On Saturday, February 25, 2023, around 1238 hours PT, firefighters with Grays Harbor Fire IAFF Local 4075 (Elma, Washington State) were dispatched to a structure fire with initial reports of occupants inside and being unaccounted for.

Photo Credit: Matthew Meir (Used with permission through the Grays Harbor Firefighters IAFF Local 4075)


1238 PT — E551 is dispatched. They are staffed with only two firefighters (FT FF/PM and PT FF/EMT). They see a thermal column over the confirmed working fire and request a second alarm response. One mutual aid (2nd Alarm) response only responds with Grays Harbor Fire District 12 (M551) staffed by one FT FF/PM only.

1247 PT — E551 and M551 arrive on the scene and are greeted by a fully involved mobile home with another exposure and an injured patient needing immediate medical attention. During this response, E531 from Satsop and T541 from the City of Elma are dispatched to the scene.

1254 PT — Both E531 and T541 arrive on the scene.

1300 PT — 3rd alarm is requested due to the exposure building now being impacted by the fire. Mutual aid from Grays Harbor Fire District 2 is dispatched.

1316 PT — A tender from Mason County Fire District 13 is requested to help with additional needs for their water supply.

Shortly after, the fire is brought under control and put out but the two homes are destroyed and considered a complete loss of the two structures.


Resources also included three Operational volunteers and one support volunteer (non-firefighting) from East Grays Harbor in addition to the career professional firefighters who responded to this incident. However, if you know basic math – you can figure there is a low number of personnel who may have been on the scene, especially the first-due response units.

Thank goodness, they did not have any other fires or EMS incidents that would have put more pressure on their resources even further.– Ed.

The union points out:

“In the same thread, it was said that while minimum staffing is 2 firefighters, there are 4 full-time firefighters scheduled for each shift; this is not entirely true. The union currently represents 10 full-time firefighters/paramedics and EMTs distributed among 3 shifts with 1 firefighter on a “float” schedule. This makes for 3 shifts of 3 personnel. This is supplemented by non-union part-time firefighters, which currently fill 2 of the 3 working shifts in a rotation. This leaves a minimum of 1 full shift where staffing doesn’t exceed 3 personnel unless supplemented by a SHIFT volunteer.

An additional comment on the aforementioned thread made reference to NFPA 1720 (Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments).

Specifically, this was in reference to a comment made about staffing. NFPA 1720 is designed to apply to volunteer or combination career/volunteer departments and outlines minimum personnel requirements for a safe response. As we’ve said in the past, our firefighters are running understaffed, and NFPA 1720 captures this perfectly.

NFPA 1720 under the “Staffing and Response Time” table outlines minimum personnel requirements depending on population density. Based on the most recent census data, the City of Elma (the closest municipality to the scene of this fire) has an APPROXIMATE population density of 1,300 residents per square mile. This would technically be considered an urban area, however, for the sake of argument, we will call this suburban. In a suburban area with a structure fire in a building that is 2000 square feet or less, 1720 states there should be 10 firefighters on the scene within 10 minutes of dispatch 80% of the time. It’s important to note that we had not 1, but 2 structures on fire during this response.

If classified as urban, this number increases to 15 firefighters on scene within 9 minutes 90% of the time, which aligns closely with the standards established by NFPA 1710 which we have referenced in the past. The reason for these numbers? As population and subsequently building density increases, so does the risk and likelihood of spread to exposure.

Your firefighters are here to help you, but we also need your help. We are advocating for safer staffing, not only to make our jobs safer for us but to make the communities we serve safer for everyone in the event of an emergency. We strongly encourage you to look out for commissioner meetings and to voice your opinion in local government. What we are advocating for is staffing that allows us to actually perform our jobs safely and effectively, to protect our community. Help us help you!”


Volunteer and Combination Fire Departments follow the NFPA 1720 Standard which states VFDs should have the capability to safely begin attacking the fire within two minutes once firefighters arrive on the scene with all of the equipment they need to fight it at least 90% of the time. The NFPA recognizes the many difficulties these VFDs can have from a lack of training firefighters who are available and budget issues that can impact their ability to repair or replace equipment as needed.

See more details on the number of resources as recommended by the NFPA 1720 Standard as provided by one our sources: Koorsen Fire & Security


Some fire agencies have found ways to help with staffing levels by combining their agencies with regional fire authorities or districts, which helps reduce costs and increase fire personnel and equipment.

There are several volunteer fire districts where we live (Skagit County) that could easily combine and become better-combined agencies as a whole but it is really up to the approval of the Fire Commissioners/voters. Several years ago, Big Lake Fire Department (a volunteer fire agency) and Clear Lake FD were in talks to become one Fire District but things broke down and it never came to fruition.

Some successful Washington State RFAs include:

North County Fire EMS

  • Arlington
  • Stanwood

North Mason Regional Fire Authority

  • Belfair
  • Tahuya

Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority

  • Covington
  • Kent
  • Maple Valley
  • Sea-Tac
  • Tukwila
  • Fire District #37
  • Fire District #43

South Sound Fire

  • Brier
  • Edmonds
  • Lynnwood
  • Mill Creek
  • Mountlake Terrace

Valley Regional Fire Authority

  • Algona
  • Auburn
  • Pacific

Training consortiums have been breaking out all over the State as well with the following groups:

North King County Fire Training Consortium

  • Training together to continue improving operational consistency and interoperability.

South King County Fire Training Consortium

  • Training Division for 10 Fire Agencies in King County
  • Created as a Regional Unified Training Center
  • Included are firefighters, other personnel including Chaplains
  • Based out of Kent, Washington


According to their website, The Grays Harbor Firefighters Union consists of 10 career FF/PMs and EMTs who respond out of one station in the City of Elma, Washington State. They have three shifts of three personnel and one float position.

Firefighters respond to calls for service in a response area of about 205 square miles, providing fire and EMS to around 13,000 residents in the City of Elma, Porter, Malone, and Satsop and EMS services to the City of McCleary.

In 2022, the Fire Agency responded to a total of 2,185 calls for service, which they say is almost six calls per day.

Source: Grays Harbor Firefighters IAFF Local 4075

According to the 2023 Washington State Census Bureau, in the City of Elma, there are currently 3,438 residents, which include population numbers from Porter (204), Malone (468), Satsop (675), and McCleary (1,997), which brings a total of almost 7,000 residents.


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