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Fire Alarm Degrees: What You Should Know

by | Feb 16, 2021 | FAQs

a firefighter spray water from a ladder into smoke clouds


1 alarm fire, 2 alarm fire, 3 alarm fire, 4 alarm fire, 5 alarm fire. You’ve probably heard of these different levels of fire alarm emergencies before, but do you actually know what they mean? 

In this article, you will learn about the different levels in the fire alarm dispatch system and their significance, which is based on the severity of the fire, how many firefighter teams will be required to put it out, and the estimated amount of time it will take to reach the fire. 

Every second counts when it comes to fighting a fire. That’s why every fire department and their trained dispatchers communicate in shortcodes such as the fire alarm dispatch system and its ordered numbers of extremity from 1 to 5.   

You can get more info about the relevant Fire Department in your city at The National Fire Department Registry homepage, which lists all fire departments registered with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

The number of alarms generally indicates how many firefighters and emergency vehicles are dispatched. The decision is made depending on factors such as the size of the structure and the size of the fire, as well as whether it is threatening adjacent buildings and the number of people that may be trapped inside. 

The Fire Department’s commander(s) on the scene will closely assess and monitor the situation to determine whether it’s necessary to call a higher number of fire alarms, thereby dispatching more support. 


A one-alarm fire call is the basic response to a fire alarm. Depending on the fire department in the city, a one-alarm fire usually calls for a minimum of two engines, a rescue unit, a ladder truck, and at least one battalion chief on board to supervise. 

Upon arriving at the fire, if the first unit thinks it’s necessary, they will call in a second alarm (2 alarm fire), which will double the fire department’s response- increasing the manpower and equipment for fire control. 


A two-alarm fire call summons more trucks, with more firefighters, but more specifically, it calls for a hazardous materials vehicle and a support vehicle called a “supply shop.” These units provide additional equipment such as oxygen tanks. After a 2 alarm fire call goes out, there can potentially be up to 13 emergency vehicles on the scene of the fire. 


Photo credit: Pixabay


A three-alarm fire call will bring triple the amount of firefighters, trucks, and equipment to the scene of the fire. Any fire alarm dispatch that goes past 2 is considered a very big fire that could take considerable time to completely extinguish. 

Along with the additional firefighters and units that go out for a 3 alarm fire, the department may also send out a media relations crew to deal with journalists, and even a truck stocked with snacks and electrolyte drinks to keep firefighters sustained. 


A four-alarm fire is a catastrophic fire event that happens only a couple of times a year for most city fire departments. If a dispatch call goes out for a four-alarm fire, you can expect up to 21 emergency vehicles, including 6 battalion chiefs. 


It rarely happens that a five-alarm fire dispatch call is placed but if the situation demands it, the commanders on the scene will call a 5 alarm fire, which will typically summon a total of 20+ fire engine companies, 11 ladder companies, at least one squad company, and one rescue company, as well as multiple specialized units such as supply shops, air support, hazardous materials vehicles and snack trucks. This amount of response vehicles varies depending on the city and its fire departments. 

There should already be six battalion chiefs on-site, joined by at least one division chief, one deputy chief, and the chief of operations. Basically, a five-alarm fire means all hands on deck!

Photo credit: Harrison Haines – pexels


Now you know about the fire alarm dispatch system used by fire departments across the country. Make sure your home and business are safe with our 24/7 fire alarm and monitoring service.

Call us now and we will make sure to beat any price. 

At Desert Fire we are a certified C10 | C16 licensed family business providing fire protection services since 1971.

We take value in our work and want to make sure our customers are happy from the beginning with the assurance their buildings are up to code and running smoothly.

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