Counter Terrorism: Intelligence and the Fire Service

Author: Miletta, Samuel1 

Published in National Security Journal, 10 October 2022

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20221010.05 

Download full PDF version – Counter Terrorism: Intelligence and the Fire Service (624 KB)


While many would recognise and acknowledge the role fire services play in the response to terrorist attacks, few realise the role fire services can play within an intelligence context of counter-terrorism. As both consumers and producers of intelligence fire services can inform and prepare agencies and communities for the preparation, response, and recovery from terrorist events. In the years following 11 September 2001, some agencies within the United States and the United Kingdom have improved relationships and information sharing amongst counter-terrorism agencies and the fire service. These improved relationships and enhanced information-sharing pathways lead to improved preparedness and situational awareness. Firefighters can support counter-terrorism intelligence efforts by providing expert advice on topics such as hazardous materials and disaster response, reporting suspicious activity observed during their daily community interactions, and by providing intelligence agencies an additional viewpoint which may help them to interpret the information they are assessing.

Keywords: Counter-terrorism, intelligence, network fusion, fire service, national security


Traditionally fire services have played a role in the response and mitigation of terrorism events, but rarely have they been considered as playing a broader role within an intelligence context. The reality is response and mitigation of a terrorist attack are a last resort, with intelligence agencies and law enforcement working to deter, detect and disrupt terrorists before they can undertake an attack. In the post-9/11 era it is important to recognise not all significant intelligence gathered about terrorism is gathered by state intelligence agencies.1 Through intelligence practice, fire services can play a more substantial role in the prevention and preparedness activities for terrorism in the hope of contributing to a more effective response and recovery from such events. Being able to improve their situational awareness is important for emergency services, as it provides an increased ability to “identify, process and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening”2 to allow for better decision making at strategic, operational, and tactical levels.

This article intends to highlight the role fire services can and are playing, both as consumers and producers of intelligence within a counter-terrorism context. Fire services can contribute to the intelligence process at various stages of the intelligence cycle, including collation, analysis, and dissemination.3 These abilities have been gradually recognised across the world in the twenty-one years after 11 September 2001 (9/11), an attack that saw the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) suffer significant loss and a realisation of the terrorism risk fire departments face while serving their communities. While significant steps forward have occurred there is still a way to go to have fire services truly recognised for the contribution they can play. Within the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) varying levels of recognition and cooperation are occurring, which will be discussed in this article. While a ‘that’s not our job’ mentality may exist, it is important to help agencies and individuals recognise and understand that fire service involvement in the intelligence space will help fire services to do their jobs better, whilst also improving the safety of firefighters and the community.4

It is not the intention of this article to over-emphasise the contribution fire services play, nor is it to encourage firefighters into harm’s way. Instead, it is hoped to foster improved information sharing and relationships to better prepare and service the communities they protect. It is important to ensure that fire services maintain community trust and do not overstep by becoming an apparatus for specific collection operations which could raise some legal and ethical issues.5 In order to establish the role fire services can play within the counter-terrorism intelligence space this article will discuss how the FDNY became a world leader for fire service involvement within the intelligence space, as well as the concept of network fusion and importance of the timely sharing of critical intelligence between agencies. It then moves on to how the fire service as consumers of intelligence can benefit from receiving relevant information that improves situational awareness and aids decision making, as well as providing examples of how the fire service can actually contribute to and produce intelligence relevant to counter-terrorism practice. Finally it will explore examples of fire services in the United States and United Kingdom who are currently contributing to counter-terrorism intelligence through various roles and activities.

1 Sam Miletta is an operational firefighter based in Australia. He holds a Master of Terrorism & Security Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Tactical Medicine. His research interests include the response to terrorism and other hostile events with a focus on first responder safety and the improvement of patient outcomes. Contact by email