Fire Staffing Expert Blasts OAFC and the City


The Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) has released a letter from fire department staffing expert Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell refuting the position taken by Sault Ste. Marie City Council, Sault Ste. Marie Fire Chief Figliola, and the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs.

In particular, Dr. Moore-Merrell’s letter emphasizes the importance of rigorous scientific research in making staffing decisions. She also points to both the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 standard along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research studies which clearly demonstrate the ways in which adequate staffing makes a difference on the fireground.

Dr. Moore-Merrell notes that NIST studies, completed in collaboration with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, examined both residential fires – “the most common and deadly fires in the country” – and high-rise fires – “high-hazard situations that pose unique operational challenges for fire service response”– to determine the most appropriate crew sizes for fighting fires.

“The study team concluded that smaller crews end up facing larger fires because of the additional time required to complete tasks,” Dr. Moore-Merrell wrote. “A three-person crew, for example, may battle a medium-growing blaze that is almost 60 percent larger than the fire faced by a larger crew, which would start extinguishing a fire roughly three-and-one-half minutes earlier than the smaller crew.”

The NIST study, based on research and evidence, resulted in changes to the NFPA minimum staffing standards. As Dr. Moore-Merrell’s letter makes clear, these studies offer “quantitative data to fire chiefs and public officials responsible for determining safe staffing levels, station locations and appropriate funding for community and firefighter safety.”

“I urge you to protect your City by protecting the minimum of 4-person crews on fire response apparatus,” Dr. Moore-Merrell wrote. “Decisions of this magnitude must be based on science, not rhetoric and emotion.”

Here is the letter:

Dear Citizens of Sault Ste. Marie,

I am Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, a 30-year fire service professional with 7 years as a member of an urban city Fire Department and 23 years with the International Association of Fire Fighters serving as an Assistant to the General President and the head of the Research Division. I am a tenured research scientist in the area of fire department staffing and resource deployment and am a principal investigator on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Field Experiments in both the Residential and High Rise environments.

It has come to my attention that there are active conversations regarding the adequacy of fire department resources deployed in your community. After reviewing the letter to from the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs [August 28, 2016], I felt it imperative to respond to assure full disclosure of all available information on the matter.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards are industry standards. These standards are developed through consensus of experienced leaders, relevant experts, and where it exists, scientific empirical data. NFPA 1710 regarding Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, is one such standard. The entities represented on the NFPA 1710 Technical Committee include the International Fire Marshals Association, the Washington State Council of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), Municipality of Chatham-Kent Canada, National League of Cities (NLC), Insurance Services Office (ISO), University of Florida, Public Agency Training Council, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and a host of leaders from municipal fire departments. NFPA 1710 sets minimum standards for firefighter crews, response times and other factors involved in determining the organization and deployment of fire fighting and emergency medical systems. Passed as a standard in 2001 and updated in 2004, 2010, and 2016, 1710 represents the culmination of a 15-year process that involved research, expert opinion, debate and finally consensus. NFPA standards apply to jurisdictions regardless of their geography, topography, fiscal capacity, service burdens, population density or similar local variations.

To understand the need for fire department resources, it is important to understand the community from a fire risk perspective. The 2011 Census data show that 24.3% of the population in Sault Ste. Marie is in a vulnerable category. This category consists of persons under the age of 5 (4.6%) and persons 65 years of age and older (19.7%). Additionally, 14.2% of the population is living at or below the poverty level. There are 32,515 housing units, consisting of single or semi-detached houses (71.1%), apartment buildings that have five or more stories (6.5%), apartment duplex and apartment buildings that have fewer than five stories (19.2%) and other dwellings including row homes and mobile homes (3.2%). Of these structures, 37.5% are of pre-1960 construction, and 40.9% constructed between 1961 and 1980. This information provides a profile for factors that contribute to the risk of fire in the city and a profile for those who may need to be rescued should a fire occur. Though efforts for public education, inspection, and prevention are important and must be continued, the fact is that fires do occur. And when they occur, it is imperative that the fire department can respond with appropriate resources to rescue trapped occupants and extinguish the fire.

