Safe Staffing Levels and Liability.....

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Emergency Services Staffing Levels – Is Your Community at Risk?
National fire service staffing studies have shown that the effectiveness of a fire fighter to carry out tasks that are critical to saving lives, controlling fire, and preventing injuries to citizens and fire fighters are directly related to the staffing levels of their department. Fire and emergency services staffing levels must fit the needs of the local community. Once the fire and emergency service level has been determined, the necessary supporting staff must then be organized to meet the community’s needs. Most community’s level of service is determined by the national standard of care or “expected” standard of minimum care.
These standards have been determined, and continued to be determined, by many regulatory and trade organizations to include the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and the International City Management Association (ICMA). Many other organizations also have provided input and overview for the standard of care for today’s fire and emergency services. In addition to the NFPA, there are National Fire Academy courses and International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) manuals. Since all of these organizations are national in scope, and fire departments throughout the nation use their materials, these documents frequently serve as benchmarks for rules, regulations, and standard operating procedures (Barr 170). When a department fails to meet the needs of its community and/or delivers a level of service which is unsatisfactory, it opens itself and the local government up to civil liability.
In all negligence court cases, pertaining to the fire service, one of the most important questions for the court to answer is whether or not the “standard of care” was met. What would the “reasonable person” have done, or in the case of emergency services, what would a “reasonable fire officer” have done. The court must look at what actions the “reasonable fire officer” would have done under similar circumstances (Barr 170). Most departments have their own rules, regulations, and standing operational guidelines. These will determine the standard of expected care for that department and its community. This standard of care will then be compared to national standards and practices to determine if negligent behavior or liability can be found. The NFPA has formulated standards that address issues of how quickly fire departments should respond and with how many firefighters it should respond with. It is well known that NFPA standards are not mandatory, unless adopted by local government as code; the organization is purely an advisory board. The liability and responsibility lies with the local government due to the standards being published and well known throughout the industry. Someone who loses property or a loved one can reasonably argue if the department or local government was negligent because the NFPA standards were not met.
One of the most frequently debated and argued subjects in today’s fire service is staffing levels. How many firefighters and rescue personnel are needed to safely and effectively perform their duties? More importantly, how many emergency personnel are needed to deliver the expected standard of care for their community? The majority of any department’s budget is personnel cost, and most chiefs are constantly defending and justifying their budgets to the local government and its financial management staff. Most chiefs would agree that balancing the budget on the back of public safety can degrade the level of service that their departments are able to provide. Budget cuts and layoffs always reduce the level of service, however the community and its citizen’s must be the ones to determine the level of service and standard of care they want. When a community markets itself and its public safety departments as the city’s “finest” then the local government must fund and staff them appropriately. The community must be informed and educated as to what the capabilities of their emergency services are. There are many advantages for adequate staffing levels for your emergency services to include:
• Fewer injuries/deaths to civilians and firefighters;
• Lower fire damage and dollar loss;
• Retaining of tax base properties;
• Fewer Worker’s Compensation claims;
• Lower civil liability for the City and Department.
The two most important factors regarding an emergency response are response times and adequate staffing in a timely manner to handle the emergency. It has been long recognized that the most important personnel consideration is the total number of firefighters responding on the first alarm, rather than the total number that show up during the duration of the firefight (Clark 60).
NFPA 1710 was probably the most controversial standard ever published and approved by the National Fire Protection Association. The standard was established in 2001 with the overwhelming dissent of city and county managers, mayors, and some fire chiefs. The standard sets the minimum criteria for the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency operations to protect the safety of the public and firefighters. The fire service has killed on average of 100 firefighters a year even when the number of fires have declined. There are many reasons that cause this statistic, however reduced staffing and doing more with less has been one of the most significant and contributing factors. Due to these statistics the NFPA and OSHA mandated changes in fireground and emergency operations. The incident command system, personnel accountability, two in two out (rapid intervention teams), and safety officers were made required standards that would increase firefighter safety and improve firefighting operations. NFPA 1710 simply states that a department will respond, ninety percent of the time, with a minimum of four personnel on each apparatus and the first unit must arrive within four minutes of the dispatch center receiving the call. If it is a fire, then the department must have an adequate staff within eight minutes to handle the incident. If the call is emergency medical in nature the department must be able to provide BLS (basic life support) with four minutes and ALS (advanced life support) with a minimum of two paramedics within eight minutes (National). It is important that basic firefighting functions must be conducted simultaneously rather than sequentially to ensure a safe and effective operation. This ensures that the fire department mission of saving lives and property are achieved. The correct number of fully staffed and strategically located fire stations must exist to accomplish this standard. The intent of this standard is essentially an insurance policy for the community’s citizens and its businesses. By responding quickly to a fire, it remains small. When responses take more than a few minutes, losses escalate substantially, resulting in a greater loss of life and property. NFPA 1710 applies the documented and proven science of fire behavior and emergency medicine to the basic resources required for effective fire department and emergency services deployment.
NFPA Standards often determine the “industry standard” for fire protection and safety measures, and are commonly found and used in most negligent claims relating to the profession. The NFPA will be highly relevant to the question of whether a jurisdiction has negligently failed to provide adequate fire or emergency medical protection to an individual harmed in a fire or medical emergency. Local government and jurisdictions assume additional legal risk by failing to abide by NFPA 1710, even where it has failed to adopt the standard. Local government should review the NFPA standards and determine if it is feasible to meet them. Many communities have found creative ways to meet the scope and intent of the standard. While the community might not meet the standard to the letter of the law they have shown effort and reasonable faith to meet the standard. Many jurisdictions may choose not to meet the standards for a variety of reasons; however after exhaustive efforts to determine those needs, the local government must document this decision very decisively and deliberately as to the reasons supporting this decision (Tritz 4). This documentation will help a local government in a lawsuit to help assert a level of discretionary immunity for their defense. The IAFC notes in its guide to 1710 that a local government’s equivalency to meet the standard must be based on reasonable and sound principals that could be explained to a jury (
Harold Shaitberger, President of the International Association of Firefighters, states “The fact is that too many politicians are simply willing to ignore the situation and continue to play a dangerous game of firehouse roulette with public safety and the lives of professional firefighters” ( Firefighters have accepted the dangers and challenges of their noble calling. This is the career they have chosen, however they should not expect and should never tolerate having to beg for the resources and assets they desperately need to do their jobs safely and effectively. Is your community at risk of a serious financial loss from a devastating fire or more importantly a devastating negligence lawsuit?

