Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fire Service Redesign: Minnesota

In the twin cities area, as well as other parts of the country, local government budgets are under pressure to cut costs. And expenditure many cities are turning to for cuts are fire departments.  As budgets are slashed and departments are expected to do more with less, new challenges are arising.

The inelasticity of demand for public safety, including fire services, means that budgets will never be without some level of expenditures on fire services, which then requires cities to rethink how they want to address the conflict between service delivery and budgetary constraints. A solution to the shortfalls has been presented as being fire service redesignThere have been two types of redesign mainly used for fire service; service sharing and consolidation across jurisdictions.    

Service Sharing: The general premise behind service sharing for fire departments is the creation of one entity covering the territory of another in an effort toward covering a certain area for fire services ranging from fire suppression to emergency medical calls. Often services are shared via a binding contract between either two or more municipalities, or a municipality and a county or state level provider.  One local example of this is the City of Bemidji, which shares services with surround small municipalities. The sharing of services for the area has been noteworthy, and continues to be.

Consolidation: Consolidation goes beyond an agreement and contract to create an entirely new authority to oversee a joint-venture department. The process in creating a consolidated fire department is much more in-depth and binding than service sharing, it most often consists of disbanding the current departments and bi-laws while creating an entirely new department and governing laws. A local success story of consolidation is the West Metro Fire-Rescue District. The table below compares the costs for one of the West Metro District (New Hope) and a neighboring city (Golden Valley) both are on-call part-time departments.

2012 Fire Budget
Percent of 2012 General Fund
New Hope
Golden Valley

Though both types of fire service redesign afford departments and local government cost-savings, Minnesota departments have not largely moved to restructuring their fire service. One fire chief that was interviewed expressed his hopes that this would change in the future, and says that hopefully budgetary pressures along with changing leadership will bring about that change.


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