Fire Department response performance objectives contained in the NFPA 1710 Standard include call intake and dispatch, turnout time for firefighters (80 sec), and travel time for the first responding fire pumpers to arrive on scene (objective = 4 minutes from the time they leave the station until they arrive on scene). There is also a benchmark for a full assignment of firefighters to arrive on scene (objective = 8 minutes from the time they leave the station until they arrive on scene). The full assignment is the group of firefighters needed to adequately handle the emergency situation.

The NFPA 1710 Standard also clearly states that, ‘Fire companies whose primary functions are to pump and deliver water and perform basic fire fighting at fires, including search and rescue, shall be known as engine [pumper] companies. These companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty personnel. In jurisdictions with tactical hazards, high hazard occupancies, high incident frequencies, geographical restrictions, or other pertinent factors as identified by the AHJ, these companies shall be staffed with a minimum of five or six on-duty members’.

Further, NFPA Standard 1710 states that, ‘Fire companies whose primary functions are to perform the variety of services associated with truck work, such as forcible entry, ventilation, search and rescue, aerial operations for water delivery and rescue, utility control, illumination, overhaul, and salvage work, shall be known as ladder or truck companies. These companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty personnel. In jurisdictions with tactical hazards, high hazard occupancies, high incident frequencies, geographical restrictions, or other pertinent factors as identified by the AHJ, these companies shall be staffed with a minimum of five or six on-duty personnel’.

In addition to NFPA Standard 1710, as previously noted, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and its study partners including the IAFC, the IAFF, the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), the Urban Institute, and Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has conducted staffing and deployment research in both the low hazard residential and high hazard/high- rise fireground environments. These study reports funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are the first to quantify the effects of crew sizes and arrival times on the fire service’s lifesaving and firefighting operations for residential and high-rise fires. These experiments were conducted in different type structures because as noted previously, it is vital to consider the types of structures in any city and the associated risks to occupants in those structures during a fire, particularly those who cannot self-evacuate like the elderly and young children.

The results from the rigorous scientific study on residential fires, the most common and deadly fires in the country, provide quantitative data to fire chiefs and public officials responsible for determining safe staffing levels, station locations and appropriate funding for community and firefighter safety. For example, of the 22 fireground tasks measured during the experiments, certain factors like time to water on fire had the most significant impact on successful operations. There was a 10% difference in the “water on fire” time between 2-person and 3-person crews and an additional 6% time difference between the 3- and 4- person crews. There was also a 6% time difference between the 3- and 4-person crews conducting search and rescue. And 4-person crews were nearly 25% (5.1 minutes) faster than 3-person crews on overall scene time necessary to complete all tasks. The study noted that delayed response, particularly in conjunction with the deployment of inadequate resources, reduces the likelihood of controlling the fire in time to prevent major damage and possible loss of life and increases the danger to fire fighters.

NIST and its study partners also conducted a similar crew size and resource deployment study in the high-hazard or high-rise fireground environment. When responding to fires in high-rise buildings, firefighting crews of five or six members—instead of three or four—are significantly faster in putting out fires and completing search-and-rescue operations. Unlike most house fires, high-rise fires are high-hazard situations that pose unique operational challenges to fire service response. How big a fire gets and how much danger it poses to occupants and firefighters are largely determined by crew size and how personnel are deployed at the scene. It’s not simply that larger crews have more people.

Larger crews are deployed differently and, as a result, are able to perform required tasks more quickly.

In the NIST high-rise study, an analysis of 14 “critical tasks”—those undertaken when potential risks to building occupants and firefighters are greatest—found that three-member crews took almost 12 minutes longer than crews of four, 21 minutes longer than crews of five, and 23 minutes longer than crews of six to complete all tasks.

On the basis of the results of computer modeling, which incorporate data from live experimental burns, the study team concluded that smaller crews end up facing larger fires because of the additional time required to complete tasks. A three-person crew, for example, may battle a medium-growing blaze that is almost 60 percent larger than the fire faced by a larger crew, which would start extinguishing a fire roughly three-and-one-half minutes earlier than the smaller crew.

