The cost of running a fire department is going up – REALLY? This actually surprises some people. I hear it all of the time, “How can operating a volunteer fire department cost so much?” Well there are several parts to that answer but I can break into three general categories: Insurance, Equipment, Personnel.
I challenge you to show me a business that is not experiencing an increase in these three areas. The fire department is not any different. The liability insurance for the department continues to rise as does the cost of the equipment we use and although very small, many volunteer departments provide their members with some form of stipend for their time.
What I find amazing is that there are fire departments with vehicles in service that are 30+ years old. I recently read an article where a fire department in Wisconsin was hoping to replace a 1972 Ford pickup that it is using as its front line brush truck. As good of a job as we do taking care of our equipment, 40 years old, is old and I am sure it should have been replaced long ago.
As I continued to read this story, I find that there are three municipalities that evenly share the costs of this particular fire department. What was not a surprise was that the two smaller townships wanted to change the formula for the cost sharing to represent the townships equalized value – of course, this would reduce their contributions.
The article went on talking about budgets, bonds, and other financial issues facing every municipality and fire department across the nation. The question that I wanted to ask was “How does a fire department end up with a 40 year old brush truck?”
Full disclosure, I am very fortunate – my department has very good and reasonably new equipment. However, I would like to believe that we have this equipment because of good planning and not luck. Someone has to be responsible for budgeting and rotating the equipment.
Here is a news flash for fire chiefs – you must do a better job of running your departments. I am sure you do fine on the fire ground, but if you have a 40-year-old truck on the front line then you are not doing your job as an administrator. If after 40 years the truck is in good enough shape to be on the front line then you probably have a truck that you do not really need.
Here is a news flash for the citizens we serve – contrary to popular belief, we cannot run a fire department on chicken barbecues and pancake breakfasts. There are costs associated with running a fire department and we do not have a means for generating enough revenue to cover these costs.
Fire service leaders need to begin communicating better with city/village leaders. We need to do this during open meetings so our requests are documented. City/Village leaders need to take a proactive approach to learning more about their fire department’s needs. Leaders on either side of the isle will be held responsible when that frightful day comes and the trucks do not get out the door.

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