One of the most underrated discussions in emergency services is the concept of resource allocation. There are several topics that are debated such as staffing levels and financial budgets. However, deciding where certain specialized equipment goes may be hindered by opinions. This discussion of where certain equipment goes surrounds all types of departments: career, volunteer, and combination. Furthermore, it may be applied to an even broader horizon encompassing all elements of emergency services ranging from police, fire, EMS, and emergency management resources. On top of deciding where specialized equipment may be assigned, this concept also encompasses how resources may be brought in and how the waves of such resources may continuously keep their respective jurisdictions ready to operate.
In many jurisdictions, this concept of appropriating proper equipment is based on tradition and the way it once was. This may be observed in all types of agencies and locations. In areas where there are multiple companies, it is common to see engines assigned to the majority of the companies. The engine is the fundamental apparatus of the fire service. Without an engine company lines will not be put into service to extinguish the fire. The fundamental task of the truck company is to perform search, rescue, and ventilation operations. The rescue company is traditionally responsible for vehicle extrication and technical rescue operations. Then there are more specialized resources such as hazardous materials teams, collapse teams, and several others that around developed based on specific needs.
In small town America, a department may only have engine companies compared to a full ensemble of specialized apparatus. National Fire Protection Associations 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, outlines what an engine must be equipped with including ground ladders and a compliment of hand tools. Some qualified engines are also equipped with aerial devices known as quints. These quints are the most specialized firefighting apparatus that allow for companies to either act as an engine, a truck, or split the company to operate in both modes. In a jurisdiction that has the finances to equip itself with all components of fire and rescue operations, it would be wise to share some specialized responsibilities throughout the area.
In a town that has one central station, it makes sense to house engines, trucks, rescues, etc. In a town that has two stations, allocating engines to both makes it possible for both to send suppression units first out to incidents. Then one station may house an aerial apparatus and the other may house a heavy rescue. To combat this, the discussion begins to work deeper into allocating specific equipment. Vehicle extrication equipment is allocated to the heavy rescue because that apparatus was designed to carry and operate at those types of incidents. Therefore, many departments equip their truck companies with vehicle extrication equipment because those types of incidents are more frequent, and the tools have been proven to have a variety of uses, such as forcible entry for heavy set commercial doors. In this example, the cross-town truck company would have the backup extrication tools for the jurisdiction.
In a large jurisdiction, several other factors make an impact on how and where equipment should be spread out including geographical locations, access to high hazard areas, and distances between other resources (in this case firehouses). As discussed earlier in this article, if a jurisdiction has the financial availability to allocate resources throughout then several companies should be equipped with engines.
At this point, specialties become the topic of distribution including ladders, towers, quints, and other specialized equipment. To better equip and prepare their companies, some departments are known to strictly operate quints that are equipped with basic rescue equipment. This allows for an incident commander to be able to fully use all his responding resources interchangeably, including the crews and apparatus. In other departments, the aerial apparatus may be located centrally or on opposing sectors of the response area to better cover the area. Additionally, this provides aerial devices coming from different directions as well as having a backup in the area. Specialized resources such as a heavy rescue should also be either centrally located or some specific equipment should be additionally allocated throughout the response area. Technical heavy-rescue operations may be assigned to a specific company; however, the more basic aspects of rescue operations may be assigned throughout the other companies of its respective department.
- Geography is a vital element in determining where certain specialized equipment may be assigned. For example, water-rescue equipment may not be allocated on a mountain and a brush truck may not be allocated in an inner city. Urban, suburban, and rural areas of a jurisdiction should play a pivotal role in developing what kinds of engines are assigned to the respective areas. Tenders are more necessary in rural locations compared to small quick attack engines in urban areas.
- Access to high hazard areas is important because if a company can be first due to a location that company should be equipped with the necessary equipment to begin lifesaving operations. Companies that have quicker access to major roadways where a higher frequency of motor vehicle entrapments occur should be equipped with equipment to better mitigate potential incidents. By the same token, companies closest to rivers should be equipped with some sort of watercraft that allows the company to operate in the water.
- Distance is the third element of resource allocation that has the largest potential to positively impact the availability of equipment. In a jurisdiction that has several companies, the distances between each one plays a role in which units may be assigned to any given incident between the companies. Regarding specialized equipment, if the specific tools are on one end of the jurisdiction then the incident commander and those needing help will have to rely on that one company to arrive in a timely manner. There are several other variables that, on any given day, can change the outcome of how that specific unit makes it to the scene. By equipping closer units with some specialized equipment, it allows for some of those services to be provided in a quicker and more efficient manner.
One of the biggest changes in the modern fire service is the constant decline of volunteers and staffing levels. This is another vital reason why it is important to share the wealth of responsibilities. For the sake of discussion, Company A is a multiunit and the only company equipped with vehicle extrication in a department compromised of several companies. With the constant decline of firefighters, it makes it tougher to guarantee a secondary apparatus equipped at any given incident. However, when multiple companies in the department are allocated additional rescue equipment, it allows an incident commander to be assured that there is a secondary set of equipment coming from a different direction. Once again, this is beneficial to departments because it allows for more firefighters to work on their interoperable skills as well as the heavy-rescue company to focus on more technical skills that are part of their responsibilities.
At any incident, the department on the back of the jacket means a lot more than the company shield on the front of the helmet. The fire service is a customer-based service, so why not be better prepared to serve the community and the rest of the department?