The research team also evaluated whether dispatching more three or four-member crews to a high rise fire would be as effective as sending a smaller contingent of pumpers and trucks staffed by larger crews of firefighters. They found that a smaller contingent of pumpers and trucks with crews of size four or five outperforms a larger response of pumpers and trucks with crew sizes of three firefighters.

Based on the NIST High-Rise Study results, new language was added to the NFPA 1710 Standard.

The new language in the 2016 revision states the following.

5.2.3 Operating Units. Fire company staffing requirements shall be based on minimum levels necessary for safe, effective, and efficient emergency operations. Fire companies whose primary functions are to pump and deliver water and perform basic firefighting at fires, including search and rescue, shall be known as engine [pumper] companies. These companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty members. In jurisdictions with a high number of incidents or geographical restrictions, as identified by the AHJ [authority having jurisdiction], these companies shall be staffed with a minimum of five on-duty members. In jurisdictions with tactical hazards, high-hazard occupancies, or dense urban areas, as identified by the AHJ, these fire companies shall be staffed with a minimum of six on-duty members. Fire companies whose primary functions are to perform the variety of services associated with truck work, such as forcible entry, ventilation, search and rescue, aerial operations for water delivery and rescue, utility control, illumination, overhaul, and salvage work, shall be known as ladder or truck companies. These fire companies shall be staffed with a minimum of four on-duty members. In jurisdictions with a high number of incidents or geographical restrictions, as identified by the AHJ, these fire companies shall be staffed with a minimum of five on-duty members. In jurisdictions with tactical hazards, high-hazard occupancies, or dense urban areas, as identified by the AHJ, these fire companies shall be staffed with a minimum of six on-duty members.

In the past, some municipalities have attempted to deploy with smaller crews on each piece of apparatus using the logic that if they just send more units it would be the same. But that logic ignores the fact that larger crews have tactical advantages that reduce risk exposure to people trapped and to firefighters. Larger crews can carry out crucial tasks in parallel rather than in series and saving time can save occupant lives and prevent firefighter injuries and property damage.

In closing, based on the foregoing information from industry standards and science, I urge you to protect your City by protecting the minimum of 4-person crews on fire response apparatus to assure a more efficient, effective and safer emergency response system. Decisions of this magnitude must be based on science, not rhetoric and emotion.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell, DrPH, MPH

International Association of Fire Fighters


  1. I sure don’t make 6 figures and I’ve been a professional fire fighter for 26 years. Gold plated pension? I get 62.5% of $76K. I can’t stand the ignorance regarding municiple employees. We’ve been cut to the point where I, the Captain and most senior man, respond to EVERY call! I wanted to do 30 years to try and up that gold plated pension, but the demand physically is becoming too great(how many athletes do you know that are 52? They have gold plated careers, not me!) Fires are down and EMS calls are up argument again? Fires cause more deaths and cost this country more annually than all other catostrophic events combined! What is that? Acceptable damages? The terrorist event of 9-11 created a whole new governmentally funded agency with many subsequent law changes. I sure do not want to under play that event, but every year fires kill, injure and cost americans bug bucks. No federal funding though. Every contract, every new hire, every vehicle all have to be argued for from people who know nothing of this profession. My home is my most expensive asset. If police, fire, ems and dpw services decline, home values decline. Then demographics of citizens declines. Then school scores decline. Pretty soon, no one wants to live where you are and you couldn’t give your home away, let alone sell it. I’m S of Detroit, so I am fully aware of what a bad reputation can do and how difficult it is to regain. If people cared and were willing to pay for civil services like they are for whatever form of entertainment they shell large amounts of money toward annually, rhis would be a mute conversation.

  2. Bill C-45. Council is effectively the Board of Directors. Chief and administrators are subject matter experts who work with Council in making decisions that affect public and firefighter safety. They have a legal duty to “take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm” to firefighters. Dr. Moore-Merrell indicated that smaller crews would have an increased risk exposure. Municipalities and the world now knows this to be scientifically established fact. Should Council and staff lower the number of firefighters responding on a vehicle or to an emergency with the knowledge that the previous crew assignment operated with a reduced risk exposure, then it logically follows that they have exposed themselves to an increased risk of liability. The Ministry of Labour fines employers every day for not taking proper care of worker health and safety. Would it be much of a reach to make a case against a Municipality?

