Rules for Missouri Fire Protection Districts
Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.
Fire 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, partly due to building codes and partly to improved training of firefighters. Today, most fire service organizations respond to medical emergencies and to automobile accidents to help remove people from vehicles more frequently than they fight fires.
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 FPD board to insist on a minimum level of competence. (See Licenses and certifications in Chapter XII. Personnel for information on required training for emergency medical services personnel.)
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 this training with volunteers can be difficult, however. Requiring a minimum level of competence with paid firefighters can be easier.
A 2016 nationwide study showed that, of the departments with structural firefighting capability, nearly 50% do not formally train all personnel for fighting structural fires. Of departments that provide EMS, 34% have not formally trained all personnel involved in EMS. Of the departments providing wildland firefighting, 63% have not formally trained all personnel involved. And, 40% of departments providing technical rescue have not formally trained all personnel involved.
An FPD should encourage or require its firefighters to receive training and provide an adequate budget to allow this. Many free and low-cost resources are available to help FPDs provide training.
Firefighter I and Firefighter II training is available free from the State Fire Marshal’s Office in the Missouri Division of Fire Safety. These classes and many others are available from the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute sometimes for a fee, though grants may be available to cover the costs.
Advanced training also is available from the U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Academy (NFA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Firefighters who attend the fire academy receive reimbursement of travel expenses, meals and dormitory space during training.
Physical fitness may be nearly as important as fire-related training. Firefighters need to eat right, exercise and get regular medical checkups. Everyone in an FPD benefits when an FPD board encourages physical fitness for its firefighters.
The leading cause of death among firefighters is sudden cardiac arrest. 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 100 firefighters die each year; sudden cardiac arrest causes about half of these deaths. No statistics are published about nonfatal firefighter injuries; however, FPDs could learn from reviewing online summaries of near misses.
FPD boards should create a safe and healthy culture and work environment for the FPD by adopting health and safety policies for all aspects of the FPD. The board should also consider appointment of a certified safety officer with adequate budget and with real authority to keep everyone safe. And when creating a safe and healthy culture and work environment at the FPD, members of the FPD board should also lead by example in their personal lives.
Physical fitness also includes being protected against infectious diseases and bioterrorism. Employers that have employees who may be exposed to infectious materials must provide vaccination programs for all employees and volunteers who may be exposed to infectious diseases; however, participation in such vaccination programs should be voluntary. See 19 C.S.R. 20-20.091 for more detailed information.
Every national fire service organization supports the Everyone Goes Home® program to prevent line-of-duty deaths (LODD) and injuries — and FPD boards should consider also supporting the campaign, especially because the second of 16 firefighter life safety initiatives is aimed at elected fire officials: Enhance ... organization accountability for health and safety throughout the fire service.
Equipment and grants
To properly equip firefighters to fight fires costs about $5,500 per person. This provides four main elements:
- Personal protective clothing, that is, fire-resistant clothing (including boots, gloves, hood and helmet) to help protect firefighters from the heat;
- A self-contained breathing apparatus, known as SCBA, that allows firefighters to enter areas with smoke;
- 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; and
- A portable radio for communication within the incident management system.
A 2010 nationwide survey found that 9% of fire service organizations could not provide all responders with their own personal protective clothing, 51% could not equip all firefighters on a shift with an SCBA, 39% did not have enough PASS devices to equip all responders on a shift, and 51% did not have enough portable radios to equip all responders on shift.
Firefighting equipment, and its regular use, is critical for effective firefighting and safety. For example, a few years ago, a firefighter death in Missouri occurred when a volunteer in a small community 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.
Many FPDs use automated external defibrillators (AEDs); however, the law (190.092) and FDA regulations for a class II medical device require an FPD to make sure that expected AED users receive nationally recognized training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and AEDs, that the AED is maintained and tested according to the AED manufacturer’s operational guidelines, and that clinical protocols, or “doctor’s orders,” are approved by the FPD’s medical director (See Medical Direction in Chapter XIX). The medical director must also review all situations when the AED was used (190.092.2). If FPDs have basic life support (BLlS) ambulances or stretcher vans, FPDs are required to equip each with an AED and staff each with at least one individual trained in the use of an AED (190.060.7; 190.092.5).
Many FPDs also use epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known by their trade name EpiPen®; however, similar to AEDs, without completing a state-approved epinephrine auto-injector training course, no one without a medical license or certificate can use one (190.246.2). FPDs with epinephrine auto-injectors must use, maintain, and dispose of the devices in accordance with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) rules (190.246.2).
To help FPDs obtain equipment, Missouri has a statute (320.091) that allows larger fire service organizations 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. (Note: Chapter 320 deals generally with fire protection, whereas Chapter 321 deals with FPDs.)
The federal government has several grant programs administered by the U.S. Fire Administration to help communities pay for fire equipment and facilities. These include Assistance to Firefighter grants and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant program. 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).
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 (USFS), to secure excess federal equipment to redistribute to rural fire departments. To be eligible, FPDs have to sign a mutual aid agreement with MDC. The Missouri State Office of Administration in Jefferson City also administers federal and state surplus property programs.