1. #1
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    Default Outsourcing in the Fire Service

    I am doing a master's thesis on outsourcing fire protection in communities and wondered if anyone wanted to provide some feedback. I know that there are communities that outsource EMS and even some that outsource the entire fire department.

    Specifically, What are your thoughts on outsourcing? Can private companies provide the same level of service? Can outsourcing save a community money? What will happen to training, certification and professionalism? Would outsourcing destroy the IAFF?

    Any volunteers?

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    I'll bite.

    My opinion is that a private company doing fire/ems has it's place and can provide good service, if they do it right. It is just like any other company providing service like restaurants, construction, mechanical service, etc. You get the good ones and the bad ones.

    I have worked for a private company providing fire service. The particular company I worked for did have their stuff together and required highly trained professionals. In fact if you did not know we were a contract service, you would not have known any different from how we looked or operated. Yes, in that case, we could provide the same service for cheaper than the municipality and we were just as professional and just as skilled as anyone else in the business. Because of the higher standards of the company in hiring employees, we did not see a lot of turnover in personnel.

    Now in other cases in private ambulance services, depending on the company, you could be getting sub-standard service. You truly do get what you pay for. If a municipality wants to get by cheap and only do the minimum, then that is the service you get. It is totally up to that governing body of that city/town etc. on they kind of service they want and what their citizens will put up with. if they are ok with a sub-standard ambulance or fire service, then so be it. Most companies that provide private fire/ems services are professional and do a good job every day. It is the poorly managed companies that give everyone else a bad name.

    Municipal and private services each have their place. Depending on how they are set up, managed, supported by their townspeople, and how they are funded is how they will operate. Sometimes a private service can do better for cheaper, sometimes the municipal ones can do it better for cheaper.

    And no, private services will no run the IAFF out of business. I think EMS is the saving grace to the IAFF. I think fire based EMS is the way to go because they work hand in hand and they can be interchangeable depending on the situation.

    Good luck on your degree. You should talk to the leaders of your local fire department and get their opinion. Then, once you do that, talk to the same people from the next neighboring town. I bet you will get two totally different answers, totally based on tradition and their own personal feelings. Usually change is hard and thinking outside the box is even harder.
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    Quote Originally Posted by chrisbolin View Post
    I am doing a master's thesis on outsourcing fire protection in communities and wondered if anyone wanted to provide some feedback. I know that there are communities that outsource EMS and even some that outsource the entire fire department.

    Specifically, What are your thoughts on outsourcing? Can private companies provide the same level of service? Can outsourcing save a community money? What will happen to training, certification and professionalism? Would outsourcing destroy the IAFF?

    Any volunteers?
    My general opinion is that Fire and EMS are municipal services that every community must provide its taxpayers with. To meet this "mandate" there are many options, including outsourcing to "third party" service providers. In general, third party contract services are "for profit". I have yet to personally see a "for profit" fire or EMS dept. that can provide the same level of service as most tax based systems. These services are expensive and patient or customer billing will rarely cover all the expenses if the provider is properly equipped and staffed.

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    Our county has 17 different fire departments. We are in Upstate NY. of the 17 2 are full time paid departments that are in cities that physically border each other. The two cities are so close that one cannot tell when they go from one city to the next. Of the remaining 15, 2 are fire districts, these are considered political sub-divisions and hence get their funding directly from taxes. The remaining 13 departments are private organizations that contract with the town for fire protection. The biggest difference is I see that the government owned departments have an easier time getting funding and money.

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    One reason why privates will not be as good as a municipal department-personnel experience and loyalty. The privates can't compete with us on those issues, mostly due to the better benefits and working conditions we offer.

    My department lost it's ambulances in the 70's to a private co. That company is still providing the service, albeit in it's third name. 17 years ago we didn't even run medicals anymore. We started MFR/BLS in 1993, and went to ALS in 2002. Why? Because we saw the lack of professionalism and poor care our citizens were receiving.

    In the 17 years I have been running with them, I have seen 2 people stay employed there the whole time. Both were borderline incompetent, but smart enough to avoid the big mistake. Both repeatedly took the fire tests and never passed due to physical or mental problems. We have hired about 10 people away from them, and 3 more we hired quit or were fired during the probation period-and went back to working private ambulance. The average stay at the company seems to be 2-3 years for their good employees-that's when they get hired by a FD or get burned out from the nursing home transfers and sitting in parking lots for $11/hr. In contrast, in a 100 member dept, we have had 3 people (who passed probation) leave before retirement, all of whom are now chiefs or hazmat leaders for other agencies.

    There are plenty of excellent people out there working private EMS. The industry just doesn't pay well enough to keep them, and seems to not care by the way they are treated as disposable. Maybe a municipal EMS only system can work (hasn't around here), but the privates are in it to make money.

    As far as detroying the IAFF as a whole, I doubt it. But at the local level, it can drive some wedges in the membership. We had a huge fight on our hands to take on EMS again. When the private co. took over, 6 of 30 FFs were laid off and weren't brought back for up to 2 years. By 1993, those men were Chiefs and Captains, and they were understandably bitter about EMS.

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    Private fire departments answer to stockholders.

    Publicly funded fire departments answer to the people of the community/district.
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo View Post
    Private fire departments answer to stockholders.