    • Interesting how the Fire Cheif, Mayor, and Council used Bill C-45 as the reason for cutting the Fire Department and adding more EMS, but don’t seem to think that knowingly putting Firefighters at risk also falls under Bill C-45. Makes you wonder why!!!

  3. I find it laughable when people accuse revered experts who have spent the majority of their lives in the firefighting profession to be bias or subjective. Give me a break!!

    What do you call the strategy and plan put forward by the City’s so called expert who has no vested interest in this community, of hacking and slashing away at a department that was built upon specific fire related risks in our community?? Look at both sides before making such ludicrous statements. His most recent public statement that we’re all dead in under two minutes if a crew doesn’t respond in that time-frame is completely absurd and without a defensible basis for an argument. The last couple of weeks suggest otherwise with the local firefighters rescuing two people from two different incidents.

    The City, particularly the new chief ought to provide the public with irrefutable evidence that supports this ill-conceived plan as viable and sustainable. Only then should this community ever agree to anything less than the level of public safety that had been provided for over a generation by the local fire services.

    The biggest challenge for our community is sustaining all City services during this economic downturn. That’s the politician’s responsibility from all levels of government. Slashing public safety will only deter growth from ever gaining any sort of traction locally.

  4. Well, the Soo can do one if two things. Pay for properly staffed department…or pay the lawsuit or lawsuits when a fire does occur that results in lost lives. I gaurantee you any lawyer worth his salt will jump at the chance to sue the city, the dept and the chief on behalf of the affected families for failing to provide a properly staffed fire dept. Go ahead, roll the dice. What possible defense would the city have in that lawsuit…especially faced with so much empirical data supporting current staffing levels? Not to mention so much comparable data from other jurisdictions showing the cons of reduced staffing levels. Slam dunk case.

  5. I work in Washington State. We run 2 person Engine and Ladder companies. We run over 6000 calls a year with a 13 minimum daily staffing. The Washington State Council of Fire Chiefs help develop NFPA 1710. Ironic.

  6. The facts don’t lie. 4 ff’s make the stretch faster, as woukd 5 and 6.
    Unfortunately budgets are real, there is no pot of $$ under the desk. So the question is how do we make this work?
    If we didn’t run to every medical aid call that woukd leave resources available and reduce costs in supplies, fuel and equipment right?
    If we asked the taxpayer to add a few % on thier tax bill that would help right?
    If the local would consider a few % of concessions related to wage and pension (don’t touch benefits) or convince members to go easy on sick that would help right?
    In the end it’s win/win. More jobs, less duplication of services (where appropriate) and no significant tax burden on anyone!
    That would work right?

    • They don’t run all medical aid calls, hardly any as a matter of fact with the exception of unconscious people. They don’t even go to all car accidents.

  7. This “doctor” works for the IAFF. She’s a union representative and her job is to protect the union members who pay her salary. This is all about firefighter jobs. Not the public. 95% of all calls are for the paramedics and are medical in nature. This is being fought tooth and nail by fire unions because this could set the tone for other Ontario fire departments.

    • Tom, not sure of your question. The OAFC did comment on a letter from the OPFFA president, but nowhere in their statement did they say that they supported the Fire Chief and City Councils decision in the cuts to the Fire Department, or have they given any input to the actions of the Fire Chief and Council.

  8. The question during an investigation of any fire then becomes “was this negligence”, criminally or in a civil law sense, to the point that those responsible for the level of service in Sault Ste. Marie have demonstrated wreckless and wanton disregard to the citizens by “expertly asserting” that reductions in staffing levels were of no consequence. Someone will press for that answer soon enough.

  9. Bernie,
    Your 1970’s style of thinking isn’t doing anyone any favours. Basically you say there isn’t enough money so roll up the side walks and let the town fold! Safety isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s time for some fresh minded/ educated talent to get into council and turn things around!

