California Professional Firefighters

NIST: Crew Size Matters Responding to High Rise Fires

Size matters. That's the conclusion of a new study on fire crew responses to high-rise blazes conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The NIST study, released April 10 in Phoenix, concludes that larger crews (5-6 firefighters) respond faster, put out fires faster and are more effective in search and rescue in high-rise fires.

The study also found that a lower first-alarm contingent of engines with larger crew sizes outperformed high-alarm response with smaller crew sizes … even when the total number of firefighters responding was the same.

The analysis, conducted at 13 Washington, D.C.-area departments, studied 14 critical tasks in nearly 100 controlled experiments and computer-modeling simulations, all measuring buildings seven stories or higher. Among the specific findings:

-- Three-person crews took almost 12 minutes longer to complete the tasks than 4-person crews, and more than 20 minutes longer than a 5-person crew; -- Four-person crews were more than twice as effective in responding than three-person crews, when measured against a five-person crew;

-- Fires with three-person crews responding grew 60% larger than those with six-person crews, because of the additional time spent finishing tasks.

-- Search and rescue operations were almost twice as effective when conducted by larger engine crews, even when the overall number of firefighters was the same.
“It’s not simply that larger crews have more people," said NIST Fire Protection Engineer Jason Averill. "Larger crews are deployed differently and, as a result, are able to perform required tasks more quickly.”

The new study is especially timely in light of attempts to trim local fire department budgets by reducing crew sizes. According to NFPA, anywhere from 40% to 54% of high-rise buildings are not equipped with sprinklers. Departments with high rises need to be prepared to deal with unsprinklered buildings.

That, according to the NIST report, means bigger crews.

READ: News release from U.S. Dept. of Commerce

WATCH: Video outlining results of the NIST report

GET THE FACTS: IAFF information page