How do you know when you have enough firefighters to complete all of the jobs required for a 1st-due assignment? It's not always easy to tell, because the equation of firefighters vs. fire is weighted differently at almost every fire. NFPA 1710 provides a baseline number, but some of us don't have even that small number of firefighters available. That number isn't sufficient to deal with a high-rise fire, a big box fire, a pier fire, or just about anything bigger than a duplex or small, single commercial occupancy if you want to accomplish all of the necessary tasks simultaneously.
With the budget crunches, brownouts, station closures, and disbanding of fire companies that we hear about every day, it makes you wonder when the "fuzzy math" is going to stop.
1st-Due Arithmetic is simply about numbers...numbers of firefighters, apparatus, and command personnel. If you don't have enough firefighters to stretch a line, then the fire is going to exceed the capability of that line by the time the water arrives at the combustion. If you don't have enough firefighters to search a building of whatever size confronts you, then the search isn't going to be completed very quickly. If you don't have enough firefighters to ventilate, then the engine crews take an unnecessary and dangerous beating. Most importantly, if you don't have enough firefighters to staff all of the 1st Due functions plus an Incident Commander, a Safety Officer, and a RIT Team...yes, a REAL RIT team, then an even fuzzier math sometimes takes place.
If we're shorthanded, Command may choose to staff a RIT team made up of firefighters that would otherwise be doing basic engine or truck work...forcing Side C, providing ladders for secondary egress, stretching a backup hoseline, or completing the primary search. That means we'll be putting off essential firefighting basics so we can staff a team that we'll hopefully never have to use.
On the other hand, we can't put everyone except Command and one pump operator inside and think that we'll always get away with it.
How do we ensure that we get enough numbers for the 1st Due Arithmetic? In theory, it's simple. We send more firefighters on the first alarm. Repeat after me..."Overkill is good, Overkill is good, Overkill is good." Use Automatic Aid/Mutual Aid if you have to, but get the additional firefighters there in numbers that shift the equation advantage from the fire to the firefighters. Send the extra engine or truck on the first alarm and cancel them if it's food on the stove. No matter what it takes, have an adequate number of firefighters respond on the first alarm!
After all, the fire doesn't understand budget cuts...it just understands 1st Due Arithmetic.