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October 2014

Understanding NFPA 1710 Response Times

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What Fire Station Communication Centers Need to Know About NFPA 1710 Alarm Handling Time Requirements 

Modern Fire Station Alerting Systems contain features, such as CAD system integration, automatic text-to-speech conversion of incident notices, simultaneous broadcast to multiple stations, and utilization of multi-media communications in notifying first reponders, that can all contribute to improved fire/rescue department response time.

Time has always been of the essence as far as first responders are concerned. Responding quickly can make all the difference in saving lives, reducing injuries and minimizing property damage. This article takes a look at the guidelines as it relates to NFPA 1710 response times, reflecting the most recent definitions.

Total Emergency Response Time can be broken down into these categories:

Alarm transfer time:

The alarm transfer time (NFPA 1710, 3.3.53.4) is “the time interval from the receipt of an emergency alarm at the public service answering point (PSAP) until the alarm is first received at the fire department communication center.” Alarm transfer time is generally under the control of the PSAP/911 communications center.

Alarm answering time:

The alarm answering time (NFPA 1710, 3.3.53.1) is “the time interval that begins when the alarm is received at the fire communication center and ends when the alarm is acknowledged at the fire communication center.” Alarm answering time is generally under the control of the communications center that supports the fire/ems department.

Alarm processing time:

The alarm processing time (NFPA 1710, 3.3.53.3) is “the time interval from when the alarm is acknowledged at the fire communication center until response information begins to be transmitted via voice or electronic means to emergency-response facilities (ERFs or fire stations) and emergency-response units (ERUs or fire apparatus). Alarm answering time is generally under the control of the communications center that supports the fire/ems department.

Turnout time:

The time interval that begins when the emergency response facilities (ERFs) and emergency response units (ERUs) notification process begins by either an audible alarm or visual annunciation or both and ends at the beginning point of travel time. Turnout time is under the control of the fire/ems department.

Travel time:

This is defined as “the time interval that begins when a unit is en route to the emergency incident and ends when the unit arrives at the scene.” In the 2010 edition of NFPA 1710, the following was added: “The travel times for units responding on the first alarm were clarified to indicate the first unit must arrive within 4 minutes travel time and all units must arrive within 8 minutes travel time.” Travel time is the responsibility of the fire/ems department, but often dependent on factors not in their control, like distance to the scene.

Initiating Action/Intervention time:

This is the interval of time from when a unit arrives on the scene to the initiation of emergency mitigation. Initiating Action/Intervention time is under the control of the fire/ems department.

Response Time Guidelines:

When it comes to lowering response time, most of the focus is placed on reducing the time interval from fire station to scene (Turnout time to Initiating Action/Intervention time). However, the latest NFPA 1710 standard (updated in 2010) (Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments) addresses time intervals relating to alarms and processing by the communication center(s).

In particular, NFPA 1710 refines terminology for time frames and updates requirements for alarm handling time frames to correspond with the latest edition of NFPA 1221 (Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems).

  • 1.2.3.1 The fire department shall establish a performance objective of having an alarm answering time of not more than 15 seconds for at least 95 percent of the alarms received and not more than 40 seconds for at least 99 percent of the alarms received, as specified by NFPA 1221.
  • 1.2.3.2 When the alarm is received at a PSAP and transferred to a secondary answering point or communication center, the agency responsible for the PSAP shall establish a performance objective of having an alarm transfer time of not more than 30 seconds for at least 95 percent of all alarms processed, as specified by NFPA 1221.
  • 1.2.3.3 The fire department shall establish a performance objective of having an alarm processing time of not more than 60 seconds for at least 90 percent of the alarms and not more than 90 seconds for at least 99 percent of the alarms, as specified by NFPA 1221.

Once the station first receives an alarm, the fire department controls the time to turnout, travel to the scene, and perform some action or intervene in some way at the scene. NFPA 1710 requires that turnout time should be 80 seconds for fire incidents and 60 seconds for EMS incidents. Travel time to a fire suppression incident, by the initial arriving company, should be 4 minutes or less. There is no benchmark time frame established for initiating a mitigating action or taking other steps to intervene in resolving the issue that created the incident. Instead, NFPA 1710 recommends that fire departments track their action or intervention times and evaluate the data based on the nature of the incident.

PURVIS’ Role in Reducing Response Time

When lives and property are at risk, every second of the emergency response cycle counts. The PURVIS Fire Station Alerting System™, has the features as referenced at the beginning of this article, that can help fire departments reduce alarm processing and turnout times directly, while indirectly improving travel time. It positively impacts travel time by keeping all parts of the response team, including remote personnel, informed with the most up-to-date and accurate information so they can get to the scene quickly with the right equipment.