Skip to main content

Voices. Knowledge. Solutions.

Questions to ask your Fire Chief

1. How does our department treat the standards that are published by the National Fire Protection Association and the Insurance Services Office—as requirements or as guidelines?

2. Are all fires reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System? What other statistical reports does the department produce on its response time performance and the extent of local fire losses? How do we make these reports available to the public?

3. Fire and EMS are dangerous occupations and generate significant internal and external litigation. How do we evaluate and mitigate both safety and legal risks associated with providing these services?

4. What is our ISO rating for fire protection? Has the rating changed? If we spent money to improve the fire department, how much of that money would come back to taxpayers through lower insurance premiums?

Response times

5. How long does it take for firefighters to get on the road once they are notified they have an alarm (turn-out time)?

6. What is the chief's personal expectation of how many minutes will pass from the time an emergency is reported to the time that a fire engine or ambulance arrives at the scene? Does the department have a response time goal? How close is it to the chief's expectations? What factors went into setting the goal (i.e., fire loss data, areas of greater fire hazard, water supply)? What percentage of the time does the department meet that goal right now?

7. What are the residents' expectations? Are they acceptable/reasonable?

8. Are there areas of the community where there are frequently longer response times? Which parts of the community?

9. Are stations in the right locations to optimize our response capabilities and resources? Does the department use GIS (computer mapping) to evaluate current and future station locations?


10. What is the department's staffing goal for a fire response? What percentage of the time do we meet that goal?

11. How are the stations staffed—by volunteers, part-time personnel and/or full-time personnel? If we 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 volunteers live or work outside of town? How many volunteers do we have compared with 10 years ago?

12. How much down time do our fire and EMS personnel have while waiting for calls? Do we have 12- or 24-hour shifts? How do we evaluate the "right" number and schedules for staffing?

13. What kind of mutual aid agreements do we have in place? What kind of automatic aid agreements are in place?


14. What services does the department offer to the public (i.e., fire prevention, public education, fire investigation, technical rescue, hazardous materials, disaster planning)?

15. How many calls, broken down by type of call, did the department handle 10 years ago? Last year?

16. What level of service does the department provide for emergency medical service? Is it basic or advanced life support?

17. How many response resources is the "right" amount for fire calls? For medical calls? What tells us that this is correct? Do we send a fire engine to all medical calls? Is it necessary?

18. What strategies could we use to improve efficiency? How can we be assured that the processes, procedures and protocols used to manage our fire/rescue services reflect current best practices? Where are we getting our information?


19. How does the performance and cost of our service objectively benchmark against other fire departments with similar call volumes and demographics?

20. Are our physical resources (i.e. fire stations, training facilities, fire apparatus, personal protective safety equipment) adequate to meet the level of risk in this community? How do we know?

21. Do we have adequate training and personnel safety programs? What kind of training do our personnel receive? How many fire academy certified instructors do we have?

22. What is the plan to pay for the repair or replacement of fire apparatus? Are we conducting the recommended annual testing for equipment (i.e., hoses, ladders, pumps, self-contained breathing apparatus)?

23. Fire/rescue services represent a large percentage of our city's budget. How do we show the taxpayers we are getting the best value for the dollars we spend?

24. Nationally, fire-related responses are declining significantly. When are the numbers low enough to consider consolidating or contracting with another community? Are there other alternatives to having our own fire department?

This article is excerpted from an International City-County Management Association's InFocus issue, "Making Smart Choices about Fire and Emergency Medical Services in a Difficult Economy" and the Commission on Fire Accreditation International's "Fire and Emergency Service Self-Assessment Manual."