When is Consolidation of Public Safety Agencies a Good Idea?

A recent effort for the consolidation of three fire departments near our office in Central New York failed.  The consolidation, discussed in earnest for nearly a year with positions both for and against, narrowly lost in a public referendum.  News article here: http://www.uticaod.com/article/20150818/NEWS/150819437.

Having worked in public safety for nearly 20 years, I’ve seen quite a few consolidation efforts.  Some successful, most voted down before they even had a chance.  Most efforts have been related to fire departments, some with EMS agencies, and a few related to law enforcement.  While I’ve seen some early in my career, it seems there has been an increase in consolidation proposals in recent years.  Why?

It seems the most significant factor in these proposals is economic.  Despite the slow upturn in the economy, government budgets are still struggling.  The need to spread the burden of common administrative costs, like insurance; ensure appropriate staffing coverage; and to address equipment issues, such as standardization for interoperability; are the top items of discussion.  In some cases there is also a need to reduce the personnel costs through consolidation by reducing the overall number of executive-level officers and support staff, and to reduce real estate costs by reducing the number of stations.  While not all of these reasons are applied all the time, these are quite commonly identified as reasons for consolidation.  The bottom line for consolidation is that it saves money while, ideally, not increasing response times or public access to services.

As for the reasons against consolidation… there are many who don’t seem to trust the promise of savings.  Certainly there have been a great number of failed attempts by government or other organizations to restructure in the name of cost savings and come nowhere near reaching their target.  Others are afraid of the loss of jobs and access to services.  Some, in my opinion, are just being territorial.

Obviously consolidation, or any change in government structure or services, needs to be carefully studied, reviewed, and if decided upon, implemented in accordance with a carefully designed plan and a watchful eye.  This especially holds true for public safety.  Just like any idea out there, it can work if carefully implemented, but it may not be suitable for everyone.

Where do you stand on public safety consolidations?  What success stories do you have?  How about failures?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


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