AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Should We Split Fire and EMS into Separate Organizations?

By Allison G. S. Knox
Edge Contributor

Emergency management at all levels requires careful use of available resources. The better we manage our resources, the better we can help our communities to recover from disasters.

However, resource management can be complicated. Many communities throughout the United States have placed emergency medical services (ambulances) and fire departments into the same organization, requiring the first responders who handle fires and medical emergencies to be cross-trained in fire management and prehospital emergency medicine.

From a budget standpoint, this organizational structure makes sense. This strategy allows first responders to handle a wider variety of 911 calls and can improve resource management.

Related link: Avoiding Apathy and Other Cultural Problems in Emergencies

Separating Fire Departments and EMS Agencies

But in some communities in the United States, some are arguing that local-level public safety resources would be better managed if these first responder agencies were two separate organizations. For instance, Justin Brennan, a New York City Council member, recently proposed splitting emergency medical services and the fire service in New York City.

Splitting Fire and EMS Won’t Work Everywhere

Splitting the fire and EMS departments would not make sense everywhere. Many rural communities, for example, have an extremely low call volume and fewer resources, so keeping fire and EMS in one organization is useful. For other communities, it may still make sense to have combined departments for budgetary reasons.

Related link: Improving Emergency Medical Services in Rural Communities

Community managers throughout the United States will have to conduct self-assessments to evaluate whether it would make sense to separate their fire department and EMS providers. Ultimately, these community managers will have to consider what works best for their residents and businesses.

Allison G. S. Knox teaches in the fire science and emergency management departments at American Military University and American Public University. Focusing on emergency management and emergency medical services policy, she often writes and advocates about these issues. Allison serves as the At-Large Director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and as Chancellor of the Southeast Region on the Board of Trustees with Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences. Prior to teaching, she worked for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. and in a Level One trauma center emergency department. Allison is an emergency medical technician and holds multiple graduate degrees.

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