Like most cities, Stockton faces budget challenges. Stockton firefighters share the concerns of Stockton citizens as it relates to budget impacts on city services. Firefighters have continuously offered concessions to help balance the budget. However, it’s important that city leaders do not use tough financial times to make reckless decisions that dramatically impact the safety of residents and firefighters.
As the City crafts its budget plan, we will use this page to ensure the public understands the trade offs that impact everyone’s safety. Unfortunately, recent budget proposals have only discussed the “savings” and have not fully disclosed the service and safety impacts.
Some Stockton leaders are proposing to cut staffing on fire engines from 4 member crews to 3 member crews. Will it save the City money? Yes. Will it jeopardize resident and firefighter safety? Absolutely. Let us explain why.
All firefighters dedicate their lives to protecting the citizens they serve and when the situation warrants, they put their lives on the line in order to save others. However, in order to be effective in saving lives, firefighters must manage their risks. To this end, laws and regulations have been passed in order to protect firefighters (and citizens) as it relates to entering burning structures. The idea is to make a safe entry so that a potential rescue ends in a “save” and not the injury or death of both the occupant and firefighter.
In 1971, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration adopted a regulation making it a legal requirement for Fire Departments to implement the “2 in/2out” regulation (read a summary of the regulation here).
What this means is that firefighters can only enter a burning building if they enter as a pair and if there are two other firefighters outside of the building who can perform rescue operations (to potentially rescue one of the firefighters if necessary). This is the law of the land.
In Stockton this means that by having four firefighters on a fire engine upon arrival they can immediately do a search of the burning building for occupants who may need assistance and/or rescue. If Stockton engines were only staffed with three firefighters, that engine would have to wait for an additional engine to arrive prior to entering the building and searching for potential occupants. In practical terms, this could delay rescue operations by several minutes.
A fire roughly doubles in size every minute. As time passes, rescue operations become even more risky as prolonged fires cause structures to weaken making it more likely that you’ll experience a roof/floor collapse and greater likelihood of serious injury or death due to smoke inhalation. Thus, waiting for a second engine to arrive prior to conducting rescue operations is exponentially more dangerous for both you and firefighters.
The effectiveness of four member crews is not guesswork. There’s independent scientific research behind it. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a scientific study that analyzed the effectiveness of fighting fires based on crew size. You can view the study here. Here are some of the study’s findings:
• 4 member crews completed all tasks at a fire 25% faster than a three-member crew (approximately 5 minutes faster).
• 4 member crews are able to get water on a fire faster than 3 member crews.
• 4 member crews completed laddering and venting of rooftops (life safety & rescue) 25% faster than 3 member crews.
• 3 member crews cannot be assembled into a full alarm (15 firefighters) within the national standard of 8 minutes.
A question often asked of the fire service is “why do you need four firefighters for a medical call?” It’s a good question. The simple answer is 4 member crews provide much quicker medical care than smaller crews. In a medical emergency, seconds matter. Would you want to wait an extra minute if you were having a heart attack? Similar to the study on fighting fires referenced above, the U.S. Department of Commerce also did an independent, scientific study on the impact of crew size on delivering Emergency Medical Services. You can read the full report here.
In summary, the report found the following to be true:
• 4 member crews completed treatment on cardiac patients faster than 3 and 2 member crews.
• 4 member crews complete treatment on trauma patients 20% faster than 3-member crews and 35% faster than 2-member crews.
• 4 member crews were able to administer oxygen to patients 1 minute faster than 3 member crews
• 4 member crews checked vital signs 30 seconds faster than 3 member crews and 1:20 faster than 2 member crews.
• 4 member crews were able to immobilize spinal injuries 2 minutes faster than 3 and 2 member crews.
• 4 member crews were able to intubation patients 2 minutes faster than 3 and 2 member crews.