News your connection to The Boston Globe

20 questions for your fire chief

These questions were distilled by The Boston Globe from the 300-page Fire & Emergency Service Self-Assessment Manual, a publication of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (

1. What is your personal expectation of how many minutes will pass from the time I call to report an emergency to the time that a fire engine or ambulance arrives?

2. Does the Fire Department have a response time goal? How close is it to your expectations? What factors went into setting the goal, such as fire loss data, areas of greater fire hazard, and water supply? Has this goal been adopted by the community’s elected leaders?

3. What percentage of the time does the fire department meet that goal right now?

4. Are there areas where there are frequently longer response times? Which parts of the community are not within 4 minutes drive time of a fire station? What about within 5 minutes? Does the Fire Department use GIS (computer mapping) to evaluate current and future station locations?

5. How long does it take for dispatchers to process calls? Does the fire department run the dispatch center or contract with someone else to run it? Can time or money be saved by cooperating with neighboring communities on a joint dispatch center?

6. How long does it take for firefighters to get on the road once they are notified they have an alarm?

7. What statistical reports does the fire agency produce on its response time performance and the extent of local fire losses? How do you make these reports available to the public?

8. Do you keep the data in terms of whole minutes only or does your system record times down to the second? Do these reports show performance by station or company?

9. Do you report all fires to the National Fire Incident Reporting System?

10. What is the department’s goal for staffing for a fire response? ? How are the stations staffed? by volunteers, by part-time personnel or full-time personnel?

11. What percentage of the time do they meet that staff goal? Does each engine and ladder company have four firefighters? Can the department muster between 12 to 15 firefighters at a fire within 10 minutes of an alarm?

12. What role do simultaneous calls play in your response times and staffing? If there’s a medical call, how many firefighters are available for a fire alarm, and vice versa?

13. How many calls did the department handle 10 years ago, and how many last year? What percentage of growth has occurred? How has staffing changed in that time?

14. If you rely on volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters, how many respond to an alarm for a mid-day house fire? For a fire at night? How many live or work outside of town? How many volunteers do we have, compared with 10 years ago?

15. If the nearest fire station to my home is in the next community, which fire department is dispatched first? Is the response from another department "mutual aid" (slower) or "automatic aid" (faster)? How much could you improve service by cooperating with neighboring communities on fire stations and staff?

16. Would transportation improvements speed response? Are there speed bumps that should be eliminated, or road network changes that could be made? Would devices to help you control traffic signals speed up response? Do we have any bridges that can’t handle the weight of an ambulance or fire truck?

17. What level of service does the department provide for emergency medical service? Is it basic life support (BLS) or advanced life support (ALS)?

18. What level of service does the department provide for fire prevention, public education, fire investigation, technical rescue, hazardous materials, and disaster planning? How does the department measure performance in these areas?

19. Are your physical resources adequate, including fire stations, training facilities, fire apparatus, and personal protective safety equipment to meet the level of risk in this community? Do you have adequate training and personnel safety programs? What’s the plan to pay for repair or replacement of fire apparatus?

20. What is the community’s ISO rating for fire protection? for building code enforcement? Have these ratings changed? If we spent money to improve the fire department, how much of that money would come back to taxpayers through lower insurance premiums?

Deadly Delays: Part 2
See a map of fires in your town
Or browse complete list
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months