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oodlesOpoodles's picture
Submitted by oodlesOpoodles on Thu, 11/03/2005 - 11:30pm.

All of this is well and good, yet you couldn't get anyone to the budget meetings. Instead you take up full pages in the paper and then write on entertainment blogs.

Get your information together and attend the budget workshops, and get some support at the public hearings.

One must wonder why all this broke loose in September after the budget had been worked on and set.

Mr. Campbell, understand, I think you guys have some valid points. You have even gone to the extent of organizing the workers and created a union. Where was your rep, your shop steward?

Work with Mr. Lohr, and work within the proper system. Who knows, if you are there to give a voice, maybe people will hear.

ArmyMAJretired's picture
Submitted by ArmyMAJretired on Thu, 11/03/2005 - 11:18am.

Is this information from the IAFF?

IAFF Offers New and Improved Political Training Academy

September 19, 2005 - The IAFF will offer its 10th Annual Political Training Academy February 12-16, 2006, in Baltimore, Maryland. The 2006 program builds on the success of this week-long academy, and reflects improvements in the training and assistance IAFF candidates and affiliate political leaders receive, including a new campaign simulation.

IAFF members or family members running for public office – or contemplating running for public office – managing a campaign or implementing their local or state or provincial association’s political program, are eligible to apply to attend the IAFF Political Training in 2006. Interested participants must complete an application and submit a letter of recommendation from their local president. To apply online, Click here.

Political Training Academy workshops focus on developing an effective campaign plan, targeting voters, recruiting volunteers, polling techniques, fundraising and budgeting, message development, media relations, getting out the vote, campaign finance laws and using web sites in political campaigns.

Due to the interactive nature of the IAFF Political Training Academy, class size is limited to 50 participants. To maximize affiliate participation, only one person per affiliate can be accepted in any one year. Participants are responsible only for their transportation costs. Lodging, meals and conference materials are provided by the IAFF.

The IAFF established the Political Training Academy in 1997 to help IAFF members and their families hone their political skills. The program offers campaign veterans and political newcomers five days of hands-on political training by nationally recognized political professionals and IAFF staff. Since its inception, more than 450 IAFF members have completed the training. In addition, in the 2004 election cycle, IAFF members who ran for political office won 73 percent of the races they entered. To date, a total of 310 IAFF members and family members hold publicly elected office.

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