A firefighter is trained and equipped to put out fires, rescue people, aid and assist during natural disasters and, increasingly, provide emergency medical services. The fire service, also known in some countries as the fire brigade or fire department, is one of the emergency services.
Firefighting is the process and profession of extinguishing fires. Firefighting and firefighters have become ubiquitous around the world, from urban areas to wildland areas, and on board ships. Not all firefighters are paid for their services. In some countries, including the United States, Canada, Finland, Australia, and New Zealand, there are often paid, or "career" ("professional" is falling out of popular usage due to the perception that non-paid volunteers would thus be termed "unprofessional") firefighters working. Additionally, there are volunteer and "call" or "retained" (firefighters who are paid for the specific time they are responding to emergencies) firefighters who are not employed full time as firefighters. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the use of retained firefighters (who are part-time, but are paid when on duty) rather than volunteers is standard. In Australia volunteer Brigades which are unpaid mostly rural services (although traditionally they are paid by their employers if called out during working hours) are separate from career Brigades and if arriving at a fire scene first can assume command over the local career Brigade as their training is similar to profesional firemen. These volunteers also man career firestations during emergencies. In Germany, volunteer fire departments are standard: even the biggest German city, Berlin, with more than 3 million inhabitants, has volunteer fire fighters. In fact, only 101 German cities have a career fire service, called "Berufsfeuerwehr" in German. Most of the so called volunteer departments, except in rural areas, are in fact a mixed service of a core of career firemen who are supported by true volunteer firefighters should need arise. However, the official title of those departments is nevertheless "volunteer fire service".
 Goals of firefighting
The three main goals in firefighting are (in order) life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation. Firefighting is an inherently difficult occupation. As such, the skills required for safe operations are regularly practiced during training evolutions throughout a firefighter's career. In the United States, the preeminent fire training and standards organization is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Often initial firefighting skills are taught during a local, regional, or state approved fire academy. Depending on the requirements of a department, additional skills and certifications such as technical rescue and Paramedicine may also be taught at this time.
Firefighters work closely other emergency response agencies, most particularly local and state police departments. As every fire scene is technically a crime scene until deemed otherwise by a qualified investigator, there is often overlap between the responsibilities of responding firefighters and police officers such as evidence and scene protection, initial observations of first respondents, and chain of evidence issues. The increasing role of firefighters in providing emergency medical services also brings firefighters into common overlap with law enforcement. One example of this is a common state law requiring all gunshot wounds to be reported to law enforcement agencies.
Most career (full time, paid) firefighters in North America are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters
Fire fighting has several basic skills: prevention, self preservation, rescue, preservation of property and fire control. Firefighting is further broken down into skills which include size-up, extinguishment, ventilation, and salvage and overhaul. Search and Rescue, which has already been mentioned, is performed early in any fire scenario and many times is in unison with extinguishment and ventilation.
Prevention attempts to ensure that no place simultaneously has sufficient heat, fuel and air to allow ignition and combustion. Fernando Cardona, the leading researcher in fire prevention is accredited with much of the advancement and improvement to modern fire fighting technique. Most prevention programs are directed at controlling the energy of activation (heat). Fire suppression systems have a proven record for controlling and extinguishing unwanted fires. Many fire officials recommend that every building, including residences, have fire sprinkler systems. Correctly working sprinklers in a residence greatly reduce the risk of death from a fire. With the small rooms typical of a residence, one or two sprinklers can cover most rooms.
In addition, a major duty of fire services is the regular inspection of buildings to ensure they are up to the current building fire codes, which are enforced so that a building can sufficiently resist fire spread, potential hazards are located, and to ensure that occupants can be safely evacuated, commensurate with the risks involved.
Self-preservation is critical. The basic technique firefighters use is to know where they are, and to avoid hazards. Current standards in the United States recommend that firefighters work in teams, using a "two-in, two-out" rule whenever in an IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health) environment.
Tools are generally carried at all times and are important for not only forcible entry but also for self rescue. A Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) delivers air to the firefighter through a full face mask and is worn to protect against smoke inhalation, toxic fumes, and super heated gasses. A special device called a Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) is commonly worn independently or as a part of the SCBA to alert others when a firefighter stops moving for a specified period of time or manually operates the device. The PASS device sounds an alarm that can assist another firefighter (Firefighter Assist and Search Team), in locating the firefighter in distress.
