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  • Department consolidation trends.

    Talking with State EMA and especially with fire equipment vendors, have learned that there is a trend towards the elimination and closings of smaller departments. Especially those who are unable to be 100% compliant because of funding or other reasons such as smaller first due areas of responsibility.

    FEMA has publicly said that they do not wish to weed out non compliant departments, which makes me wonder if that is what they really mean. Why else would they say it?

    Kelvin Cochran of the USFA even said in his acceptance speech last year, that national funding should be directed toward urban areas and career departments. (Frankly I am relieved he is leaving for several reasons.) He may have been a devoted leader to the fire service for one year, but less so to the volunteer fire service. (Hey he drew the line in the sand between urban vs. rural, not me.) Dr. Harry Carter, a contributor here on Firehouse.com even warned me by phone that the smaller departments need to be aware of these same 'biased' trends within the fire service.

    Irregardless, there have been consolidations of fire departments and some of the fire equipment representatives have reported that the results have not been very positive or what the change intended to accomplish.

    Some neighboring departments that are larger with more equipment are offering neighboring local governments the promise of better fire and rescue capabilities. Some of these towns are finding out that they are ending up paying higher costs for longer response times. Some have even experienced a bias in pro-rating in emergency protection costs based on higher wages per captia or other demographics that the absorbing entity feels inferior towards. These reasons can vary greatly, but one of the more common is that if the larger department is experiencing budget problems, they seem more apt to want to absorb a smaller department who may have better turnouts and especially, better budget and funding issues.

    One of the reasons why I am bringing this is up is the present economic situation within the nation. Omaha had to return its SAFER award because it would not be able to meet the participation requirements and many other cities are experiencing similar budget issues as well. Some are doing creative things to become solvent and this will often translate to how other smaller towns and villages respond to these same issues.

    Every community must address its three primary responsibilities to its residents. #3 is roads, #2 is water and sewer and #1 is public safety; and it must pay for that protection. One of the ways it is looking to save money is possibly to consolidate its services.

    However consolidation of services must work towards the benefit of both entities involved and not for one over the other.

    So, Has or is anyone experiencing or know of such activity and can you share what you have encountered with such change?
    Last edited by jam24u; 08-07-2010, 05:06 PM.

  • #2
    Not a lot of consolidation here, but the area has experienced quite a bit of annexation by larger departments for several years.

    Basically, an area outside of the cities, in the parishes, is free game for the urban departments if they can convince the voters in the area to be annexed. There have been some very newly built up affluent areas, which are often remote "islands" surrounded by the neighboring fire district(s), that have been annexed by the city. These areas have been covered by small combo or volunteer departments when the land was open and without much value for years, and often are cherry-picked to avoid having to cover low value homes or trailer parks that may be adjoing these affluent "islands".

    One trick that the urban areas are now using is approaching the developer before the land is built upon about being annexed into the city. The city promises access to the water and sewer system, which greatly increases the value, and often fails to discuss that while the first due engine may be 4-6 minutes out, the 2nd due engine or medic unit, or first due truck may be much farther than that because of the distance the newly annexed land is from the 2nd closest fire station.

    The fact is that these residents are often underserved by the city fire department due to the remote location (when compared to thier location to the bulk of the city's resources). Ironically enough, it's not uncommon for the city to request the resources of the fire district that used to cover the area for manpower, apparatus, and tankers, which the city does not even own despite the fact that have annexed areas with, in some cases, limited water but high-value homes. At least one district has refused to provide assistance, and another demanded that the city sign a mutual aid agreement which provides auto mutual aid into the district from the city to compensate them for their response into the city.

    Recently there was an annexation made by our department that was requested by the smaller fire district. The district, which was formed 5 years ago, found that they were simply to small to operate by themselves, and requested that we annex them.

    There is currently an annexation occurring in the parish to our west for the same reasons.
    Train to fight the fires you fight.


    • #3
      In this area, consolidation would likely solve a lot of problems. However, the consolidation that I'm referring to is different then an urban department annexing an outlying department, or two departments merging.

      The kind of consolidation I think is helpful is movement toward a county-wide fire department, in which each volunteer department can keep its name and its fire department corporation, but each department is also subject to a county fire department SOG, and final authority lies with the county chain of command.

      We have to remember that the goal of consolidation should be to provide the best service possible to the citizens. There are a few areas I find troubling returns in an area such as this, where there are many small departments within a few miles of one another. Consolidation would help primarily with communications, particularly inter-departmental radio communication and alarm response. As it is now everybody has their own fireground channel and it's a hassle to coordinate a joint response.

      Another aspect of consolidation is run volume. Now as volunteer firemen, a day without a run is a good day for the citizens. However, firemen are eager to use what they've learned in a practical way. In an area that doesn't see much fire, this only happens if you're "lucky enough" to get a fire in the first due. Outside of that, its more or less each department for themselves. A county-wide system allows more efficient alarm assignments, allowing the run volume for individual departments to go up.

      I see consolidation as a good thing, but only if its right for the area. In some places consolidation could cause problems that outweigh the advantages.


      • #4
        Fluid situation.

        I think it's pretty much a business that should always be adapting to the situation. Big fire departments do the same thing, and smaller departments will join each other to provide the best service to the community. It's always going to be a fluid situation, ever changing to meet the demands.

