Effects of Crew Size on Firefighter Health and Safety

Guest Contributor

August 15, 2022

Firefighters’ safety during fire responses depends on sound policies and procedures that ensure they can do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Decisions on vehicle crew size and total effective response force deployment should be based on the best available evidence. It is imperative that fire department leaders and political decision makers understand how the fire department resource deployment impacts community safety related to civilian injury and death, firefighter injury and death, and property loss.

This state-of-the-art review from the International Fire Service Journal of Leadership and Management (IFSJLM) provides a comprehensive examination of (a) results from multidisciplinary (e.g., engineering, medicine, fire technology, and social sciences) research efforts, (b) published data, (c) industry standards, and (d) expert opinion. The review examines the effect of emergency response vehicle crew size and total effective response force deployment on firefighters’ health and safety risks, recognizing that firefighter health and safety is necessary to ensure that firefighters can effectively perform their jobs and protect their community.

The article concludes, based on available evidence, that the crew sizes and the effective response force sizes recommended in NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, should be considered the minimum to provide for firefighters' health and safety. Whenever possible, additional resources should be provided to address firefighter physiological stress, limit fire growth, and mitigate occupational exposure in today’s rapidly evolving fireground.

The article, based on a review of published research, industry standards, and expert opinion, makes the following recommendations:

1. All fire chiefs and individuals who are responsible for fire department budgets should use NFPA 1500TM and the performance objectives in NFPA 1710 to ensure adequate resources are deployed to protect communities and to minimize risks to firefighter health and safety.

2. Adequate resources, including properly trained firefighters and appropriate vehicles, should be deployed to arrive on scene in an appropriate timeframe to limit fire growth. Firefighters are facing an unprecedented level of risk in today’s fires because of widespread use of synthetic building materials and furnishings, lightweight construction, larger buildings, and more open floor plans. In order to meet these challenges, enough firefighters must arrive on scene and initiate fire suppression activities as quickly as possible.

3. Firefighter health and safety is the responsibility of the entire fire department, but the ultimate accountability resides with the fire chief and city/county management. Adequate personnel are necessary to successfully perform firefighting operations without undue risk to citizens and/or firefighters.

Read the full study here in Volume 15 of the IFSJLM, starting at page 9. Article link shared with permission of the IFSJLM.

About the authors:

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell is the U.S. fire administrator President and CEO of the International Public Safety Data Institute. Lori began this role in 2019 after serving 26 years as a senior executive in the International Association of Fire Fighters. As a Doctor of Public Health and a data scientist, she recently served on the Biden-Harris Transition Team to conduct agency review for DHS/FEMA as part of the COVID-19 national response plan. Lori is considered an expert in emergency response system evaluation, public safety resource deployment, and community risk assessment. She serves as corresponding author and can be reached at:

Dr. Steve Kerber is the Vice President of Research for Underwriters Laboratories and Director of UL's Fire Safety Research Institute. He has led research in the areas of fire safety engineering, firefighter safety, fire forensics, and fire science.  Steve is also a 13-year veteran of the fire service, with most of his service at the College Park Fire Department in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he served at ranks up through Deputy Chief.

Dr. Gavin Horn is a Research Engineer with UL's Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI). Prior to joining the UL FSRI team, he served as the Director of IFSI Research Programs at the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute for 15 years and as a firefighter, apparatus engineer, and fire investigator with the Savoy (IL) Fire Department. Gavin’s research interests range from firefighter health and safety to first responder technology development.

Dr. Denise Smith is a Professor of Health and Human Physiological Sciences at Skidmore College (NY) where she is director of the First Responder Health and Safety Lab. She is also a research scientist at the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute. Denise has published over 90 scientific papers with a focus on firefighter health and safety. She is a member of the NFPA 1500TM committee and an investigator for the NIOSH firefighter fatality investigation and prevention program.