Fire departments respond to fires of all kinds—from small outbreaks, to roaring conflagrations. So it’s critical that they be able to prioritize the severity level of each fire in order to ensure that the resources deployed, firefighters and equipment, are proportional to the size of the fire emergency. For this reason, there are fire alarm assignments.


What Are Fire Alarm Assignments?

Fire alarm assignments indicate the severity level of a fire. There are five fire alarm assignments: one-alarm, two-alarm, three-alarm, four-alarm, and five-alarm. A one-alarm fire is the least critical fire emergency, and a five-alarm fire is the most severe. Each assignment specifies the number of personnel and equipment needed in order to contain and extinguish a fire of that classification. Typically, each alarm assignment comes with two to four fire engines, one to two ladder trucks, one rescue/air unit, and one battalion chief. Let’s take a closer look at each fire alarm assignment.


1-Alarm Fire

One-alarm fires are the least severe. Usually a fire department will send two fire engines, a ladder truck, a rescue unit, and a battalion chief to the scene.


The first unit to arrive at a one-alarm fire is responsible for evaluating the designated alarm level. If they determine that the severity was underestimated, they can upgrade it and call for additional resources.


2-Alarm Fire

A two-alarm fire requires more fire trucks, fire engines, and firefighters than one-alarm calls. Typically, every alarm after the one-alarm assignment gets an additional 2 engines, a truck, and another chief officer.


3-Alarm Fire

With three-alarm fires, the resources deployed are triple that of a single alarm. This kind of fire may be larger and more complex, or it could simply take longer to extinguish.


4-Alarm Fire

A four-alarm fire is a catastrophic one. A fire department may encounter fires of this magnitude only two or three times a year, or less. You might see as many as 21 fire-fighting vehicles dispatched to a four-alarm fire, and up to six battalion chiefs.


5-Alarm Fire

In the case of a single fire department, a five-alarm fire means that a blaze is so expansive that all hands available from other fire departments in the area may be required to help extinguish it. Some firefighters may go their entire careers without ever having to fight a five-alarm fire.

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