Report on Residential Fireground Field Experiments:


More than 60 laboratory and full-scale fire experiments were conducted to determine the impact of crew size, first-due engine arrival time, and subsequent apparatus arrival times on firefighter safety and effectiveness at a low-hazard residential structure fire. This report quantifies the effects of changes to staffing and arrival times for low-hazard residential firefighting operations. While resource deployment is addressed in the context of a single structure type and risk level, it is recognized that public policy decisions regarding the cost-benefit of specific deployment decisions are a function of many factors including geography, available resources, community expectations, as well as all local hazards and risks. Though this report contributes significant knowledge to community and fire service leaders in regard to effective resource deployment for fire suppression, other factors contributing to policy decisions are not addressed. The objective of the experiments was to determine the relative effects of crew size, first-due engine arrival time, and stagger time for subsequent apparatus on the effectiveness of the firefighting crews relative to intervention times and the likelihood of occupant rescue using a parametric design. Therefore, the experimental results for each of these factors are discussed below.

Of the 22 fireground tasks measured during the experiments, the following were determined to have especially significant impact on the success of fire fighting operations. Their differential outcomes based on variation of crew size and/or apparatus arrival times are statistically significant at the 95 % confidence level or better.

Overall Scene Time:

The four-person crews operating on a low-hazard structure fire completed all the tasks on the fireground (on average) seven minutes faster— nearly 30 % — than the two-person crews. The four-person crews completed the same number of fireground tasks (on average) 5.1 minutes faster— nearly 25 % — than the three-person crew. For the low-hazard residential structure fire, adding a fifth person to the crews did not decrease overall fireground task times. However, it should be noted that the benefit of five-person crews has been documented in other evaluations to be significant for medium- and high-hazard structures, particularly in urban settings, and should be addressed according to industry standards.

Time to Water on Fire:

There was a nearly 10 % difference in the “water on fire time” between the two and three-person crews and an additional 6 % difference in the “water on fire time” between the three- and four-person crews (i.e., 16 % difference between the four and two-person crews). There was an additional 6 % difference in the “water on fire’” time between the four- and five-person crews (i.e., 22 % difference between the five and two-person crews).

Ground Ladders and Ventilation:

The four-person crew operating on a low-hazard structure fire can complete laddering and ventilation (for life safety and rescue) 30 % faster than the two-person crew and 25 % faster than the three-person crew.

Primary Search:

The three-person crew started and completed a primary search and rescue 25 % faster than the two-person crew. In the same structure, the four- and five-person crews started and completed a primary search 6 % faster than the three-person crews and 30 % faster than the two-person crew. A 10 % difference was equivalent to just over one minute.

Hose Stretch Time:

In comparing four-and five-person crews to two-and three-person crews collectively, the time difference to stretch a line was 76 seconds. In conducting more specific analysis comparing all crew sizes to a two-person crew the differences are more distinct. A two-person crew took 57 seconds longer than a three-person crew to stretch a line. A two-person crew took 87 seconds longer than a four-person crew to complete the same tasks. Finally, the most notable comparison was between a two-person crew and a five-person crew — more than 2 minutes (122 seconds) difference in task completion time.

Industry Standard Achieved:

The “industry standard achieved” time started from the first engine arrival at the hydrant and ended when 15 firefighters were assembled on scene.

An effective response force was assembled by the five-person crews three minutes faster than the four-person crews. According to study deployment protocal, the two- and three-person crews were unable to assemble enough personnel to meet this standard.

Occupant Rescue:

Three different “standard” fires (slow-, medium-, and fast-growth rate) were simulated using the Fire Dynamics Simulator (FDS) model. The fires grew exponentially with time. The fire modeling simulations demonstrated that two-person, late arriving crews can face a fire that is twice the intensity of the fire faced by five-person, early arriving crews. The rescue scenario was based on a nonambulatory occupant in an upstairs bedroom with the bedroom door open.

Independent of fire size, there was a significant difference between the toxicity, expressed as fractional effective dose (FED), for occupants at the time of rescue depending on arrival times for all crew sizes. Occupants rescued by crews starting tasks two minutes earlier had lesser exposure to combustion products. The fire modeling showed clearly that two-person crews cannot complete essential fireground tasks in time to rescue occupants without subjecting either firefighters or occupants to an increasingly hazardous atmosphere. Even for a slow-growth rate fire, the FED was approaching the level at which sensitive populations, such as children and the elderly are threatened. For a medium-growth rate fire with two person crews, the FED was far above that threshold and approached the level affecting the median sensitivity in general population. For a fast-growth rate fire, the FED was well above the median level at which 50 % of the general population would be incapacitated. Larger crews responding to slow-growth rate fires can rescue most occupants prior to incapacitation along with early-arriving larger crews responding to medium-growth rate fires. The result for late-arriving (two minutes later than early-arriving) larger crews may result in a threat to sensitive populations for medium-growth rate fires.” The new sentence is consistent with our previous description for two-person crews where we identify a threat to sensitive populations..

  Statistical averages should not, however, mask the fact that there is no FED level so low that every occupant in every situation is safe.