  10. Kids, kids, kids…all this rhetoric means nothing until it’s your house on fire and 3 old geezers,well up to retirement age, show up in a beat-up fire truck with leaky hoses and a broken extention ladder. Then they will have to tell you that they can’t do squat until the other truck shows up,which used to be based at Tancred st but is now at a station deep in the east end, and they can’t get it started because the new budget didn’t allow for a new battery and the Fire chief has to come in from some jerk-water town east of the Soo to boost it. Sorry but the rules say one man can’t go in by himself so you’ll just have to sit there in the window and we’ll get to you in a bit ’cause there is only 3 of us and one has to stand here in command and one has to run the pumps on the truck, which we’ll need as soon as they get the other truck started and on scene……By the way, is your fire insurance up to date, because Figliola is starting this new pay per call thing, and if your not paid up then we will just have to go back to the station and leave you to put this out with your garden hose… Sorry…..

  11. Bernie. Maybe if you actually read the info that is being provided to us you might understand what is really happening? Of course you could also be a member of council, the mayor, the chief, who knows and you already know
    . I personally try to read the info as I have a great interest in our city. This is and always has been a great place to live but when our powers to be keep cutting services they will quickly turn us into an undesirable destination. It’s not just the lack of services. This council hasn’t done a single thing to improve our city. They dropped the ball on a major tax bill, they cut daycare, sidewalk plowing, bussing. What will be next? I’m sure if they cut your internet feed you would whine to high heaven about that. Stop your whining and maybe start putting out some ideas on exactly how you would run this town. Show us your genious. Then some other keyboard warrior can rap off at you for a change.

    • What you fail to understand is how and where the money to pay for this is all going to come from. Sure, daycare, sidewalk plowing, bussing has to be cut. How do you run your finances at home? Just spend whenever a need comes up, and just go constantly into debt? Society has needs that must be met first and foremost. Basic needs for the young, the elderly, etc. have to have to survive day to day. The gov’t taxes the rest of us to pay for these basic needs. But lately, gov’t can’t say no to anyone that waves a banner, gets in front of a tv camera, organizes a parade, or gets an ‘expert’ to spout off statistics. They MUST have retention pay equal to those in other more expensive dangerous parts of the province that they will NEVER relocate to, get gold-plated pensions the average taxpayer will never see, and obscene salaries the average taxpayer will never earn. Who will pay for this debt? We have people with no where to live, no food to eat, no water to drink, and no money to help them. Yet we have 6 figures to spend on a statue of a goose in front of a dying town in northern Ontario. Get the big picture and quit getting baffled by the experts’ details (which were quite obviously commissioned by the firefighters’ union…)

      • Bernie. In case you don’t know, some of the young need daycare, some of the elderly need sidewalk plowing, and yup the “rest of us” that pay taxes for these basic needs” also need bussing to get to their jobs so they can pay their way. As for the rest of your spouting argument are you just mad at everyone? Thanks for the chat.

    • Maybe we should tear down all high rises, and move the single dwelling houses closer to the streets, to assist with response times…and no garages or she’d at the back of the properties, either…

  12. Will the union childishness ever end? Let’s just simply make everyone a fire fighter, pay them 6-figures along with retention pay increases, (so the whole town doesn’t move to Toronto to be paid the same as TO firefighters), give them gold-plated pensions. Imagine how low my home insurance would go…

    • Bernie. Speaking of childness, you don’t have to look any further then Mayor and Council as they refuse to listen to the “real” experts and continue to put their trust in a Fire Chief who obviously has no idea in what he is doing. Also, if you want to see gold-plated pensions, take a look at the managers at City Hall.

    • A policy decision by council to reduce money directed towards the fire service WILL NOT attract liability issues for this city or any other city for that matter. Fire suppression is not a mandated service anywhere in Canada; it is up to individual ratepayer groups to determine how much of a tax dollar they want to dedicate towards fire suppression. With that said, Dr. Moore-Merrell is correct that a 4 person crew is far more efficient than a 3 person crew, but should a council decide to staff a rig with 2, 3 or 4 members (or even run a volunteer department) there are not liability issue as long as council makes this a policy decision. There will most certainly be a political price to be paid as the IAFF is a political force to deal with, but enough with the legal liability scare tactics.

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