Should idle firefighters be turned into police officers or doctors?

Fires and Firefighters.png

As this chart from marginalrevolution.com shows, structure fires in America have declined dramatically over the decades, but the number of firefighters has continued to rise, even during the recent recession.

This has left local governments with an excess of idle fire personnel. What to do? Communities could look to reduce personnel, but there are limits on how low firefighter complements can go, and not only because of pressure from firefighters unions. After a certain point, shutting down firehouses pushes up response times. And though, even in the case of medical emergencies, researchers have cast doubt on the low-response-time imperative, certainly minutes matter to the public.

So then how to make the best use out of idle firefighters? Two solutions have been proposed. Jonathan Cohn, writing in the print edition of the new New Republic, advocates “turn[ing] firehouses into walk-in medical clinics”:

With the country growing older and 30 million more people getting health insurance from Obamacare, we’re facing a serve shortfall of primary care providers. At the same time, fire incidence in the United States has been at historic lows, thanks for improved prevention. Firefighters-most of whom have basic medical training-already respond to more calls for health emergencies, anyway.

Therefore, etc.

An alternative approach is to cross-train fire and police personnel. Examples may be found in Michigan and California. Naturally, the International Association of Fire Fighters loathes the idea, but the savings can be substantial. Sunnyvale, CA, which has cross-trained its personnel since 1950, manages to provide public safety services on a per capita basis of $100s less than neighboring communities.

Cross-training is a better idea because turning firefighters into doctors constitutes mission creep. Cohn is an expert in health care policy, not city government. Cohn cites a few examples of local governments tasking their firefighters with providing immunizations and other forms of basic care, but these are exceptions. City governments are generally not in the health care delivery business, but they are in the public safety business and always will be. In light of this, and their strained budgets, cities should focus more on improving the delivery of services to which they are already committed, not expanding into new services.

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. eatingdogfood

    Democratic Hustler Politicians + Corrupt Greedy Unions = BANKRUPTCY BABY!

    February 2, 2013 Reply
  2. eatingdogfood

    Democratic Hustler Politicians + Corrupt Greedy Unions = BANKRUPTCY BABY!

    February 2, 2013 Reply
  3. alan

    Doctors? Firefighters are mostly high school graduates so say retrain firefighters into doctors would involve an additonal 8 years of training. Maybe male nurses.. Firefighters are extremely politically active..Firefighter jobs are a source of political power as the low educational barrier allows politicans to hire family members/friends(until recently) or to fulfill minority highing requirements. In Conn there are dozens of suits/counter suits between White and minority Firemen groups claiming one or the other was depriving the other of firemen jobs. Police/fire should be combined but it is difficult in entrenched cities in Northeast/midwest but being done in South.

    February 2, 2013 Reply
  4. LaNae

    Police/fire combination is a very poor idea. First off, the mission of police is in direct contrast with the mission of firefighters. Most firefighters provide EMS care and part of the certification/oath is to cause “no harm”. This would limit a firefighters ability to shoot or defend the public. Second, despite the belief that firefighters do nothing but sit around with idle time, this is only a misconception. Part of the reason that fires have declined over the years is the fact that firefighters routinely conduct inspections and make “pre-plans” of buildings and hazards in their area. They also have an extensive training regime and conduct, classroom, computer based and hands on training during much of the time they are in or around the station. The balance of the time they are in house is spent doing maintenance and testing of equipment.
    Firefighters also provide extensive community service holding classes on CPR, fire safety, AED use, etc. at local schools and for community groups. Lastly, the professionalization of the industry has increased specialized education needs. An increased reliance on fire departments for emergency medical services and the recent need for firefighters to be trained in anti-terrorism and homeland security practices. As a result, more firefighters hold related credentials, like EMS certificates or paramedic degrees.There is also more demand for associate degrees in fire science and other degree programs that relate directly to firefighting.

    February 3, 2015 Reply

Cancel