Providence Fire Department Staffing Study

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By J. Curtis Varone

The Providence Fire Department Staffing Study in 1990-1991 determined that the costs of adding a fourth person to three-person companies was offset by lower injury costs. The problem which prompted this research project was that while an actuary analyzed the study data from an economic standpoint, the data were never analyzed from the perspective of firefighter safety. As a result, the full implications of the study, in terms of firefighter safety, were not known.

The purpose of this research was to examine the study data and determine what effect increased staffing had on firefighter safety. The historical research method was used. The research questions were:

  1. Are there nationally recognized staffing standards or formulas for firefighters?
  2. How do injuries occurring during the control period compare with those in the study period?
  3. How does the time lost due to injury during the control period compare with the time lost during the study period?
  4. Are there factors other than staffing that could have affected the results?
  5. How do the study results relate to the nationally recognized staffing levels?

An exhaustive literature review was conducted. The department's Injury/Exposure Database was queried to determine pertinent injury information.

The only nationally recognized staffing standard found came from the National Fire Protection Association, which recommended a minimum of four firefighters responding on or with each apparatus. The study data showed that four-person staffing led to a 23.8 percent reduction in injuries, a 25 percent reduction in time lost injuries and a 71 percent decrease in time lost due to injury when compared to three-person staffing. These results led to the conclusion that four-person staffing substantially reduced the number and the severity of injuries compared with three-person staffing.

The recommendations were that the Providence Fire Department continue working toward staffing all companies with four persons. Additional research was recommended to analyze injuries in the years subsequent to the study to determine if the trend continued; attempt to validate the results of the Providence study; identify factors causing injuries in three-person versus four-person companies; and help resolve labor disputes pertaining to staffing in other departments.