Cutting Fire Department Costs Without Cutting Safety

In order to operate effectively, departments need to re-evaluate over time and as the agency goes through change.

In order to operate effectively, departments need to re-evaluate over time and as the agency goes through change.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to work for the Noblesville Fire Department in Indiana. We are a career department with 120 firefighters operating in a growing community. While no two departments or districts are alike, I am confident that many departments face similar issues related to the current state of the economy. It is important to show the public that firefighters care about the financial aspect of our departments and are willing to do something about it.

A fire department, like most other departments within a city or town, is a type of investment. Politicians and managers have the task of dividing the tax money between the different departments. Clearly, the greater the asset, the greater the investment they are willing to make. It became obvious that fire departments are figuring out this concept when so many departments began getting involved in EMS. Now, in addition to medical response, we continue to become even more specialized, showing we are an even greater investment. This is also the reason we keep our trucks and stations clean and in good repair. The public wants to know we are taking care of their investment.

So, if you're not the fire chief, where do you fit into this? By being a member of a department we all owe it to the taxpayers to be as fiscally responsible as possible while continuing to offer a high level of service in a safe manner. What follows are some common sense ideas to get your department headed in the right direction.

In Noblesville, we have taken the first important step in the face of the current economic times by establishing a fire department committee to objectively evaluate our own efficiency. This is where I suggest you begin. It is easy for any one member to sit back and arm chair quarterback their departments efficiency and offer no solutions. A committee such as this is a proactive way to evaluate several key areas and evaluate if certain changes may result in cost effective solutions. It is important with any perceived solution to consider whether the upfront costs are offset by a reasonable return on investment timeframe. If it takes 20 years to see a return on a certain change, it is likely not worth the effort. With any investment, it will likely affect different departments in different ways. This is why a committee is valuable, in that it can objectively evaluate and project the rate of return different investments can make for specific departments.

Fuel Spending
Now, what does this committee evaluate? Fuel costs are a budget factor for any department. Many departments have already taken steps to reduce fuel costs such as limiting responses for certain call types, and limiting non-response travel. Remember to keep safety in mind for all parties when evaluating emergency response. One progressive step my department is currently implementing is setting up video conference capability between stations and with the training division. As we become an increasingly larger department, we are able to reduce travel time and expenses from bringing in outlying districts for centralized training. This tool is only practical for classroom sessions, but will still reduce fuel and maintenance costs in the long run.

Electric And Lighting Costs
Another area that affects all departments is electrical costs. These costs may be difficult to evaluate depending on the type and number of stations within your jurisdiction. Considerations to reducing electrical costs should be evaluated specifically in the area of lighting. Transitioning from standard incandescent bulbs to Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL's) or Light Emitting Diode's (LED's), can increase energy efficiency and reduce costs. CFL's are considered to be four times as efficient, last up to 10 times longer, and use 50 to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. A CFL bulb is able to replace an incandescent in almost any application. Better yet, an LED bulb will now last 10 times longer than a CFL, and will withstand jarring and bumping better than other bulbs. The LED's are also safer for the environment and even more efficient than the CFL.

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