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Downsizing Fire Departments

The dollars keep adding up, but the statistics don’t.

I’ve written about this topic previously. The number of actual fires are way down and the average fire department has transitioned to becoming an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provider. The truth of the matter is that the cost benefit and dollars and cents will soon have the impact of cities and counties looking to trim what fire departments do and how they are staffed and operated.

See this Time magazine article: “As Wildfires Burn, Are U.S. Cities Spending Too Much on Their Fire Departments?

The economics will force change — slow maybe, but change is coming!

Here is a quote from the article:

“Of the 37 million calls fire departments received in 2019, almost 25 million were for medical aid. Just 1.3 million were for fires. Yet firefighters are paid significantly more than EMS workers or paramedics.

“The average EMT, or emergency medical technician, nationally makes $17.62 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Firefighters employed by local governments make, on average, $27.64 an hour.”

I can hear the howls of outrage already. The golden goose is about to stop laying as many golden eggs. Firefighters will likely need that second job not just to fill their time or pay for a boat, but to make a living.

I’m betting folks are looking up in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to quote this or that. Remember which fox is guarding the hen house.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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