Firefighters Don't Fight Fires (Marginal Revolution)
Sunday July 22nd, 2012
Over the past 35 years, the number of fires in the United States has fallen by more than 40% while the number of career firefighters has increased by more than 40% (data).
(N.B. Volunteer firefighters were mostly pushed out of the big cities in the late 19th century but there are a surprising number who remain in rural areas and small towns; in fact, more in total than career firefighters. The number of volunteers has been roughly constant and almost all of them operate within small towns of less than 25,000. Thus, you can take the above as approximating towns and cities of more than 25,000.)
The decline of demand has created a problem for firefighters. What Fred McChesney wrote some 10 years ago is even more true today:
Taxpayers are unlikely to support budget increases for fire departments if they see firemen lolling about the firehouse. So cities have created new, highly visible jobs for their firemen. The Wall Street Journal reported recently, “In Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, for example, 90% of the emergency calls to firehouses are to accompany ambulances to the scene of auto accidents and other medical emergencies. Elsewhere, to keep their employees busy, fire departments have expanded into neighborhood beautification, gang intervention, substitute-teaching and other downtime pursuits.” In the Illinois township where I live, the fire department drives its trucks to accompany all medical emergency vehicles, then directs traffic around the ambulance--a task which, however valuable, seemingly does not require a hook-and-ladder.Read More