County fire services aren’t like your traditional fire departments. Most of the staff in them aren’t career firefighters, for one thing. They also tend to serve a much smaller geographical location limited to the confines of their home county, for another. But there are several advantages to having this kind of department that mostly have to do with the size and type of manpower the department has.
They know the area better
Most of the time, the employees of a county fire service know the area they serve better. Larger fire departments serving multiple counties will have regional leaders that are tasked with knowing the geography of their location, but this doesn’t stack up well against a local’s knowledge of his place of residence. These locals will have a better idea of how to travel to specific locations within the county faster, which can mean the difference between life or death during cases of emergencies
They help build the community
A lot of these county fire services are self-owned, self-governed, and self-funded. While the local and national governments do fund these departments somewhat, a lot of the funding tends to come from fundraisers set up by the fire services themselves. They do these in the same manner as charities and civic organizations: bake sales, bingo nights, and the like. This doesn’t just help fund the fire department, however; it also brings the community closer to one another and exposes them to the members of their fire department.
They can be cheaper to operate
Depending on the county, a county fire service might be less expensive to operate. A Connecticut General Assembly report cited studies made in New York, Indiana, and Mansfield, Connecticut asserting that the cost to operate a fire service could be cheaper in regions that have either more viable volunteers, which makes recruitment and shift scheduling easier; or lower incidences of calls per annum; or both. Paid fire departments, on the other hand, will require full-time employees that get paid salaries and benefits.
They utilize taxpayer’s money more efficiently
While many volunteer fire services are self-funded, a portion of their funding does come from the local government. A paid fire department, however, is paid by the local government out of pocket. These departments are usually tasked to serve a number of counties within their jurisdiction, and these counties in turn provide the city where the fire department is located with the money to finance the fire department. Counties have no say in how the city utilizes the money, and counties like Candler County, GA, would prefer to have more say in how the money they spend for fire protection is spent.
The current firefighters are old hands
While the plight of an aging population of volunteer firefighters might be worrisome, this can also be a good thing. Older firefighters are better at assessing situations than newcomers and they will be able to make better judgment calls during intense situations. They can also be better equipped to train new volunteer recruits.
County fire services are built mostly of volunteers, but these five advantages can make them worth keeping around. Bigger cities should invest in fire departments, but counties can benefit more from smaller fire services like these as they cost less, know their service area better, and are just generally great members of the community to have around – whether you need them or you don’t.