What Is A Five Alarm Fire?

what is a five alarm fire
what is a five alarm fire

What Is A Five Alarm Fire: A fire breakout in a residential area could leave devastating effects if the fire-fighters do not bring it under control immediately. All residents and office buildings in USA have fire alarm protocols to keep the inhabitants safe at all times.

These home fire alarms interconnect with local fire departments that dispatch the required units in accordance to severity. You must be familiar with a fire alarm, but what is a five alarm fire?

what is a five alarm fire
what is a five alarm fire

According to the severity of a fire incident, the law categorizes fire alarms within a range of the numbers 1 to 5, where Alarm-5 is the highest. New York City keeps the fire alarm measurements within 1-5, but other cities might not.

In San Diego, for example, the fire alarms may be higher than 5-Alarm. It may start at level-1 and may theoretically rise to infinite levels represented by higher degrees or numbers. This article will inform you about the varying degrees of fire alarms and what each represents.

What Is A Five Alarm Fire

The number of alarms simply represents the emergency and severity of the situation at hand, and how quickly the local authority must react to bring the situation under control.

Every blare stands for a degree of response. Every degree instructs the fire department to dispatch units necessary to control the fire, for example, the type of vehicle including trucks and fire engines.

Fire departments have protocols to follow. They have dispatch units that get emergency requests and respond adequately depending upon the degree of alarm. They also have coded language for easier and faster communication. For example, in New York City, the code “10-21” means “1-Alarm Fire”.

Depending on the city, the fire department first detects the degree of response required, and then sends out the correct unit necessary. Therefore, the higher the alarm, the more the vehicles and firefighters dispatched from the fire department.

For example, in Washington DC, for a 1-Alarm fire, the fire department would dispatch 6 fire engines, 3 ladder trucks, 1 ambulance, 1 rescue squad, and two fire chiefs.

At the first alarm the first responders arrive at the scene and they are the best group to judge the severity of the incident. If they find the incident to be more serious than expected, they pull the trigger for a higher degree alarm.

The first alarm unit is usually the largest. The subsequent units are basically additions to the initial unit to get the fire under control.

Theoretically, if the fire continues to get worse, the degree of alarm may keep rising indefinitely. However, certain cities set the number of alarms no matter what the severity. For example, in New York City, the fire alarms range from 1 to 5 only. Even in Rochester, the highest degree of fire alarm is 5.

Each time the degree goes up, more firefighters and fire-extinguishing vehicles are discharged to give support to the already existing units at the scene of the fire.

Example: In case of a 2-Alarm fire, the response could be from 5 fire-engine companies, 2 battalion chiefs, 2 ladder companies, RAC or Recuperation and Care Unit, 1 field communications unit and the tactical support unit.

On the other hand the response would be stronger in case of a 5-Alarm fire. In this case, 4 fire-engine companies may respond, together with the presence of one Assistant Chief and even the Chief of Operations.

Though the 5th degree of fire alarm is serious enough, there had been instances where the degree of severity has demanded 10-Alarms.

Alarm levels and Response Policy of New York City Fire Department

In New York City, alternative alarm systems are used besides the conventional 1-5-Alarm systems, like the signal 10-60 and 10-75 assignments, and the signals 10-76 and 10-77 assignments.

10-75 signal represents a working fire, like a fire that is visible from a building. 10-76/77 assignments signal for fire in high-rise apartments. 10-60 is a signal for a major disaster.

Below is a list of units that are dispatched at each fire alarm level of the New York City Fire Department:

1-Alarm Fire (Box Alarm): 3 Engine Companies, 2 Ladder Companies and 1 Battalion Chief

1-Alarm Fire (All Hands Box Alarm): 4 Engine Companies, 3 Ladder Companies (FAST Or Firefighter Assist And Search Team), 2 Battalion Chiefs, 1 Squad Company, 1 Rescue Company and 1 Division Chief

2-Alarm Fire: 8 Engine Companies, 5 Ladder Companies, 5 Battalion Chiefs, 1 Squad Company, 1 Rescue Company, 1 Division Chief, 1 Deputy Chief, 1 RAC Unit, 1 Satellite, 1 Safety Battalion, 1 SOC (Special Operations Command) Battalion, 1 Tactical Support Unit, 1 Field Communications Unit, 1 Mask Service Unit, and 1 Air Recon Chief

3-Alarm Fire: 12 Engine Companies, 7 Ladder Companies, 5 Battalion Chiefs, 1 Squad Company, 1 Rescue Company, 1 Division Chief, 1 Deputy Chief, 1 RAC Unit, 1 Satellite, 1 Safety Battalion, 1 SOC (Special Operations Command) Battalion, 1 Tactical Support Unit, 1 Field Communications Unit, 1 Mask Service Unit, and 1 Air Recon Chief

4-Alarm Fire: 16 Engine Companies, 9 Ladder Companies, 6 Battalion Chiefs, 1 Squad Company, 1 Rescue Company, 1 Division Chief, 1 Deputy Chief, 1 RAC Unit, 1 Satellite, 1 Safety Battalion, 1 SOC (Special Operations Command) Battalion, 1 Tactical Support Unit, 1 Field Communications Unit, 1 Mask Service Unit, and 1 Air Recon Chief. In addition to all these, there are 1 Mobile Command Unit and 1 Planning Section Chief

5-Alarm Fire: 21 Engine Companies, 11 Ladder Companies, 6 Battalion Chiefs, 1 Squad Company, 1 Rescue Company, 1 Division Chief, 1 Deputy Chief, 1 RAC Unit, 1 Satellite, 1 Safety Battalion, 1 SOC (Special Operations Command) Battalion, 1 Tactical Support Unit, 1 Field Communications Unit, 1 Mask Service Unit, and 1 Air Recon Chief. In addition to all these, there are 1 Mobile Command Unit and 1 Planning Section Chief

If the Commander decides that the current situation does not require a higher degree fire alarm, but requires additional man power and equipments, then he can make a “special call” for it.

Final Word

Different states in USA may have a different fire management protocol. In NYC, the fire alarms are set between 1 and 5, whereas in California the numbers may be more than 5. Fire alarms are a warning that a fire has broken out and needs to be controlled. However, not many people know that what is a five alarm fire.

A 5-alarm fire is known as the highest degree of the severity of a fire in many states of US. At this level, the fire departments understand that the fire is spreading rapidly and bigger units need to be dispatched to bring the situation under control. Larger battalions, pumpers and ladders are sent to the spot at once.

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