Fire Departments Respond to More Calls, 64% Categorized as EMS and Rescue

To understand the full role fire departments play in a community, a FEMA and U.S. Fire administration report profiles fire department run activity as reflected in the 2017 National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data.

In 2017, fire departments responded to 26,880,800 calls that were reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS); this count reflects a 5% increase in the number of calls reported in 2016.

While “fire” is part of the department name, only 4% of runs made by fire departments in 2017 actually involved fire. Runs in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and rescue, good intent, false alarm, and service call incident type categories accounted for 91% of all reported runs. Specifically, 64% of all fire department runs were categorized as EMS and rescue. Good intent calls (11%), false alarms and false calls (8%), and service calls (7%) were the next most prevalent incident type categories, followed by fire.

This percentage distribution of runs by major incident type category is comparable to that of the runs reported in 2016. Within the major incident type categories, EMS, medical assist, and dispatched and canceled enroute calls were the leading specific types of fire department runs.

In 2017, fire runs were more prevalent on the weekends, whereas severe weather calls occurred more frequently on Mondays than any other day of the week. About half (51%) of the reported calls were to residential properties. Only 3% of these were fire related. Approximately 8% of reported runs involved mutual or automatic aid.

Fire departments respond to incidents every day, at all times of the day. In 2017, the demand for fire department services was relatively constant during the late morning through the early evening. Peak demand was from 3 to 6 p.m. All runs were lowest in the very early morning hours and increased during the morning as daily activities began. Most run types reached near peak demand in midmorning and remained relatively constant with peak hours occurring in the mid-to-late afternoon, until early evening. Fire, severe weather and special incident (e.g., citizen complaint) runs were notable exceptions. Fire runs increased slowly but steadily during the day, peaked during the late afternoon, and then steadily decreased. Severe weather runs had below average demand until midafternoon, increased sharply through late afternoon and early evening, then decreased sharply during the late evening hours. Special incident runs had below-average demand until 8 a.m., peaked late morning, and continued to decline with two small peaks in the midafternoon and early evening hours.

Overall, fire department runs followed a fairly consistent pattern by day of the week, except for calls to fires, hazardous conditions, explosions or overpressure ruptures, and severe weather events. In 2017, fire departments responded to more severe weather calls reported on Mondays than any other day of the week; 63% of these weather events reported on Mondays occurred in September (27%), October (24%) and May (12%).

Fire calls were more prevalent on the weekends, whereas hazardous condition runs and explosion or overpressure rupture calls were more frequent on Mondays and Tuesdays, respectively. The occurrence of runs on a monthly basis was relatively constant. However, there was a slight increase in runs during January and July. EMS and rescue responses were the most prevalent fire department responses each season. Overall, the percentage distribution of the type of runs remained relatively consistent for each season.

Fire departments in the South reported the most runs in 2017; 41% of all runs occurred in this region. This is to be expected as 38% of the U.S. population resided in the South in 2017. The Midwestern, Southern and Western regions reported the highest percentages of EMS and rescue runs ranging from 66% to 68%; the Northeast region had the lowest percentage at 52%. Some fire departments in the Northeast still limit their role to traditional fire suppression services and others have only recently taken on EMS roles. This situation may explain the disparity between the percentages of EMS runs in the Northeast and the rest of the nation. Special incidents, such as citizen complaints, represented 4% of all runs in the Northeastern region, which was the highest out of all the regions. False alarm calls were also highest in the Northeast (15%), whereas good intent calls were highest in the West.

Read the full report here

Kylie Bielby has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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