America’s Fire Departments Worried Over Impact of Continued Recession

May 20, 2009

The current economic crisis is negatively affecting fire departments across the country, according to a survey of firefighters.

More than half of all fire departments said the poor economy meant they had to increase fundraising efforts or grant writing due to budget cutbacks. Fifty-five percent strongly agree or agree that if the economic situation continues for another 12 months, it will negatively affect their ability to serve their community.

The study, “Supporting Safer Communities: A National Firefighter Survey,” sponsored by Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., attracted nearly 9,500 fire departments or 30 percent of departments in the country.

The survey found that the top three challenges facing fire departments today are:

  • Lack of budget
  • Old or outdated equipment, gear and apparatus
  • Staffing, recruiting and retaining qualified firefighters

“When you consider that firefighters are the first responders to nearly every fire, medical emergency, and natural or man-made disaster in our local communities, it is imperative that we have adequate funding to ensure we keep our communities safe,” said Chief Larry J. Grorud, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Among the findings:

  • One out of four fire departments do not have adequate extrication equipment needed to safely and quickly remove injured people from a vehicle crash.
  • Seventy-six percent of departments do not believe their organization is adequately trained to deal with terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
  • Fifty-seven percent of all volunteer departments (70 percent of all U.S. fire departments) are losing volunteers who need to look for other jobs.
  • Fifty-two percent of departments do not feel they are adequately trained to handle hazardous material incidents. One-third of departments don’t have and need protective equipment for all fire personnel to respond to hazardous materials incidents.
  • Only 50 percent of departments have protective equipment for all personnel to respond to wildland fires.
  • Thirteen percent of responding departments don’t have at least one thermal imaging camera, considered a critical tool to identify hot spots and locate injured or sleeping persons in a burning building.
  • Only 41 percent of fire departments have at least one per engine company.

Not all the findings were grim – many firefighters had positive information to convey about their departments. Despite the current economic crisis, only 17 percent of fire departments felt the
quality of service they provide has declined, 90 percent believe they have adequate training for structural fires; and 62 percent are confident in their fire service organizations’ disaster response capabilities.

The survey sponsor, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., has a nationwide philanthropic program that provides equipment, training and educational tools to local fire departments. Since 2004, Fireman’s Fund has issued grants to more than 1,100 different departments totaling more than $21 million.

Full results can be found here.

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