National University System Institute for Policy Research

(858) 642-8498 Get Started

Updated Study Shows Region's Per-Capita Investment in Fire & EMS Protection Continue to Lag

W. Erik Bruvold, President

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

View Article

September 1, 2010, SAN DIEGO, CA – On the eve of the traditional start to Southern California’s fire season, a new study by the National University System Institute for Policy Research (NUSIPR) shows that San Diego fire agencies continue to invest significantly less in fire and emergency medical services (EMS) than either Orange or Los Angeles Counties.

Culling data from the budgets and reports of over 70 separate fire protection agencies throughout the Southland, NUSIPR showed that in FY 2009-2010 local fire agencies in San Diego cumulatively spent a total of $152.85 per resident. In contrast, fire agencies in Orange County spent a total of $177.98 and the fire departments in Los Angeles invested $217.71 for every resident of the county.

This year the study shows how that lower level of investment seems to translate into lower fire department staffing. Examining the budgets of fire departments in the three counties with budgets of $10 million or more, the report found that San Diego County has 8.5 fire department employees for every 10,000 residents. In contrast, Orange County has 9.01 and Los Angeles County budgeted 11.03 fire department positions for every 10,000 residents.

This year the Institute also found that the gap persist even if one includes for San Diego County the roughly $25 million CALFIRE expend in the region. Taking those state expenditures into account, in FY 2010 San Diego fire agencies spent $161.66 on fire and EMS for each resident.

NUSIPR President and the report’s author W. Erik Bruvold, noted “In the seven years since the 2003 firestorm we have seen many important steps toward improving our fire fighting efforts. However, the biggest one – significantly increasing investment and the priority placed on fire and EMS among municipal budgets – hasn’t been a step that enough local policymakers have embraced.”

He went on to note, “While it is dangerous to draw too many conclusions from thankfully rare events, it should be worrisome to county residents that whereas Los Angeles (the 2008 Station Fire; 209 structures lost) and Orange County (2008 Freeway Complex Fire; 361 structures lost) measured structure losses in the hundreds, San Diego has experienced two firestorms that have destroyed 4,500 structures and caused billions of dollars in property losses. Staffing ratios and spending are not the only reason for these different outcomes but they are critical matter when it comes to how many fire crews and rigs can be deployed ahead of the firestorms during the first critical hours of a major California wildfire.”

About the National University System Institute for Policy Research
The National University System Institute for Policy Research, (NUSIPR) is a non-partisan organization that formulates and promotes high quality economic, policy, and public-opinion research so as to improve the quality of life enjoyed by the region's citizens.