        My area, we are in the final stages of having another department join us. We are exchanging equipment, solving the radio frequency differences, comparing SOG's & SOP's.


        • #5
          New York recently passed a law that may bring about some consolidation at all levels (not just fire departments). NY is a "home rule" state - essentially, the lowest levels of local government are independent of upper levels (ie, a county can't tell two towns to consolidate, etc). The new law will enable the citizens, through a set process, to force such consolidations. Thus the taxpayers of Fire District A and Fire District B can force the two to merge.

          This raises some interesting possibilities, if you will, especially if those fire departments haven't always been the best of friends.

          There have been discussions of fire department consolidations here, but only one is still on the burner, although it's set on "low." Even there, one of the three departments potentially involved has backed away. Ironically, of the three fire stations involved, that is the one that would be most likely to completely close, being located about a mile from its nearest neighbor.

          Two adjacent villages, each with their own police, fire, and public works departments would be a prime candidate to merge/consolidate, but the rivalry between the two is very strong. The post office "merged" them years ago, with both villages having the same zip code now.

          There are several departments that lost their raisson d'etre when roads became better developed, etc. But they still hold on regardless.

          If you'd like an example of the issues that can come with consolidation, this , this and this are a good start.

          This is the study to which the articles refer.
          Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

          Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.


          • #6
            The issues I have heard of deal with many two things.

            1. Small rural communities often have a hard time attracting and keeping qualified members, and those they do attract often work outside of the community, negating their response during portions of the day. And now our state has mandated all active firefighter have 24 hours of training annually, which is that much more burden on departments to keep enough qualified members to be effective.

            2. Small communities have a hard time purchasing the newer equipment and tools considered commonplace in today's fire world. When a new pumper runs $250,000+, that is a large burden on a community with only a few hundred residents.

            The trend we have seen occuring is automatic mutual aid for many small rural communities.
            Last edited by mcwops; 08-09-2010, 03:30 PM.


            • #7

              One solution for merging a larger FD with a smaller FD is to consolidate and allow the smaller FD to be a substation.

              Most communities will not want to give up the local fire hall/station, because of its close proximity. Having the smaller FD to remain open as a substation will help alleviate fears of losing the local fire hall/station. That substation could possibly help with the ISO rating also.


              • #8
                Originally posted by jam24u View Post
                However consolidation of services must work towards the benefit of both entities involved and not for one over the other.
                I would say it has to work towards the benefits of the taxpayers and citizens that they protect.

                If it benefits both agencies, great, but if the best solution for the citizens is that Dept "A" ceases to exist, and becomes part of Dept "B", then so be it.

                There have been quite a few consolidations/mergers in Washington in the last couple years, and more are coming.


                • #9
                  In Indiana, the governor was unable to initially push through consolidation legislation that would create a county czar.

                  However, funding to all of the elements that were to fall under the czar's influence gets cut every year. Imagine that....

                  The net result is consolidations will likely occur anyway because local government is being starved out by the state board of accounts. Ain't life a cherry!

                  The push has been on to eliminate township trustees that spend tax dollars at the local level for fire protection and fire districts that collect their own taxes. Hence, County wide fire departments are likely on the horizon...
                  A coward stands by and watches wrongs committed without saying a word...Any opinions expressed are purely my own and not necessarily reflective of the views of my former departments


                  • #10
                    Except in parts of the northeast and around large metropolitan areas where every bit of ground is inside the limits of some town or city, then a county level fire district makes a lot of sense to cover non-incorporated areas.

                    However, I don't think such county level fire districts would save much money in the short term (though a few redundant stations might be able to be quickly eliminated in some situations), but over a period of decades as station placement, equipment purchases, etc. is shifted based on county level needs, I think it would be better for the citizens.

                    The biggest short term benefit would be in regards to standardizing and making for better training opportunities (as it would make it much easier to bring together enough people to hold decent sized training classes).


                    • #11
                      I agree Auxman.

                      Beware our Governor; he is a hatchet man that relies a bit too much on bean counters and not enough on practical "on the ground" experience.
                      A coward stands by and watches wrongs committed without saying a word...Any opinions expressed are purely my own and not necessarily reflective of the views of my former departments


                      • #12
                        Bitter thoughts towards the Governor aside... I agree that consolidation and centralized management can benifit an area as long as the goal is an improved (or continued) level of service. Whether for the good or the bad, this usually lends itself towards manned stations and reduced manpower.

                        Reduced why? When an area is dominated by the Volunteer fire services it is often because that is what tax dollars can support. When you consolidate and begin paying for full time workers, then there is less cash to outfit and train the Vollies. I've watched combi departments newly formed cut back on membership for that very reason.

                        Less personel would lend itself to reduced levels of service. However, manned stations and county or area wide fire departments would lend itself to uniform training, better response times, and easier dispatching... A real quandry where I live.
                        A coward stands by and watches wrongs committed without saying a word...Any opinions expressed are purely my own and not necessarily reflective of the views of my former departments


                        • #13
                          Boone County, Missouri is a good example of a (mostly) county wide volunteer-dependent district in an area that has enough population that they probably could actually afford a paid department.


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