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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of our frequently asked questions. Use the tabs to navigate between the subjects.

Why do we need a Fire Department?

A fire department is a key element of the basic infrastructure of any community. As a community grows and prospers it seeks to attract businesses to that community. These businesses provide jobs and pay the largest share of the municipal tax base. A well-equipped and properly trained professional fire department plays a vital role in attracting businesses to the community by keeping the cost of insurance low. Lower insurance rates equal more profit for businesses. Private property owners benefit as well with lower insurance rates.    

However, it is more than money that underlies the need for a fire department. The fire department's first mission is life safety. That means protecting the citizens and guests in our response area by the best means possible. In light of this, the functions of the Tacoma Fire Department have changed over the years. In addition to extinguishing fires, we now offer a wide range of disciplines that includes advanced life support emergency medical services, hazardous material response, water rescue, vehicle extrication, trench rescue, high angle and confined space rescue, terrorism response, and more. Lives are also saved through proactive measures such as fire prevention programs in local schools, fire inspections of business occupancies, and site plan reviews of new construction to ensure they meet fire codes.

What is the National Standard for fire department response?

The National Fire Protection Association has hundreds of standards that are followed by communities nationwide. NFPA 1710 states that for a single family dwelling fire the initial response travel time for the first arriving company should be within four minutes and the remainder of the responding companies on scene within eight minutes for 90 percent of the incidents.

What is WSRB and how does it affect my insurance rates?

Whether we like it or not, paying for insurance is a fact of life. Homeowner and business insurance companies use many factors when determining the cost of your premiums. One major factor is the level of fire protection. Most insurance carriers use what is known as an insurance rating to determine the quality of fire protection available and therefore establish corresponding insurance rates.

The Washington Survey and Ratings Bureau (WSRB), is a group of trained, professional evaluators that assess fire departments in our State. WSRB uses a consistent set of guidelines to evaluate a fire department including the number of personnel on duty, training level of paid or volunteer personnel, the amount of water the fire department can get to a fire, the amount and quality of equipment used such as fire engines and hand tools, and fire department dispatching which evaluates the dispatch centers ability to handle 911 calls. The purpose of WSRB is to give insurance companies a uniform system on which to base their insurance premiums.

For an insurance company knowing the capabilities of a fire department is important. The better the fire department, the better protected a building is from fire damage and loss. The higher the level of protection, increase the chances that an insurance company will reimburse a claim for fire damage. A lower number of claims means lower costs paid to the insurance provider. Of course, fire protection can work the opposite way. A sub-par fire department will experience more fire loss. More fire loss means more filed insurance claims. In order to make costs meet, the insurance companies may raise the premiums you pay. WSRB gives a ranking of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 being no protection at all. The Tacoma Fire Department's current ratings are as follows:
  • City of Tacoma - 3
  • City of Fircrest - 3
  • Pierce County Fire District #10, which includes the City of Fife - 3

How does the fire department get all of their new equipment?

Much of the Fire Department's equipment is purchased from competitively established purchase contracts. Sometimes purchases are from contracts established by the State of Washington or other public agencies that meet the City of Tacoma Purchasing requirements.

How is your front-line apparatus staffed?

For 2019 there are 74 firefighters on-duty on from 7 AM to 7 PM and 71 on duty from 7 PM to 7 AM.
  • Engine - 3 firefighters
  • Ladder - 3 firefighters
  • Medic - 2 firefighter/paramedics
  • Battalion Chief - 1 per apparatus, 3 total

Why does a fire engine come when I called for an ambulance?

In addition to fire protection, the Fire Department provides Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Like most fire departments across the nation, Tacoma firefighters are cross-trained as emergency medical technicians or paramedics. This cross-training allows the department to provide a two-tiered EMS response of basic life support such as oxygen, rescue breathing, CPR and advanced life support services including IVs, ECGs, medication.

With the exception of four paramedic-staffed fire engines, the Department’s fire engine, and ladder staff provide basic life support by means of firefighter/EMTs. The Department’s medic units, which typically respond afterward, provide advanced life support via firefighter paramedics.

Why do so many fire trucks respond to a car accident?

The Tacoma Fire Department uses a nationally recognized dispatching system. This system determines what type of a response from the fire department is necessary based on information given to us by the person who calls 9-1-1. This system errs on the side of caution, ensuring that every resource that is needed responds to the emergency in a timely fashion.

