Are you responding to the fires with whatever personnel you have available?
You will find that your responders gain experience points each time they go to an emergency, even if they are not successful. Each time they "level up", there is a chance that you might be granted a specialist. Even if you don't get a specialist, you will be given extra training points that you can increase their skill level with.
Success on emergencies is influenced by the following factors:
- the level of protection on the building (red, yellow or green) - this is the most important factor
- the correct department responders - fire, hospital, police
- the specialists, if you have them.
Even if the calculated chance is low for success, you might still be successful at the emergency. It is somewhat randomized. And even if unsuccessful, your responders get the experience for leveling up.
It is definitely frustrating to get going, but it is a certainty that you can get no where if you don't keep sending those responders out.
Hope that helps.