the most dangerous radiological, chemical and biological contaminants within its borders making them prime terrorist targets. The percentage that is not displayed for any of the cities is attributed to parks, open lots, beach, religious buildings and schools.

This graph compares the personnel level with the number of high rise buildings and target hazards within the corresponding city. A target hazard is defined as "any occupancy type or facility that presents a high potential for loss of life or serious impact to the community resulting from fire, explosion, or chemical release."

El Segundo is at a higher risk for disaster. With more than two or three times the target hazards and 21 high rise buildings, El Segundo demands a heavier work force. These are direct reasons why the El Segundo Fire Department is staffed higher than the neighboring cities. In fact, Manhattan and Hermosa Beach Fire Departments have publicly stated that their staffing levels are below standard.

Appropriate staffing is the argument. Whether it's L.A. County Fire or El Segundo Fire, the city needs to be adequately staffed to meet the level of fire fighting conditions. In my previous posts I laid out the numbers for L.A. County Fire. Even though they would staff El Segundo with 12 firefighters, their efficient integrated response system allows them to staff an area with less personnel because they have a greater pool of nearby firefighters to pull from. El Segundo, as an isolated municipal city, needs to compensate for the lack of resources and meet the necessary standards of fire protection.

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