Often times, things are not as simple as they look. To ensure each member of the public receives the best possible care, we always anticipate the worst case scenario and hope for the best. Each fire apparatus has a specific purpose and carries specialized equipment. For a motor vehicle accident, you will see a fire engine for Emergency Medical Services, a ladder truck which carries the "Jaws of Life" extrication tools and other special rescue equipment, and an ambulance for medical care and to transport patients to the hospital.  If multiple injuries are reported, then multiple ambulances may be dispatched.

This may appear to be a lot, but each is necessary to provide the consistent, professional service you expect and deserve. When it is a life and death scenario, and seconds count, you want all of the equipment and personnel immediately available.

Why do fire trucks sometimes turn off their lights and sirens after going through an intersection?

Emergency apparatus use lights and sirens to warn the public and clear traffic while en-route to an emergency call. There is an element of risk every time an emergency apparatus drive through town with their lights and sirens on. Accidents, while going to and from emergency calls, are the second leading cause of death for firefighters. When a fire department representative arrives on the scene and finds the situation is not as serious as they were led to believe, they will downgrade or cancel the rest of the fire department response. A downgrade means to have them slow down and continue without their lights and sirens, reducing the risk of firefighters and the public. This also reduces the disruption to normal traffic flow.

How do the Tacoma Firefighters spend their days? Are they just sitting around waiting for emergencies?

Remember, TFD responds to far more than fires. The fire department responds to medical emergencies, hazardous materials responses and rescues and a variety of hazardous conditions. In addition to responding to over 45,000 incidents per year, the fire department keeps busy with many other activities. When not responding to emergencies you may find us testing hose, testing our apparatus, taking training classes, cleaning the fire stations, and conducting fire prevention activities such as building inspections and providing fire safety classes.

What is the difference between an Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic?

Emergency medical technicians (EMT) receive approximately 150 hours of initial training in basic life support practices. These include providing patients with oxygen when needed, acquiring vital sign measurements, managing injuries, and providing CPR.

Paramedics provide the highest level of out-of-hospital care and receive approximately one year, 1700 hours, of training to achieving national certification. Paramedic training includes approximately 700 hours of classroom education, 300 hours of in-hospital training and experience, and 700 hours of experience working on a medic unit.

What is the difference between the TFD ambulances, versus the other types of ambulances I see throughout the area?

TFD operates five ambulances, painted fire engine red, that are staffed with two firefighter paramedics. These ambulances provide advanced life support and emergent transport to area hospitals.

What is a Squad apparatus?

Squad apparatus are small trucks staffed with one fire officer and one firefighter. They are dispatched to the same calls as our other responding companies. They carry EMS and firefighting equipment. However, they do not have a fire pump, hoseline or a water tank.

What does an Engine/Squad/Ladder/Medic company do on a fire scene?

The engine company is charged with extinguishment. Additional engine companies are charged with supplying water to the first engine and to serve as a backup for the first crew. The ladder company will gain access to the structure, sometimes through forcible entry by opening locked windows and doors, and ventilation, which is usually completed by cutting a strategic hole in the roof which removes heat and smoke from the fire. The medic company is responsible for conducting search and rescue and providing patient care.

Do you offer CPR training?

TFD offers a CPR Class covering Adult, Child, and Infant CPR. Visit our CPR Page for additional information and to register for a class.

Do you offer station tours or engine visits?

The Tacoma Fire Department is pleased to offer your group two opportunities to learn about firefighting and our department. Follow the links to review the guidelines that will assist you in deciding which activity is best for your group.  

Engine Visit
Station Tour

Do you have free smoke alarms?

If you live in our response area, own your home, and are in need of a smoke alarm call (253) 594-5740. Visit our Smoke Alarms section for additional information.

If you live in a rental unit check with your landlord.
How do I schedule an inspection?
Information regarding the various types of inspections performed by the Tacoma Fire Department, including a pre-inspection checklist, can be found on our Fire Inspection page. To schedule an inspection, please call (253) 591-5740 between 8 AM - 5 PM.  Where are you located? The Fire Prevention Division is located at 3471 S. 35th Street, Tacoma WA 98409. How do I request a Fire Report? Visit our reports page to request a copy of a fire or inspection report.
Please visit our employment page for detailed information about a career with the Tacoma Fire Department.