MOST U.S. FIRE DEPARTMENTS STRAINED BY GROWTH AND FUNDING CONCERNS, STUDY FINDS
JERSEY CITY, N.J., Oct. 1, 2003 — Seventy-three percent of U.S. fire chiefs say residential and commercial growth is already straining their departments' ability to protect the communities they serve, according to an independent survey conducted by Opinion Research Corp. International (ORC).
What's more, 81 percent of the fire chiefs say growth is likely to put even more strain on their departments' resources during the next three years, according to the newly published findings of the Princeton, N.J.–based research group. The respondents cite two major reasons:
By an overwhelming 91 percent, fire chiefs say getting necessary funding is a significant obstacle to making needed improvements to their communities' fire-protection services. The chiefs see other serious obstacles to improving service:
The survey was commissioned by Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO) and conducted independently by ORC July 7–16, 2003. The survey includes responses from a random sample of 500 fire chiefs, fire marshals and commissioners representing fire-protection jurisdictions of all sizes across the United States. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.
This survey follows a poll conducted by ORC in 2001 that found 92 percent of the nation's fire chiefs consider the impact on their ISO Public Protection Classification (PPCTM) to be important when planning, budgeting for or justifying improvements in their communities' fire-protection services.
In the latest survey, nearly two out of three (64 percent) reported that they have used the ISO program in the past three years to assist in decisions regarding their communities' fire protection. Three-quarters of those surveyed (76 percent) say they plan to use ISO's PPC program in the next three years for planning, budgeting for or justifying improvements.
Property/casualty insurance companies support ISO's PPC program and use it to price, underwrite and market homeowners and commercial property insurance policies. By rigorously evaluating fire departments, water supplies and alarm dispatch systems, ISO develops classifications for the fire-suppression capabilities of more than 45,000 fire jurisdictions around the country.
Because fire-mitigation capabilities of communities correlate highly with insured losses, better classifications generally result in lower insurance premiums for property owners in better-protected areas. The ISO PPC program is used and supported by insurance companies representing more than 97 percent of the personal and commercial property market in the United States. There is no cost to communities or taxpayers.
"Communities across the U.S. use the PPC program to maximize the return on their fire-protection investments," said ISO Senior Vice President Patrick McLaughlin. "Insurers support the program because they understand the direct correlation between better fire protection and lower property losses. This alignment of interests — good public policy and good business — benefits everyone," McLaughlin said.
Most fire chiefs project significant changes in their districts over the next three years:
Despite anticipated growth, only 29 percent say they envision opening new fire stations, while 11 percent expect to consolidate fire districts to save money.
Compounding the strain on resources, more than half (54 percent) of all fire chiefs believe building materials and construction techniques introduced in the last 20 years have made fire fighting more difficult. One-quarter (25 percent) think these materials and techniques have made fire fighting easier, and 20 percent say it hasn't made a difference.
According to McLaughlin, the results of the survey are very consistent with the number of response-area changes, new fire station locations, automatic aid agreements and water/hydrant installations voluntarily reported to ISO by fire chiefs each year.
"Significant growth is taking place in areas where fire protection needs to be improved. That should be a wake-up call for everyone — public officials, property owners and insurers — all of whom have an important stake in the outcome," he said.