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Public safety is by far the most costly service provided by cities, in broad terms public safety includes the police, fire departments and emergency medical services. Santa Clara County (SCC) is faced with economic difficulties. These call for the change in the status quo to replace the deeply rooted traditions that are proving too costly.
In light of this, it is important to review the public-safety departments to do away with the over deployment of the multiple firefighting apparatus in emergencies, which are non life-threatening and in effect save on taxpayer’s money.
The nature of emergency calls in the United States has changed since it was established over a century ago, more especially to protect from loss of property, this is credited to the enforcement of stringent building codes, which require that, among other things, fire retardant building materials should be used, and that sprinkler systems should be installed in buildings.
This strict requirement saw the decline in fire emergencies forcing the fire departments to broaden their services and hence increase ‘business’, retain jobs and prevent closure of stations.
Notwithstanding this broadening, statistics show that majority of emergency calls are medical in nature, with just 4%of the emergencies responded to by firefighters being fire-related while 70% being medical related.
Fire departments should evolve to be emergency response departments to cater for all emergencies in which cases 96% are non fire events according to Santa Clara report(5). This would ensure that there wouldn’t be a mismatch in equipment and personnel as fire equipments cost more than medical supply’s ambulance.
It is logical that fire departments should purchase less-expensive equipments and in effect, dispatch the equipments selectively depending on the nature of the emergency, to avoid situations where they are dispatched on every call; this would reduce on the cost of dispatch, wear and tear and thus a reduction in expenses.
Consolidation of services is possible without disruption of emergency services, protocol; training and equipments are, in essence, the same throughout the country hence consolidation of services is feasible. Many fire departments have successfully consolidated its services within the country.
The consolidation of the administration can be effected effectively regardless of whether they are police or fire chiefs, the administration can be solidified through one officer. A case example is the consolidation of police and fire administration in Palo Alto, which proved very popular and effective, especially in budgeting.
Consolidation also aids in the elimination of unplanned cost of interdepartmental aid, this is noted in the practice whereby fire departments provide services to neighboring departments through a “gentleman’s agreement.” This can sometimes work against a fire department which neighbors an under funded region. This can be normalized through consolidation of service’s cost and proportional spread of costs.
Boundaries can be consolidated by eliminating jurisdiction lines dividing them and hence requiring that the service department closest to the event is deployed, this, in effect, offers the opportunity to eliminate stations close to each other and thus saving on cost.
Another advantage of consolidation is that, duplicate administrative positions excessive equipments are eliminated and operations are streamlined.
Response time can be minimized if services by fire departments are consolidated this is as compared with closure of stations, which is potentially negative, especially to property owners who have taken out insurance, this is because insurance service office use response time to rate the premiums.
A consolidated purchase of equipments and apparatus can be very effective, especially in relation to standardization of equipments and thus preventing the customization of vehicles, which is needlessly expensive. More importantly standardization ensures that different departments do not face difficulties interacting with other department’s equipments and vehicles.
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“Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report,” Fighting Fire or Fighting Change? Rethinking Fire Department Response Protocol and Consolidation of Opportunities. 2010-2011. Print.