Fire services are still suffering from the down economy, but there were a few glimmers of improvement discussed during the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s Annual National Fire & Emergency Services Dinner & Seminars on April 25. During a session titled, “Responding to the Call During the Economic Downturn,” Chief Mark Light from the International Association of Fire Chiefs reported that business was better for many of its corporate partners. “For the last several years, they had told us sales were down 45% for fire apparatus manufacturers,” he said, but in many cases business is growing again and manufacturers are starting to sell trucks again, he said.
That’s good news, but many fire departments around the country are still suffering because of the poor economy. Chief Light discussed the threat from municipalities wanting to combine fire and police services under the “public safety officer” umbrella. He said there is a big push in Michigan right now to make this a reality in order to save the state money. There are many flaws with this concept, one being that officers tend to have a propensity for either law enforcement or fire services and there is the potential for uneven distribution of resources. He recommended fire personnel read the document, “Fire and Police Consolidation: An Ineffective Use of Resources“. Also, here is the IAFC’s official position on this issue.
Other current threats facing fire services are the many damaging reports that have recently been released. Chief Light discussed a particularly concerning study done by IBM about San Jose, Ca. that suggests the city could save money by cutting one-third of its firefighters and 400 police jobs. You can read more about this report here. Chief Light says it looks like San Jose is going to fully implement the suggestions based on this report, which should be very concerning for fire departments around the country.
In the same session, Kevin O’Connor from the International Association of Fire Fighters said that the economic downturn has resulted in attacks on firefighter’s pensions around the country. Also, he discussed the issue of municipalities wanting to separate their emergency management services from fire services and the potential damage that could have for fire departments. O’Connor emphasized that it’s critical for fire services to develop strong messaging to the public that firefighters are “America’s domestic guards,” he said. “We need to show cooperation and unity.”
Chief Phil Stittleburg from the National Volunteer Fire Council said that the economic downturn has had a significant impact on volunteer fire departments, that struggle even in good economic times. Volunteer departments tend to be in rural areas with low populations and high poverty. Because of the down economy, there has been a significant decrease in citizen’s discretionary time, as many people have sought second jobs to earn more money. A second job means less time to dedicate to volunteering at the fire department. In addition, departments are also unable to purchase equipment and are using vehicles that have reached their service limit, but are still in use because there isn’t any funding to replace it. Also, as the population ages these departments are having a hard time recruiting and retaining volunteers.
What other impacts are there on fire departments around the country because of the economy?