Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
Fires and deaths rare
Many people are unaware of how remarkably the risk of fire has been reduced. In the 1920s, it was not unusual for any family to have had someone die in a fire. Now, fire fatalities are rare. This change is due partly to safer living conditions, with fewer kerosene lamps and open fires for heat, and partly to improved training of firefighters. Today, most fire departments respond to medical emergencies and to automobile accidents to help remove people from vehicles more frequently than they fight fires (generally about 66 percent and 34 percent, respectively).
No minimum training in Missouri
Nationally, recommended minimum levels of training for firefighters have been set. Missouri, however, does not require a minimum level of training. It is up to the individual fire chief or fire protection district to insist on a minimum level of competence.
The first two levels of training are known by their titles, Firefighter I and Firefighter II. Ideally, all firefighters should be trained at the Firefighter I level before starting to fight fires, and they should complete Firefighter II training within a year after that. Achieving these best practices with volunteers can be difficult, however. Requiring a minimum level of competence with paid firefighters is easier.
Nationwide statistics show that about 53 percent of all fire departments — with about 42 percent of all firefighters — do not provide or require any training for fighting structural fires. The lack of training is even more pronounced in other areas of emergency response: emergency medical services,53 percent; hazardous material response, 71 percent; wild land firefighting, 74 percent and rescue, 88 percent. For more information, see the National Fire Protection Association website, http://nfpa.org/needsassessment.
A fire district should encourage its firefighters to receive training and provide an adequate budget to allow this. Many free and low-cost resources are available to help districts provide training.
Firefighter I and Firefighter II training is available free from the Missouri Division of Fire Safety, State Fire Marshal’s Office. These classes and many others are available from the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute (http://mufrti.org) for a fee, though grants are sometimes available to cover the costs. Advanced training is available from both these sources, as well as from the U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Academy (NFA), which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. Firefighters who attend the fire academy receive reimbursement of travel expenses, meals and dormitory space during training. For more information, see the NFA website, http://usfa.dhs.gov/nfa.
Physical training may be nearly as important as fire-related training. Firefighters need to eat right, exercise and get regular medical checkups. Everyone in a district benefits when a fire district encourages better physical training for its firefighters.
The leading cause of death among firefighters is heart attack. This is true for both career and volunteer firefighters. Firefighting involves long periods of intense boredom waiting for a fire followed by short periods of extreme stress, physical activity and danger. Nationally, about 115 firefighters die each year; heart attacks cause about half of these deaths. No statistics are published about nonfatal firefighter injuries, but from informal reports the percentage of heart attack injuries seems to be about the same. (See Fire Fighter Close Calls online at http://firefighterclosecalls.com for more information and an email newsletter on firefighting injuries and their prevention.)
Equipment and grants
To properly equip firefighters to fight fires costs about $5,000 per person. This provides three main elements:
- Fire-resistant clothing (including boots, gloves and helmet) to help protect firefighters from the heat;
- A self-contained breathing apparatus, known as SCBA, that allows firefighters to enter areas with heavy smoke; and
- A “personal alert safety system,” or PASS device, that allows firefighters to be located if they become disoriented, trapped or injured when inside a building.
A nationwide survey found that about 8 percent of all fire departments, with about 100,000 firefighters, did not have enough protective clothing to protect their firefighters, 28 percent did not have enough SCBA gear and 29 percent did not have enough PASS devices. (For more information, see the National Fire Protection Association website, http://nfpa.org/needsassessment.)
This equipment, and its regular use, is critical for effective firefighting and safety. For example, a recent firefighter death in Missouri occurred when a volunteer in a small department was fighting a brush fire without protective clothing. The wind shifted, and he was trapped. Proper protection is important even when fighting a brush fire.
To help fire departments obtain equipment, Missouri has a statute that allows larger fire departments to give out-of-date or obsolete equipment to other departments without fear of liability for providing substandard equipment, on the theory that something is better than nothing. (See RSMo. 320.091. Note: Chapter 320 deals generally with fire protection, whereas Chapter 321 deals with fire protection districts.)
The federal government has several grant programs to help communities pay for fire equipment and facilities. These include Assistance to Firefighters grants and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant program. More information about these grants is available online from the U.S. Fire Administration, http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/fireservice/grants, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, http://fema.gov/firegrants. Applications for both programs must be submitted electronically. The programs are highly competitive, but helping to provide protective equipment is currently a high priority for the government.
In Missouri, the Department of Conservation (MDC) has a smaller grant program to help with what are now called “wildland fires” (namely, brush fires and forest fires). Details are available online at http://mdc.mo.gov/landwater-care/fire-management/wildfires.
The MDC also has a matching grant program that helps rural and volunteer fire departments obtain equipment. In addition, the MDC participates in the federal Excess Property Program through an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, to secure excess federal equipment to redistribute to rural fire departments. To be eligible, districts have to sign a mutual aid agreement with MDC. More information is available online at http://mdc.mo.gov/forest/fire/programs.htm.