Firefighters are rescuers extensively trained primarily to put out hazardous fires that threaten civilian populations and property to rescue people from car accidents, collapsed and burning buildings and other such situations. The increasing complexity of modern industrialized life with an increase in the scale of hazards has stimulated both advances in firefighting technology and a broadening of the firefighter-rescuer's remit. They sometimes provide emergency medical services. The fire service, or fire and rescue service also known in some countries as the fire brigade or fire department, are some of the emergency services.
Not all firefighters are paid for their services. In some countries, including Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, New Zealand and the United States, there are often paid, or career firefighters working. Additionally, there are volunteer firefighters (who are theoretically unpaid) and retained firefighters (who are paid for the specific time they are on duty, i.e. permanent part-time career firefighters) on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In such countries as the United Kingdom and Ireland, the use of additional retained firefighters is standard. In Portugal, the use of volunteer firefighters is standard, along with career firefighters.
In Australia volunteer brigades which are mostly unpaid rural services (although traditionally they are paid by their employers if called out during working hours).
In Germany, volunteer fire departments are established in every town: even the biggest German city, Berlin, with more than 3.6 million inhabitants, has volunteer firefighters besides a career fire service. In fact, only 100 German cities (most of them are towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants) have a career fire service, called the "Berufsfeuerwehr," but in every one of these cities a volunteer fire service exists, too. In cities with a career fire service, volunteer fire brigades support the career fire service at big fires, accidents and disasters. Many of the so-called volunteer departments (usually in towns with 35,000 to 150,000 inhabitants), except in very small towns and villages, are a mixed service of a core of career firemen who are supported by true volunteer firefighters should the need arise. However, the official title of those departments is nevertheless "volunteer fire service".
The structure in Austria is similar to Germany. There are just six career fire services in Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Linz. As of 2007, some 4,527 volunteer fire departments, the back-bone of the Austrian fire service, could rely on about 320,000 men and women voluntary firefighters as active members. Fire departments exist in even the smallest villages, where they contribute to community life, usually by organizing fairs and other fund-raising activities.
In Venezuela, there are, beside the types mentioned above, University Firefighters. They attend any emergency inside the campus and the zones around; however, their most important job is to develop new technologies in this area, thanks to the high level of education of its members: in the Simón Bolívar University Volunteer Fire Department, around 80% of its members have a university degree or are in the process of obtaining one.
In India municipalities are bound by law to have a fire brigade and participate in a regional fire service. Each city has its own fire brigade. The main functions of firefighting services in India are provision of fire protection and of services during emergencies such as building collapses, drowning cases, gas leakage, oil spillage, road and rail accidents, bird and animal rescues, fallen trees, appropriate action during natural calamities, and so on. Industrial corporations also have their own firefighting service. Each airport and seaport has its own firefighting units.
In Japan, fire services are organized on a city/town/village basis. There are 894 fire headquarters and 3,598 volunteer fire corps. These have a total of 155,000 active career firefighters and 21,000 vehicles with 4,800 fire houses; 920,000 volunteer firefighters share an additional 51,000 trucks.
In Romania, the Romanian General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations is responsible for fire fighting and civil defense.
Aside from the main task of extinguishing fires, the goals of firefighting are (in order) saving lives, saving property, and protecting the environment. Firefighting is an inherently difficult occupation. As such, the skills required for safe operations are regularly practiced during training evolutions throughout a firefighters career. In the United States, the preeminent fire training and standards organization is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Often initial firefighting skills are taught during a local, regional, or state approved fire academy. Depending on the requirements of a department, additional skills and certifications such as technical rescue and Para-medicine may also be taught at this time.
Firefighters work closely with other emergency response agencies, most particularly local and state police departments. As every fire scene is technically a crime scene until deemed otherwise by a qualified investigator, there is often overlap between the responsibilities of responding firefighters and police officers such as evidence and scene protection, initial observations of first respondents, and chain of evidence issues. The increasing role of firefighters in providing emergency medical services also brings firefighters into common overlap with law enforcement. One example of this is a common state law requiring all gunshot wounds to be reported to law enforcement agencies.