Firefighters often carry personal self rescue ropes. The ropes are generally 30 feet long and can provide a firefighter (that has enough time to deploy the rope) a partially controlled exit out an elevated window. Lack of a personal rescue rope is cited in the deaths of two New York City Firefighters, Lt. John Bellew and Lt. Curtis Meyran, who died after they jumped from a fourth floor of a burning apartment building in the Bronx. Of the four firefighters who jumped and survived only one of them had a self rescue rope. Since the incident the Fire Department of New York City has issued self rescue ropes to their firefighters.
In the United States, 25% of fatalities to firefighters are caused by vehicle accidents while responding or returning from an incident. Many firefighters are also injured or killed by vehicles while working at an incident (Paulison 2005). However, a large percentage of firefighters also succumb to heart disease, in the line of duty.
 Occupational Health and Safety
Firefighters occupational cancers are a major concern of everyone working in occupational health and safety. Every year, these lesions produce significant human and financial costs for workers and employers. However, it is difficult, in the absence of epidemiological studies, to establish a link between the appearance of a cancer and the characteristics of the job. Critical reviews of the epidemiological literature related to cancer risk in firefighters were published on the following subjects:
Risk of Brain Tumours in Firemen: http://www.irsst.qc.ca/files/documents/PubIRSST/R-397.pdf
Risk of Urinary Bladder Tumours in Firemen: http://www.irsst.qc.ca/files/documents/PubIRSST/R-401.pdf
Risk of Kidney Tumours in Firemen: http://www.irsst.qc.ca/files/documents/PubIRSST/R-399.pdf
Rescue operations consist of searching for and removing trapped occupants of hazardous conditions. Animals may also be recovered, if resources and conditions permit. Generally triage and first aid are performed outside, as removal from the hazardous atmosphere is the primary goal in preserving life. Search patterns include movement against room walls (to prevent rescuers from becoming lost or disoriented) and methodical searches of specific areas by designated teams. Unlike a fire control team, a rescue team typically moves faster, but has no hose to follow out to safety through the smoky darkness. A rescue rope may be needed for tethering a team involved in exceptionally dangerous conditions.
Incident commanders also arrange for standby search and rescue teams to assist if firefighters become lost, trapped, or injured. Such teams are commonly, and often interchangeably, known as Rapid Intervention Teams (abbreviated RIT), or Firefighter Assist and Search Teams (FAST). According to "two-in, two-out", the only time it is permissible for a team of firefighters to enter a burning structure without backup in place outside is when they are operating in what is known as "Rescue Mode". Rescue Mode occurs when firefighters have arrived at the scene, and it is readily apparent that there are occupants trapped inside who need immediate rescue. At such a time, properly equipped firefighters (exercising good judgment tempered by training and experience) may enter the structure and proceed directly to victims in need of rescue, RIT will then be put in place when resources permit.
The Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire provides a stark example of disoriented rescuers perishing when their air supply was exhausted during a fruitless primary search and subsequent RIT searches.
Searches for trapped victims are exhaustively detailed, often including searches of cupboards, closets, and under beds. The search is divided into two stages, the primary and secondary. The primary search is conducted quickly and thoroughly, typically beginning in the area closest to the fire as it is subjected to the highest risk of exposure. The secondary search only begins once the fire is under control, and is always (resources and personnel permitting) performed by a different team from that which did the primary search.
Rescue operations may also involve the extrication of victims of motor vehicle crashes (abbreviated MVC). Here firefighters use spreaders, cutters, and hydraulic rams, collectively called hydraulic rescue tools -- known better to the public as Jaws of Life -- to remove metal from the patient, followed by actually removing the patient, usually on a backboard with collar, and transferring to a waiting ambulance crew in the cold zone. More technical forms of rescue include subsets such as rope rescue, swiftwater rescue, confined space rescue, and trench rescue. These types of rescue are often extremely hazardous and physically demanding. They also require extensive technical training. NFPA regulation 1006 and 1670 state that a "rescuer" must have medical training to perform any technical rescue operation. Accordingly, firefighters involved in rescue operations have some kind of medical training as first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or nurses.
 Communication and command structure
Firefighters are trained to use communications equipment to receive alarms, give and receive commands, request assistance, and report on conditions. Since firefighters from different agencies routinely provide mutual aid to each other, and routinely operate at incidents where other emergency services are present, it is essential to have structures in place to establish a unified chain of command, and share information between agencies. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has established a National Incident Management System. One component of this system is the Incident Command System.
Buildings that are made of flammable materials such as wood are different from so called "fire-resistant" buildings such as concrete high-rises. Generally, a "fire-resistant" building is designed to limit fire to a small area or floor. Other floors can be safe simply by preventing smoke inhalation and damage. All buildings suspected of being on fire must be evacuated, regardless of fire rating.
