Report: Plenty of Firefighters, Not So Many Fires

A news piece from the Boston Globe noted the preponderance of firefighters in the city despite a substantially lower number of fires in recent times.

Boston records showed a decline of more than 90 percent in the number of major fires in the city from between 1975 and last year. The report notes that better building codes, automatic sprinkler systems, and more careful behavior have led to a serious decline in fire activity.

On the other hand, the number of professional firefighters in Boston has dropped only slightly, from around 1,600 in the ’80s to just over 1,400 today. The cost of running the department, meanwhile, has increased by almost $43 million over the past decade, and currently stands at $185 million, or around 7.5 percent of the city’s total budget. A similar trend was noted nationwide.

However, the total number of calls being routed to fire departments is higher than ever, even though only 5 percent of them are fire related; the majority of these calls tend to be medical calls. These changes are prompting experts to weigh in on the changing nature of emergency services and the expectations for a fire department.

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Michael J. Ruggere of the Boston Fire Department noted a statistical discrepancy between the number of “major fires” in Boston and the number of firefighters on the job, saying there was no consistency with the years of comparison.

“In 1975, Boston had  approximately 2,200 firefighters, 77 fire companies, and 12 fire districts. In 2013, we have approximately 1,400 firefighters, 55 fire companies, and 9 fire districts,” Ruggere said. “Taking nothing else into account in regards to justifying the need for fire coverage, these numbers would support a major adjustment in fire coverage. Comparing 1975 fire incidents to 1985 firefighter manpower is like comparing apples to oranges.”

For more on changes in the fire service, consider Developing a Fire-Based EMS System: One Department’s Strategic Plan, Fire-Based EMS : The Solution for an Ailing System?, FEWER FIRES , BUT MORE FLASHOVERS, and Seen Many Fires Lately?

For more on staffing problems in the fire service, consider Inside a Budget Fight : It Never Ends, and Nobody Wins, THE LEGAL AND POLITICAL ASPECTS OF STAFFING , and Are We Short -Staffed or Just Short -Sighted?.

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