Philadelphia Fire Department Needs to Reconsider Its Brownout and Rotation Policies

Audit Date: February 11, 2016
Audit Categories
  • Performance
Controller: Alan Butkovitz
Audit Tags
  • Brownout,
  • Firefighter Rotation,
  • Public Safety


Complete Performance Audit on Fire Department’s Response Times

Executive Summary

Why The Controller’s Office Conducted The Audit

Pursuant to Section 6-400(d) of the Home Rule Charter, and with the assistance of Robert C. Drennen, consultant and former Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD) battalion chief, the Office of the Controller (Controller’s Office) conducted a performance audit to assess the impact of the PFD’s rolling “brownout” and “rotation” policies on response times to fire emergencies in the City of Philadelphia. More specifically, we studied the impact these two policies had on the ability of the PFD to meet the national standard for response, as set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1 and adopted by the PFD. What The Controller’s Office Found

What the Controller’s Office Found

Trends in Philadelphia response time data suggest that the PFD’s decisions to implement a brownout policy as a way to cut overtime costs during tough economic times, and mandate a rotation schedule among firefighters to ensure all firefighters have equal opportunity to work in various assignments and acquire diverse skills, only exacerbated the department’s already underachieving response to fire emergencies. While the NFPA standard calls for the first due fire engines to arrive on scene within 5 minutes and 20 seconds after being dispatched for 90 percent of their runs, the PFD has been unable to meet that target time. The department’s best response occurred in 2008 at 82 percent of the runs, and through June 2015 it has continually lingered in the mid 70 percent range. The effects of the two policies, which have negatively impacted travel time to fires, have jeopardized public safety. Moreover, despite the PFD’s assertions that the brownout policy would lead to reduced overtime costs of $3.8 million, overtime for firefighters actually climbed from $15.7 million in fiscal year 2010 to $34.2 million in fiscal year 2014.

Other matters we observed during the audit included:

  • PFD firefighters take significantly longer than recommended by the NFPA to suit up, get to the vehicle, board the vehicle, and safely secure themselves for travel (turnout time).
  • The number of fire stations has not always kept pace with the City’s development, which in turn has perhaps contributed to the department’s inability to meet the NFPA standard for response.
  • Data regarding on-scene arrival times in the PFD’s CAD was sometimes incomplete and inaccurate, often when the fire incident involved a death or injury.

What The Controller’s Office Recommends

The Controller’s Office has developed a number of recommendations to address the above findings. They include: (1) eliminate the Brownout and Firefighter Rotation policies; (2) investigate what may be causing poor turnout time for its engines and develop corrective action; (3) examine the coverage area of fire stations to determine if location is impeding quicker response to fire emergencies; and (4) investigate thecause of missing or inaccurate components of time in the CAD and develop corrective action.