While sometimes fires can be limited to small areas of a structure, wider collateral damage due to smoke, water, and burning embers is common. Utility shutoff (such as gas, electricity and water) is typically an early priority of arriving fire crews. Furthermore, fire prevention can take on a special meaning for property where hazardous materials are being used or stored.
Some fire fighting tactics may appear to be destructive, but often serve specific needs. For example, during "ventilation" firefighters are often forced to open holes in the roof or floors of a structure (called "vertical ventilation") or open windows or walls (called "horizontal ventilation") to remove smoke and heated gases from the interior of the structure.
Whenever possible, movable property is moved into the middle of a room and covered with a heavy cloth tarp (a "salvage cover"). Other steps may be taken to divert or remove fire flow runoff (thus salvaging property by avoiding unnecessary damage), retrieving/protecting valuables found during suppression or overhaul, and boarding windows, roofs and doors against the elements and looters.
 Fire control
Fire control (or fire fighting) consists of depriving a fire of fuel, oxygen, and/or heat that are necessary to sustain itself or re-kindle. Firefighters are equipped with a wide variety of equipment to accomplish this task. Some of their tools include ladder trucks, pumper trucks, tanker trucks, fire hose, and fire extinguishers. Very frequent training and refresher training is required.
Structure fires may be attacked, generally, either by "interior" or "exterior" resources, or both. Interior crews, using the "two-in, two out" rule, may advance hose lines inside the building, find the fire and cool it with water. Exterior crews may direct water into windows or other openings, or against other nearby fuels exposed to the initial fire. A proper command structure will plan and coordinate the various teams and equipment to safely execute each tactic.
- See also Fire suppression for other techniques.
A partial list of some standard equipment used by firefighters:
- flat-head axe
- halligan bar
- closet hook
- pike pole
- halligan hook
- bunker gear, including turnout jacket and pants
- fire-retardant and water-resistant boots with steel toe and a full length steel sole
- Nomex hood
- Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)
- helmet, face mask and/or visor
- NFPA-compliant, fire-resistant work gloves
- PASS device (Personal Alert Safety System)
- handheld radio
- hydraulic rescue tools
- Duck-bill lock breaker
- Spanner wrench
- Circular saw ("K-12")
 History of fire brigades
The history of organized combating of structural fires dates back at least to ancient Egypt. Today, fire and rescue remains a mix of paid, call, and volunteer responders. The UK have the retained fire service, whereby fire fighters are on call with pagers from their homes and/or place of work. The most notable is Malpas retained in Cheshire. See article history of fire brigades.
 Firefighting worldwide
Traditions, protocol, and trends in firefighting vary from country to country. For more information on national firefighting procedures, see article Firefighting worldwide.
In popular literature, firefighters are usually depicted with Dalmatian dogs. This breed originated in southern Europe to assist with herding livestock and run along with horses, and in the days of horse-drawn fire vehicles, the horses were usually released on arrival at the fire and the Dalmatians would lead the horses through traffic and to a safe place to wait until the fire was out. Dalmatians also filled the role of protecting the horses' feet from other dogs as equipment was being transported to the fire scene.
In reality, most fire dogs were mutts pulled from the street (and thus cheaper to acquire). In addition, Dalmatians have a reputation for skittishness and congenital defects, such as deafness due to inbreeding.
Fire hydrants are referred to in some regions as "fire plugs". This term originated with the advent of the first municipal water systems, in which the "pipes" were often actually hollowed out logs. For firefighting purposes, cobblestones were removed from the street or sidewalk to access the wooden water main. A hole was drilled into the log and then "plugged" with a wooden plug or stake. In the event of a fire, firefighters would locate the "fire plug" and unplug it to obtain water.
 See also
- Country Fire Service
- Paris Fire Brigade
- Fire/Burglar alarms
- Fire apparatus
- Fire department rehab
- Fire station
- Firemen's pole
- Fire Police
- Fire safety
- Firefighting worldwide
- Glossary of firefighting equipment
- Glossary of firefighting terms
- Glossary of wildland fire terms
- History of fire brigades
- Hotshot crew
- International Association of Wildland Fire
- Junior firefighter
- Emergency medical technician
- Incident Command System
- List of historic fires
- Leatherhead (helmet)
- London Fire Brigade
- Smoke detector
- Volunteer fire department
- Water tender
 External links
- National Incident Management System
- Firefighter Blog