Some career (full time, paid) firefighters in North America are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Fire fighting has several basic skills: prevention, self preservation, rescue, preservation of property and fire control. Firefighting is further broken down into skills which include size-up, extinguishing, ventilation, and salvage and overhaul. Search and Rescue, which has already been mentioned, is performed early in any fire scenario and many times is in unison with extinguishing and ventilation.
Fire suppression systems have a proven record for controlling and extinguishing unwanted fires. Many fire officials recommend that every building, including residences, have fire sprinkler systems. Correctly working sprinklers in a residence greatly reduce the risk of death from a fire. With the small rooms typical of a residence, one or two sprinklers can cover most rooms.
In addition, a major duty of fire services is the regular inspection of buildings to ensure they are up to the current building fire codes, which are enforced so that a building can sufficiently resist fire spread, potential hazards are located, and to ensure that occupants can be safely evacuated, commensurate with the risks involved.
Other methods of fire prevention are by directing efforts to reduce known hazardous conditions or by preventing dangerous acts before tragedy strikes. This is normally accomplished in many innovative ways such as conducting presentations, distributing safety brochures, providing news articles, writing public safety announcements(PSAs) or establishing meaningful displays in well-visited areas. Ensuring that each household has working smoke alarms, is educated in the proper techniques of fire safety, has an evacuation route and rendezvous point is of top priority in public education for most fire prevention teams in almost all fire department localities.
Tools are generally carried at all times and are important for not only forcible entry but also for self rescue. A Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) delivers air to the firefighter through a full face mask and is worn to protect against smoke inhalation, toxic fumes, and super heated gasses. A special device called a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is commonly worn independently or as a part of the SCBA to alert others when a firefighter stops moving for a specified period of time or manually operates the device. The PASS device sounds an alarm that can assist another firefighter (Firefighter Assist and Search Team), in locating the firefighter in distress.
Firefighters often carry personal self rescue ropes. The ropes are generally 30 feet long and can provide a firefighter (that has enough time to deploy the rope) a partially controlled exit out an elevated window. Lack of a personal rescue rope is cited in the deaths of two New York City Firefighters, Lt. John Bellew and Lt. Curtis Meyran, who died after they jumped from a fourth floor of a burning apartment building in the Bronx. Of the four firefighters who jumped and survived only one of them had a self rescue rope. Since the incident the Fire Department of New York City has issued self rescue ropes to their firefighters.
In the United States, 25% of fatalities to firefighters are caused by vehicle accidents while responding to or returning from an incident. Many firefighters are also injured or killed by vehicles while working at an incident (Paulison 2005). However, a large percentage of firefighters also succumb to heart disease, in the line of duty.
Rescue operations consist of searching for and removing trapped occupants of hazardous conditions. Animals may also be rescued, if resources and conditions permit. Generally triage and first aid are performed outside, as removal from the hazardous atmosphere is the primary goal in preserving life. Search patterns include movement against room walls (to prevent rescuers from becoming lost or disoriented) and methodical searches of specific areas by designated teams. Unlike a fire control team, a rescue team typically moves faster, but has no hose to follow out to safety through the smoky darkness. A rescue rope may be needed for tethering a team involved in exceptionally dangerous conditions.
Incident commanders also arrange for standby search and rescue teams to assist if firefighters become lost, trapped, or injured. Such teams are commonly, and often interchangeably, known as Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT), or Firefighter Assist and Search Teams (FAST). According to "two-in, two-out", the only time it is permissible for a team of firefighters to enter a burning structure without backup in place outside is when they are operating in what is known as "Rescue Mode". Rescue Mode occurs when firefighters have arrived at the scene, and it is readily apparent that there are occupants trapped inside who need immediate rescue. At such a time, properly equipped firefighters (exercising good judgment tempered by training and experience) may enter the structure and proceed directly to victims in need of rescue, RIT will then be put in place when resources permit.
The Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire provides a stark example of disoriented rescuers perishing when their air supply was exhausted during a fruitless primary search and subsequent RIT searches.
