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Budget cuts put municipalities at risk, NFPA warns

Nov. 7, 2011 – Municipalities that fail to manage the challenges of budget cuts, rising call volume, personnel and equipment shortages, security, and the expectation that fire departments do more with less can leave individuals, departments and communities vulnerable to undesirable events, according to a report released Friday.

November 7, 2011
By Fire Fighting in Canada

Nov. 7, 2011 – Municipalities that fail to manage the challenges of budget cuts, rising call volume, personnel and equipment shortages, security, and the expectation that fire departments do more with less can leave individuals, departments and communities vulnerable to undesirable events, according to a report released Friday.

“In many communities, the sustained economic recession is forcing decisions to cut fire-department resources faster than fire-service leaders can evaluate their impact,”
says Fire Service Deployment: Assessing Community Vulnerability, a report on fire safety released by the Urban Fire Forum, an educational group representing metropolitan fire departments.

Chief Ned Pettus Jr., president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, said the paper was prepared to give municipal leaders information to consider when making decisions about fire-department resources in a strained economy.

“As fire chiefs, we recognize the stress of dealing with cash-strapped budgets, but there are some resources that must take priority, particularly when the decision can put the public and firefighters at greater risk,” Pettus said in a press release from the NFPA.

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Here are some highlights from the report:

• Expectations on the fire service – including EMS, response to natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents, technical rescue and acts of terrorism – have steadily increased. But fire chiefs are often faced with policies created by municipal officials who are challenged to balance community-service expectations with finite budgetary resources, and who do so without a solid technical foundation for evaluating the impact of staffing and deployment decisions on the safety of the public and firefighters.

• Municipalities often plan fire-department resources to budgets rather than budgeting to the proper plan. This type of fiscal management can leave communities without sufficient resources to respond to emergency calls safely and effectively.

• It has been scientifically demonstrated that if fire-department resources are deployed to match the risks inherent to hazards in the community, then the community will be far less vulnerable to negative outcomes.

• It is imperative that fire-department leaders and political decision makers know how fire-department resource deployment in their local communities affect community outcomes in three important areas: firefighter injury and death; civilian injury and death; and property loss and environmental impact.

The report recommends a framework for decision making to ensure public and firefighter safety. The framework compiles relevant resources that must be considered in decision making, including industry standards, government regulations and science. Based on the resources available to decision makers and fire-service leaders, the report recommends that for 90 per cent of incidents, the first-due unit should arrive on scene within a four-minute travel time and should be capable of advancing the first line for fire suppression, starting rescue or providing basic life support.