    Publicly funded fire departments answer to the people of the community/district.
    This is directly related to the type and quality of service one receives.
    Jason Knecht
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    Altoona Fire Dept.
    Altoona, WI

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    http://www.cheddarvision.tv/
    EAT CHEESE OR DIE!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo View Post
    Private fire departments answer to stockholders.
    If a municipal fire department could break even on budget, it would be a miracle. If a private fire services provider breaks even on budget, they consider it a failure. I know who I want to work for.

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    Define outsourcing?

    Are fire districts independent of the local/muncipal or parish governments outsourced, as technically technically town has no control over the district?

    My department in Vermont was an independent non-profit corporation owned by the members of the fire department. We provided fire protection to the town by contract. That's how it was setup in the 50's when the department was formed and it's still the system today.

    That's still a common system in VT.

    Is that outsourcing?

    Or are you just referring to for-profit corporations providing fire protection?

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    Ask the Federal Gov't! They have been trying to outsource us for years!!!!
    A Fire Chief has ONLY 1 JOB and that's to take care of his fireman. EVERYTHING else falls under this.

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    Bottom line is no, outsourcing isn't a threat to the IAFF's existence. Private companies need to make money and their is no money in firefighting. There is a little bit in EMS, but almost none in 911 EMS, most of the profit is derived from non-emergency transports (interfacility etc.). It becomes very difficult to make these cash calls without having an impact on the number of available units for regular 911 service. Also as others have pointed out, you will attract only those with little to no experience or undesiriables that can't manage to get hired anywhere decent. Turnover will be high, experience will always be low and the service provided will suffer as a result.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 4southside3 View Post
    Bottom line is no, outsourcing isn't a threat to the IAFF's existence. Private companies need to make money and their is no money in firefighting. There is a little bit in EMS, but almost none in 911 EMS, most of the profit is derived from non-emergency transports (interfacility etc.). It becomes very difficult to make these cash calls without having an impact on the number of available units for regular 911 service. Also as others have pointed out, you will attract only those with little to no experience or undesiriables that can't manage to get hired anywhere decent. Turnover will be high, experience will always be low and the service provided will suffer as a result.
    Very good post, seems to hit on all the points.

    Privatized FD's will work well if they are the only game in town. Meaning, everything is good as long as they don't get any type of competition from public agencies for employees. Historically, domestic privately-owned FD's do not have competitive wage/compensation packages due to concern for the bottom line. Their goal is to make as much money as possible and satisfy the contract with whatever municipality that they serve. Case in point Scottsdale, Az. Which has since done away with Rural-metro and went back to the municipally run FD.

    This is a pretty good resource for the why privatization is not always the best option.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=W1O...hQd32g#PPP1,M1
    Last edited by FDAIC485; 03-02-2009 at 06:22 PM.
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    Rural Metro currently provides the entire gamut of fire protection services for entire communities. ESD districts, as they are in Texas, can be private organizations that contract with the county to provide service. To the county, this is outsourcing. So, in essence, let's say a community budgets fire protection, hires its own firefighters and chief, owns its own stations and apparatus and then decides to outsource it. This would be what I mean.


    Quote Originally Posted by LaFireEducator View Post
    Define outsourcing?

    Are fire districts independent of the local/muncipal or parish governments outsourced, as technically technically town has no control over the district?

    My department in Vermont was an independent non-profit corporation owned by the members of the fire department. We provided fire protection to the town by contract. That's how it was setup in the 50's when the department was formed and it's still the system today.

    That's still a common system in VT.

    Is that outsourcing?

    Or are you just referring to for-profit corporations providing fire protection?

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    Good stuff - thank you.

    Quote Originally Posted by FDAIC485 View Post
    Very good post, seems to hit on all the points.

    Privatized FD's will work well if they are the only game in town. Meaning, everything is good as long as they don't get any type of competition from public agencies for employees. Historically, domestic privately-owned FD's do not have competitive wage/compensation packages due to concern for the bottom line. Their goal is to make as much money as possible and satisfy the contract with whatever municipality that they serve. Case in point Scottsdale, Az. Which has since done away with Rural-metro and went back to the municipally run FD.

    This is a pretty good resource for the why privatization is not always the best option.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=W1O...hQd32g#PPP1,M1

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    What would happen if they succeed? What would become of the IAFF? Would the IAFF still have a face in the fire service?

    Quote Originally Posted by JTFIRE80 View Post
    Ask the Federal Gov't! They have been trying to outsource us for years!!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by chrisbolin View Post
    What would happen if they succeed? What would become of the IAFF? Would the IAFF still have a face in the fire service?
    I should have been more clear. By "us", I meant Federal FF's. Federal FF's are only a portion of the IAFF, so in the long run, it would not affect the IAFF.
    A Fire Chief has ONLY 1 JOB and that's to take care of his fireman. EVERYTHING else falls under this.

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    On the question of would outsourcing destroy the IAFF...

    Why would it?

    In fact I would argue for many states it would enable many more fire departments to unionize as they would no longer be exempt under laws which currently prevent public safety employees from becoming recognized in bargaining in many right-to-work states (or prevent them by placing hurdles between them and recognition)

    That is of course assuming that the collective bargaining bill doesn't get passed and right now it is about one of the surest things the IAFF has ever had going for it. Can it still fail...yes. However I'd say based on the actions of some administrative persons in certain states in attending seminars on how to work within collective bargaining, they've been advised by their people (the opposition to the collective bargaining bill) that it is a likelyhood and to prepare for it.

    FTM-PTB

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