Searches for trapped victims are exhaustively detailed, often including searches of cupboards, closets, and under beds. The search is divided into two stages, the primary and secondary. The primary search is conducted quickly and thoroughly, typically beginning in the area closest to the fire as it is subjected to the highest risk of exposure. The secondary search only begins once the fire is under control, and is always (resources and personnel permitting) performed by a different team from that which did the primary search.
Rescue operations may also involve the extrication of victims of motor vehicle crashes (abbreviated MVC). Here firefighters use spreaders, cutters, and hydraulic rams, collectively called hydraulic rescue tools—known better to the public as Jaws of Life—to remove metal from the patient, followed by actually removing the patient, usually on a backboard with collar, and transferring to a waiting ambulance crew in the cold zone. More technical forms of rescue include subsets such as rope rescue, swiftwater rescue, confined space rescue, and trench rescue. These types of rescue are often extremely hazardous and physically demanding. They also require extensive technical training. NFPA regulation 1006 and 1670 state that a "rescuer" must have medical training to perform any technical rescue operation. Accordingly, firefighters involved in rescue operations have some kind of medical training as first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics or nurses.
Searching a building is normally a two to three man team. The most common way to search a building that is filled with smoke is to crawl on hands and knees with an axe (or any other tool) in the firefighter's left hand. The firefighter will keep one hand on the wall, or a foot in contact at all times with the wall. And scoot himself forward, swinging the handle of the axe back and forth, searching for any objects in his way. If the object moves when touched, it might be a person. Depending on the sound/feel it gives back, he can check what ever the object was. If it's not a person, he will continue down along the wall.
Meanwhile his buddy/buddies have their right hand in contact with the lead firefighter's left ankle and scooting with them. This way they cover a far larger spread of ground. Once the person(s) is found, they will drag, carry, push, any way possible really, they will move the victim back the way they came because they know the way they went was safe.
It is also important to remember that the Firefighter needs to check the floor before he moves into the room. Once going into the room, he will go right, and follow the right wall. ALWAYS. Next, when in a group of 3, the 2nd in the search line will go into most rooms, check it over, and then return out. (This is when doing a very detailed search because location of the victim is unknown)
The expedient and accurate handling of fire alarms or calls are significant factors in the successful outcome of any incident. Fire department communications play a critical role in that successful outcome. Fire department communications include the methods by which the public can notify the communications center of an emergency, the methods by which the center can notify the proper fire fighting forces, and the methods by which information is exchanged at the scene.
A telecommunicator (often referred to as a dispatcher) has a role different but just as important as other emergency personnel. The telecommunicator must process calls from unknown and unseen individuals, usually calling under stressful conditions. He/she must be able to obtain complete, reliable information from the caller and prioritize requests for assistance. It is the dispatcher's responsibility to bring order to chaos.
While some fire departments are large enough to utilize their own telecommunication dispatcher, most rural and small areas rely on a central dispatcher to provide handling of fire, rescue and police services.
Firefighters are trained to use communications equipment to receive alarms, give and receive commands, request assistance, and report on conditions. Since firefighters from different agencies routinely provide mutual aid to each other, and routinely operate at incidents where other emergency services are present, it is essential to have structures in place to establish a unified chain of command, and share information between agencies. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has established a National Incident Management System One component of this system is the Incident Command System.
All radio communication in the United States is under authorization from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); as such, fire departments that operate radio equipment must hold radio licenses from the FCC.
Ten codes were popular in the early days of radio equipment because of poor transmission and reception. Advances in modern radio technology have reduced the need for ten-codes and many departments have converted to simple English (clear text).
Still some other American Fire Departments such the FDNY use military rank insignia in addition or instead of the traditional bugles.
In contrast, most fire brigades in Commonwealth countries have a more 'civilianized' nomenclature, traditionally structured in this manner:
The various grades of Divisional Officers and CFOs are indicated by one or more impellers on their epaulettes or the collar of their firefighting uniform, as opposed to the bugle insignia used in the USA.
Buildings that are made of flammable materials such as wood are different from so called "fire-resistant" buildings such as concrete high-rises. Generally, a "fire-resistant" building is designed to limit fire to a small area or floor. Other floors can be safe simply by preventing smoke inhalation and damage. All buildings suspected of being on fire must be evacuated, regardless of fire rating.
