Fire Department Budget Cuts ? Solutions

Fire Department Budget Cuts



The impact of the current financial crisis is biting all industries. Fire departments throughout the world find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. Fire departments across the country are becoming subject to the budget cuts while cities find ways to reduce their spending. Budget cuts are becoming more severe year by year with lean budgets. Budget cuts are already causing harm and disruption to many cities. The National League of Cities estimates that 22% of all insurance claims are caused by fire-related problems. If fire departments continue to downsize, it will cause the major problem in service provision.

Although fire departments are led by experienced problem-solvers, the problems of budget cuts affect every department from volunteers to urban dwellers. In 2008, the National League of Cities indicated that 90% of cities were not able to meet their fiscal obligations and the condition continued to weaken annually. Reduced ability to support their functions will make most cities to put in place drastic measures in an attempt to close up the gap that is not being met.

The following report examines fire departments of Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Huston, and New York. The report will focus on how the four fire departments deal with budget cuts in the face of uncertainty that has gripped the world economy. These four departments have been selected because they tried to use different measures to deal with the budget cuts.

Major Costs for Cities

The major cost for many cities is rising due to increased health insurance and pension benefits. Incomes from franchise fees of utilities have significantly reduced in many cities, especially in Lauderdale. The decrease in revenue and budget cuts affects available resources for reinvestment. The costs associated with fire department are becoming an increasing federal problem, though it varies from community to community depending on the local situation (Doeksen & Allen, 2009). Provision of resources to make sure that fire departments are running is important.

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Action by Cities

It is apparent that uncertainty that has gripped the world economy is slowly manifesting itself in fire departments. The economic recession has forced cities to carry out the following actions to remain afloat.

Hiring Freezes and Retrenchment

While many in decision making positions have commendably resisted the urge to cut costs by retrenching their staff, their patients appear to be running out. Fire departments in the US, including the Los Angeles Fire Departments ostensibly laid off some of their employees. Recent research indicates that cities throughout the US have reduced the number of new employees or volunteers who are being hired. Budget cuts have forced fire departments in the US to freeze recruitment of new employees. Laying off personnel has been taken as a short-term measure by many cities to reduce their payroll costs. Sixty seven (67%) percent of cities have imposed heavy hiring freezes or layoffs on their employees.

Unpaid Leaves of Absence

Fire departments in the US are using the unpaid leaves of absence strategy in order to cut costs during the current hard economic times. Fort Lauderdale is one of fire departments that have given their senior staff members the leaves of absence to deal with the raising payroll cost. Rise in pension contributions and health schemes are also the major problem for the organizations.

Reduced Training Resources

Training budgets in most cities have been cut in a bid to get more resources in operations departments. According to Hoene (2009), training plays a critical role in ensuring the continued excellence in service provision. Lack of these sufficient budgetary allocations to ensure that all firemen are trained properly could reduce the effectiveness of the service.

Closure of Engine companies

New York is dealing with budget cuts by reducing the number of engines that are available for use. A number of franchise companies has been closed to reduce the cost of running the department. Reduction in engines, which has been halved from 76,000 to 38,000 across the country in the last 5 years represents a risk to many businesses and homeowners (Hoene, 2009).

Proposed solutions

In 2014, Chicago earmarked prevention of fires as a method to deal with budget cuts (Emanuel, 2014). Installation of smoke detectors and quick response hoses is meant to support firefighting efforts while reducing the cost of maintaining the fire department.

Many cities in the US have increased taxes and charges for firefighting purposes. An increase in collections by Fort Lauderdale through increased taxes is helping alleviate the problem in which they find themselves. Dealing with reduced workforce and less financial resources to re-train their officers is the major problem for Fort Lauderdale.

A number of cities in the US generate some revenue through billing fire services. Addressing the issues of spending in fire departments can help reduce the risk in the reduced roles of fire departments across the country.

Fire departments should also institutionalize an innovation culture in everything they do. They must harness the power of innovation to cut costs. Improved technologies to help homeowners to detect and fight fires before they get uncontrollable are in use in the US fire departments. For instance, New York envisages rolling out of self-firefighting equipment to supplement the work done by servicemen. This is expected to reduce the number of occurrences of fires and improve safety.


It is apparent that spiral effect of recession in the US and Europe is steadily but gradually taking its toll on the fire departments. Sooner or later, the impact on fire departments could be devastating. Fire department executives are under pressure to put measures that will keep their organizations afloat in the face of receding global economy. Among the measures taken by fire departments to remain afloat in the face of global recession, are retrenchments, unpaid leaves of absence, closure of engine companies, and reduced training resources. The above measures have been effective in cutting costs. However, analysts argue that some of the measures, such as retrenchment, should only be the last option. This is because fire departments risk to lose their best talents. In addition, layoffs lead to a sharp rise in unemployment levels. Fire departments should be careful during the hard times. They need to be aware how they allocate their resources, especially by prioritizing resource allocation to low risk of high payback initiatives. If cities find that applying responsible operational cuts is challenging, then they must be aware that addressing large public safety expense will be more difficult. Further, reduction of federal funding and local government funding for fire departments will only increase the cost of dealing with frequent fires. Federal government intervention must be availed to increase funding to arrest the situation that is spiraling out of control across the country.

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