Canada’s Firefighters Multiply as Fires Die Down

EspañolOntario has experienced a steep increase in the number of firefighters over the last 16 years, despite the number of reported fires falling dramatically, according to new study by Vancouver-based think tank the Fraser Institute.

The study found an inverse relationship between the number of reported fires and the number of firefighters. (Fraser Institute)
The study found an inverse relationship between the number of reported fires and the number of firefighters. (Fraser Institute)

The report released on Thursday, May 8, entitled Municipal Fire Services: A Preliminary Analysis, focuses on the spending behavior of various Canadian provinces which are under “budgetary pressures.”

“The evidence suggests that the number of firefighters and fire service spending is growing independent of the number of fires,” study co-author and Fraser Institute Director of Fiscal Studies Charles Lammam said.

For instance, the study finds that between 1997 and 2012 the number of firefighters in Ontario increased by over one-third, while the reported numbers of fires fell by 40 percent.

“Firefighters play an important role in protecting our communities, but Ontario taxpayers are paying for more firefighters to fight fewer fires, raising important questions about local government spending on fire services,” Lammam explained.

During the same 16-year period, the number of firefighters has outpaced the overall population growth rate. The number of firemen grew from 25,900 to 32,400 — a 25 percent increase — while the population grew by just 16.2 percent.

Fighting fires, however, has become a secondary activity for firefighters in recent years. According to official statistics, “the number of fire-related calls decreased by 15.3 percent, while the number of non-fire related calls increased by 22.8 percent.”

While the authors acknowledge that “data limitations” makes it impossible to compare municipalities and arrive at firm conclusions about “how to better control the growth in fire service costs in Canada”, the study poses several questions over budget management.

“The number of firefighters and the growth in fire services expenditures diverges from the incidence of reported fires. This divergence leads to obvious questions about what is driving these increases if it is not actual firefighting,” the report concludes.

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