What do Firefighters do? They sure don’t fight fires

Alex Tabarrok with a revealing, US-centric post. So what do they actually do? 

(…) 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.

Here’s some data. Note that medical calls dwarf fire calls. Twenty five years ago false alarms were half the number of fires, today false alarms significantly exceed the number of fires.

3 thoughts on “What do Firefighters do? They sure don’t fight fires

  1. I had read of this. It’s like the old railroad featherbedding and cabooses on trains.


  2. (As a previous volunteer fire fighter)
    All the professional fire fighting districts I know of require all fire fighters to also be EMT’s so there is quite a bit of cross training for the medical calls. From my experience, yes, the VAST majority, over 90% of the calls we received were medical related.

    The challenge becomes when you do have a fire / car accident, etc. When you need ‘big iron’ (fire engine, ladder truck) and lots of crew to effectively stop the fire and rescue people.

    Otherwise, for the other 90% an ambulance is more than adequate. I did see a resistance to rolling just an ambulance to a scene when you knew it was a medical call as there were MUCH fewer ambulances versus fire engines.

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