The Value of the Fire Department

What is the value of a community’s fire department? I do not mean its fire station. That is infrastructure to support the fire department’s mission. I mean the VALUE of the services it provides to meet its purpose. Annually, the Town budgets to fund the human and equipment resources to continue its existence.

What is the value of a community’s fire department? I do not mean its fire station. That is infrastructure to support the fire department’s mission. I mean the VALUE of the services it provides to meet its purpose. Annually, the Town budgets to fund the human and equipment resources to continue its existence.What is the benefit of the FD? What is the community’s return for its investment? Someone to call when their brush fire gets away from them? Someone to call when his or her loved one takes ill? A monthly breakfast?

There may be many ways to judge the value of a fire department. This article takes an in-depth look of value in terms of dollars.

The mission of the American fire service is to save lives and property. The average value of a residential home in New Boston is around $300,000. Here is a common scenario: At 10 pm on a Saturday evening, the NBFD is dispatched for a chimney fire at a New Boston residence. As they work to mitigate the problem in the home’s fireplace chimney, it is discovered that the fire has breeched the chimney lining and has extended beyond the chimney to the wall framing on the second floor is moving toward the attic. The firefighters work quickly and stop the fire from further destruction. Because of the early recognition and notification, the home’s chimney is out of service but the home remains habitable. The following day’s newspaper article reads, “Fire damages estimated to be $100,000.” We know the loss, but what was the save? What potentially could have been lost? The fire department saved $200,000 of property and avoided potentially millions of more. How you ask. How much are the contents of your home worth? What if the family was displaced? Had lost time from work? What if the insurance company had a greater loss? What if the fire had happened later at night when residents were sleeping and there was loss of life? More on that later in the article.

And what of a commercial property? There are several small businesses in town that share commonalities. They sell their goods and services and create our however small, limited, local economy. They also employ many part time positions. Aside from our New Boston Central School, these small businesses are New Boston’s largest employers. What is the cost of a complete fire loss of one these businesses? If fire consumes a commercial property worth $450,000, the headline will likely read, “Estimated property loss $450,000,” but it doesn’t stop there. The Town loses thousands per year in commercial taxes until that business or another rebuilt, IF it is rebuilt in our town again. The owner of the business loses their livelihood and may live in our Town and become unable to support their family. The insurance company takes a loss and we know the impact that will take on the insurance industry. As an example, the business employed 15 PT workers for 25 hours a week and paid them an average of $15/hr. If this business were shut down for one year to rebuild, which is nearly $300,000 lost in wages. Most of those employees live in this town and would have spent some of those dollars again in this Town compounding the loss to other businesses and our local economy. The domino effect of an economy works as easily to benefit, as it does to weaken. What we have here is a mini local economic crisis with potential loss in the millions when observed on a simple scale. I believe a banker or financial expert smarter than me could also tell you how much more this is worth when these dollars are invested and re-spent in the community.

To be honest, NBFD has evolved from being less of a fire department to being more of an EMS Department. Though the fire department still needs its fire apparatus to save lives and property, 80% of its work is focused on the ambulance. What is the value of a life saved? I am not referring to the priceless value of a loved one to those that care for a person; the emotional impact of a loss. We can’t place a value on a human life. I am suggesting that we minimize the discussion to the economics of a single life lost. What is the impact of the loss of life of a 30-year-old male in our community? For our example, our male is the father of two school aged children and earns $50,000/ year. He invests $200/month in his 401k plan. He has a house with a mortgage of $250,000. His family has two cars; one is paid for and one is financed for $500/month. He has taken the responsibility of keeping a $250,000 life insurance policy. Does this sound familiar? One day on his way to work, he dies from the trauma of a motor vehicle accident. In the emergency response world, time and training are critical. This is a “seconds count” industry and making the right decisions quickly depends on well-trained providers. For the sake of our conversation, the outcome of this incident was not favorable. What is the economic impact? If he were to work until age 65, with no raise, the family loses $1.75 million. The 401k retirement plan maintaining the $200/mo contribution at the standard average mutual fund return of 12.6% has a potential loss of $1.2 million. And what of the spouse and children? IF the insurance company pays; it will barely be enough to pay for the house. The spouse will have to go to work and struggle to make ends meet reducing the family’s quality of life and we have not even gotten to the auto loan, electric bill and groceries. What of the kids’ college funds? How do you put a value on a Dad? The fire department’s EMTs are satisfied with the saving of a life. They don’t even consider the economic reality of what they do. Providing the EMTs with the best tools and training allows them to save lives.

What value does a fire department bring to a community? Can a fire department help a community avoid a mini local economic disaster? Does it do so in its day-to-day prevention efforts? Does it do so in its response to mitigate the situations that result in favorable outcomes? Does the fire department offer other value to the community that cannot be judged by a dollars and cents? These are not rhetorical questions. They are the hard questions we have to ask ourselves when we consider the value of New Boston Fire Department’s services.