While sometimes fires can be limited to small areas of a structure, wider collateral damage due to smoke, water, and burning embers is common. Utility shutoff (such as gas and electricity) is typically an early priority of arriving fire crews. Furthermore, fire prevention can take on a special meaning for property where hazardous materials are being used or stored.
Some fire fighting tactics may appear to be destructive, but often serve specific needs. For example, during "ventilation" firefighters are often forced to open holes in the roof or floors of a structure (called "vertical ventilation") or open windows or walls (called "horizontal ventilation") to remove smoke and heated gases from the interior of the structure. Such ventilation methods are also used to locate victims quicker as visibility increases and to help preserve the life of trapped or unconscious individuals due to the poisonous gases inside of the structure. Vertical Ventilation is absolutely vital to firefighter safety in the event of a Flashover or Backdraft scenario. Releasing the flammable gasses through the roof often eliminates the possibility of a backdraft and by the removal of heat the possibility of a flashover is reduced significantly. Flashovers, due to their intense heat (900 - 1200 degrees fahrenheit) and explosive temperaments are almost always fatal to firefighter personnel. Precautionary methods, such as busting a window out, often reveal backdraft situations before the firefighter enters the structure and is met with the circumstance head-on. Firefighter safety is the number one priority.
Whenever possible, movable property is moved into the middle of a room and covered with a heavy cloth tarp (a "salvage cover"). Other steps may be taken to divert or remove fire flow runoff (thus salvaging property by avoiding unnecessary damage), retrieving/protecting valuables found during suppression or overhaul, and boarding windows, roofs and doors against the elements and looters.
Fire control (or fire fighting) consists of depriving a fire of fuel (Reducing Agent), oxygen (Oxidizing Agent), heat and/or the chemical chain reaction that are necessary to sustain itself or re-kindle (also known as the four components of The Fire Tetrahedron). Firefighters are equipped with a wide variety of equipment to accomplish this task. Some of their tools include ladder trucks, pumper trucks, tanker trucks, fire hose, and fire extinguishers. Very frequent training and refresher training is required.
Structure fires may be attacked, generally, either by "interior" or "exterior" resources, or both. Interior crews, using the "two-in, two out" rule, may advance hose lines inside the building, find the fire and cool it with water. Exterior crews may direct water into windows or other openings, or against other nearby fuels exposed to the initial fire. A proper command structure will plan and coordinate the various teams and equipment to safely execute each tactic.
A partial list of some equipment typically used by firefighters:
The history of organized combating of structural fires dates back at least to Ancient Egypt. Many people put out fires back in biblical times, but whether people did it for a living is unknown.
Firefighters were known in the Roman Republic, but only as privately organised and funded groups operating as more of a business than a service. This ad-hoc approach was later revolutionised during the Principate to become the first truly professional firefighting service. Augustus called for the creation of a trained fire guard, paid and equipped by the state. Known as the Vigiles, they were organised into cohorts and also served as a night watch and a city police force.
Today, fire and rescue remains a mix of paid, call, and volunteer responders. The UK has the retained fire service, whereby fire fighters are on call with pagers from their homes and/or place of work. See article history of fire brigades.
In popular literature, firefighters are usually depicted with Dalmatian dogs. This breed originated in southern Europe to assist with herding livestock and run along with horses, and in the days of horse-drawn fire vehicles, the horses were usually released on arrival at the fire and the Dalmatians would lead the horses through traffic and to a safe place to wait until the fire was out. Dalmatians also filled the role of protecting the horses' feet from other dogs as equipment was being transported to the fire scene.
In reality, most fire dogs were mutts pulled from the street (and thus cheaper to acquire). In addition, Dalmatians have a reputation for skittishness and congenital defects, such as deafness due to inbreeding.
Many fire companies around the world, especially in the United States, develop annual beefcake calendars. In these calendars, handsome and/or muscular firefighters appear scantily clad and sometimes cavorting. Calendar proceeds function as fund raisers for their fire department and for charities. Other forms of fund-raising may include traditional Firemen's Balls (gala events attended by fire-fighters and supporters from the community), community fairs, and ding-a-ling car washes (where the price is whatever donation one wishes).