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NFPA Impact: May 2010

The NFPA has recently released the 2010 editions of  standards 1710 and 1720.

April 26, 2010 
By Sean Tracey

The NFPA has recently released the 2010 editions of  standards 1710 and 1720. These are the third editions of each of these documents and, although they were originally viewed as controversial publications, the sky has not fallen on municipal officials and the standards have proven to be valuable tools in the determining and protection of the level of fire services in communities across Canada. The latest editions of these standards reflect continuing refinement from our experiences in applying them across North America.

When the standards – NFPA® 1710 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments and NFPA® 1720 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments – were first introduced, it was expected that the key benefit would be to help local fire departments provide substantiation for minimum levels of service. The standards would identify benchmarks for what the international fire service community was recommending for minimum levels of response to a single family dwelling fire. The two standards were to reflect predominantly career and predominantly volunteer fire department response objectives separately, including minimum staffing and response time objectives. The aim was to be able to take these and present them to elected municipal officials so they could make informed decisions on response levels for their communities. The standards have stood the test of time but the recent minor changes provide even more clarification for better use of the standards.

The 2010 edition of NFPA 1710 for career departments has incorporated changes that make the document more readable. A new section has been added that clarifies the application of the standard. This section makes it clear that the standard is based on a response to a single family dwelling fire but that it should be used as a platform for more hazardous or complex incidents. Also added is new guidance on alarm handling and clarification regarding the time elements in determining response.

The four-minute response time has been clarified to be four minutes of travel time. The 2010 version also includes new annex materials that make it more clear how the various response time elements are considered. Added is an increase in turnout time to 80 seconds from 60 seconds for fire and special-hazard response. This change is a result of feedback that the earlier 60-second response time was leading to unsafe conditions as personnel were looking to shortcut safe practises to meet the time objective. In Chapter 5, it is made clearer that the deployment model was meant to apply to a typical two-storey, single family dwelling fire without a basement and without exposures. It is therefore implied that if you have either, then additional resources should be considered. Also in this edition a community wide risk management model has been incorporated into Annex B of the standard. This was taken from the 1720 standard and has been found to be a valuable tool for departments as it states that deployment, staffing and service levels contained in NFPA 1710 is but one component of a total community fire protection planning process. Other components to consider are higher building standards, fire prevention activities and public education.
In the 2010 edition of NFPA 1720 the staffing and response table has been revised and is more understandable. The table provides response objectives based on population density. It also makes it clearer that a community may have varying response zones. The requirement that fire departments have the capability to initiate an attack within two minutes of having necessary resources at the scene in remote areas was moved from the footnotes to a new paragraph and has been made applicable to all operations. Text was added in the annex to help users calculate the percentage of times they meet the objective. A new section on sustained firefighting operations has been added and several sections have been revised and reorganized to present the requirements in a more logical order.


Both NFPA 1710 and 1720 have been fine tuned in these latest editions. They have weathered the storm of initial criticism to become valuable tools for fire chiefs to use before councils when fighting for resources. The most recent changes represent ongoing evolution of the documents so that they can be more effective and better understood by elected officials. Both editions, like all NFPA standards, can be viewed on line for free at .

Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional
manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and
formerly the Canadian Armed Forces fire marshal. Contact him at

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