Final Report: 2021 Fireground Civilian Rescue Research Project

In the first 90 days of 2021, there were 454 residential structure fire incidents with fireground civilian rescues by firefighters.

An average of 9.8 rescues per day

By Brian Brush

To date, the American fire service has not officially collected the number of or means by which civilians are rescued at fires. Traditional fire service inputs and metrics are quantitative and negative; number of fires, property lost or damaged, number of injuries and fatalities. An unintended result of this methodology is a myopic data set with analysis limited to loss relationships. The demonstration of reduction in civilian fire deaths is only that; it cannot conclusively show more lives are actively being saved. The result of this information gap is a service unable to demonstrate how, presence, actions, or operations result in saving lives. For the fire service to deliberately improve outcomes and not just reduce loss, the mission (saving lives) must match the metrics (lives saved). Until then, the operational impact of the American fire service will remain unknown.

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The purpose of this research is to demonstrate the scope and value of fireground civilian rescue reporting and use of qualitative survey methods. The results will support an improved understanding of operational influence on civilian fire victim outcomes. A clearer vision of the nation’s fire problem for the future includes the knowledge of both the parameters of our problem (loss) and the dimensions of our success (saves).

From January 1, 2021, through March 31, 2021, reports of fireground civilian rescues from news outlets, press releases and social networks were actively collected, confirmed and categorized. Organizations responsible for rescues were contacted, informed of the research project, provided a rescue reporting procedure template, and directed to complete a Firefighter Rescue Survey (FRS). The FRS is an online, qualitative research tool for collection and classification of the data from first-hand reports of those directly involved in fireground civilian rescues.

In the first 90 days of 2021, there were 454 residential structure fire incidents with fireground civilian rescues by firefighters reported in U.S. news media or department press release. From those incidents, 881 civilians were rescued through the direct actions of U.S. firefighters and transferred to emergency medical for evaluation. This represents an average of 9.8 rescues per day. 

In the first quarter of 2021, 247 follow up Firefighter Rescue Surveys (FRS) were completed by the departments involved in the rescue operations. This represents a 28% response rate for the total number of civilian rescues recorded. In the first quarter of 2020, 59 FRS were collected under the voluntary system with no direct outreach request, and the total number of rescues for the first quarter of 2020 was unknown. This shows the direct contact method for 2021 yielded more than four times the data over the same time period.

For the 247 Firefighter Rescue Surveys collected the incident survival rate for civilians rescued from residential structure fires was 74%. When this survival rate is applied to the 881 recorded fireground civilian rescues it can be estimated that 652 civilians’ lives were saved from residential structure fires by U.S. firefighters in the first quarter of 2021.

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