How much does it cost to fight a house fire?

How much money does a fire department spend fighting a fire that affects only one house or other small building?

Well, to start estimating this:
[ul][li]water used x price per gallon[/li][li]distance to/from fire station x say 5 miles/gallon for each fire truck[/li][li]wear & tear on fire truck[/li][li]cost of equipment used up (oxygen cylinders, etc.)[/li][li]hours spent at fire x hourly salary + benefits for each firefighter[/li][li]hours spent afterwards cleaning up equipment x same[/li][li]hours spent x hourly salary + benefits for fire chief[/li][li]hours spent doing paperwork afterwards[/li][/ul]
But I think all of those would be largely swamped by the overhead costs.
The major cost of a Fire Department is keeping it all ready to go immediately, 24 hours a day, every day. And that cost is there every day, even if there are no fires at all that day.

Also, here in Minneapolis, the Fire Department has about 3 times as many medical EMT calls as actual fires.

I’m not sure that you’re going to be able to get an answer for this. A large amount of the cost of a fire department is availability. You need to ensure an adequate amount of resources to respond to emergencies at any time. So, you’re not just paying for the one engine company that came to fight your fire for one hour, you’re paying to have it available at any time. In addition, there’s not a lot of disposable equipment used on a fire scene. There’s tools, protective equipment, the fire engine, hoses, etc. These are all reusable (unless they’re damaged/destroyed). I’m not aware of any fire departments that pay for water, so that cost would be borne by the water utility.

I used to be an officer on a volunteer fire department, and having a busy fire year really didn’t affect our budget unless we broke a lot of stuff. It’s been a few years, though, so perhaps someone’s been able to quantify this.

Maybe it would make more sense then to just divide the yearly budget by the number of calls. My reason for asking this is that I’m trying to compare the cost of fighting fires with the cost of emergency medical care.

That’s something I meant to mention and forgot. According the the US Fire Administration (PDF) less than 10% of fire department calls are fire calls.

According to Denver Fire’s statistics (PDF), 67% of their calls were for EMS and 1.4% were for fires.

I have some experience with ambulance billing, too, but you’re going to run into a lot of the same problems. Even though ambulance billing is somewhat call specific, there’s a lot of external costs being added into that bill. For example, the ambulance service that I used to work for had an average bill of about $750. However, they also collected about 50% of what they billed out, due to insurance write downs and people who couldn’t pay their bills. You also have to factor in that again, you’re paying to have x number of ambulances available 24/7.

As far as the cost of fighting fires vs medical care for a fire department, this raises a whole host of other issues. Specifically, there’s little to no benefit to having a fire response on the vast majority of emergency medical calls. Even so, many fire departments are increasing the number of medical calls they respond to as a result of the decreasing number of fire calls.

To expound on t-bonham’s post…

We’ll consider a single family home having a room room-and-contents fire which has extended to the attic and adjacent rooms/hallway (the “average” structural fire that Anytown, USA is set up to handle by themselves).

  • Municipal water around here is about $3/1000 gallons (we’re building the first desal plant in the northeast - good for us). On the fire above, an average water quantity is 7000 to 10,000 gallons used total. For our numbers, we’ll call it 10,000. That’s $30.
  • For mileage for the fire apparatus, we can use the GSA mileage number, which I think is around $0.45/mile. Assuming a 3 mile response (6 round trip), that’s about $3. We’ll have 5 pieces of apparatus at our fire (3 engines, ladder, rescue), for $15 in response costs. We’re up to $45 total. Wear and tear is included in the GSA number.
  • Each truck will not be shut off at the fire. Pumping trucks will use about 15 gallons of fuel per hour, idling trucks about 3. Two pumping, three idling for three hours = 39 x 3 = 117 gals diesel at $4/gal = $468
  • Consumables at the fireground:
    • Air in the SCBA bottles, it’s $5 to pay someone to refill a bottle. Most departments have a compressor or cascade system to do it in-house, but we’ll use the commerical number. For the 15 firefighters who are going to be on air, and counting the second bottle for some of the firefighters, I’d say 25 bottles used. That’s $125 for air.
    • We’ll say it’s a progressive department. They’re using Class A foam on the fire at $60/5 gallon pail. To treat the 10,000 gallons we’re using at 0.1%, that’s 10 gallons, or $120
    • Fuel and bar oil for the chainsaw = $10
    • Since all went well at the fire, we’re not going to count damaged equipment at the fire.
  • A generally accepted minimum number of firefighters for the fire quoted above is 17. We’re also assuming we have a career department responding to this call, and that there’s no overtime to fight the fire, and no callbacks for station coverage.
    • Average base annual salary for all ranks of firefighter = $55k / 2096 hours per year (a 42 hour workweek, common in the northeast) = 26.24 an hour. That includes benefits. For a 3 hour fire with 17 guys/gals = $1338.
    • One hour after the fire reservicing the apparatus (includes the officer/chief writing the fire report) = $446

Using those rough numbers, for our room-and-contents-fire-plus, that’s a grand total of $2582. That doesn’t include repairs of anything breaking, replacement of turnout gear, feeding the firefighters on scene (if needed), costs of injuries to firefighters, or overtime. Volunteer or call departments would see different costs due to pay, but in a volunteer/call department you’ll most likely have businesses that let their employees leave work for fires, so there is another cost there to the businesses.

Firefighting ain’t cheap. Look through a web site of firefighting equipment and price out some of our tools and personal protective equipment. I’m amazed that some small communities can afford to put fuel in their trucks, let alone provide fire protection at all. Thank Og I’m blessed to come from a town that supports a good fire department.

In an average year in Baltimore County (not the city), 80% of 911 calls are calls for medical emergencies. IIRC, something like 5% of the calls are for actual fires.

I ride with a volunteer fire company, and it’s the fund raisers that keep us going. We can get grants from the county, state and now, even through Homeland Security, but it’s the Breakfast with Santa and spaghetti dinners that keep us in Nomex and Halligans.

Missed the edit window…

Add into KCB615’s post: If the fire crews are on-scene for an extended time, add in the cost of a rehab unit. They’ll bring coffee and food to a fire or accident scene. Our rehab unit is staffed by volunteers, but they have their own fuel and maintenance costs, plus the cost of food.
Also, in my area, for a large fire, they’ll also post a medic unit to assess firefighters as they rotate in and out of the fire, and to be on-hand just in case, so there’s another added cost.

Great analysis, but I think this number is going to be a lot bigger. As has been mentioned, we’ve got to pay the firefighters when they’re sleeping (they work 24 to 48 hours a shift, IIRC), too. If we assume the average firefighter sees two fires a week, that number is going to jump to $55k / 24 fires per year = $2.2k per firefighter per fire. Using your number of 17 firefighters, that gives us $37k per fire. What am I doing wrong here, that number seems very high (other than the fact that they have other tasks besides fighting fire, of course).

Lots of practicing, training new team members, standing by at events that might need their intervention, giving safety talks at schools, inspecting people’s property for fire risks, and so on.

But it seems to me that basically you’re dealing with very high fixed costs plus a role where you want to maximise cost per fire. The ideal scenario is that you have all the firefighters you might realistically need to handle a likely fire ready at the station, waiting for the bell. You therefore have to pay them, insure them, equip them, etc. - this costs plenty. And you have no fires, partly due to successful preventive efforts. Your cost per call is infinity. :eek:
Maybe you get one fire - now the entire annual cost of the department is allocated to that one fire, and it’s very very expensive. More fires, cost per fire goes down until you are having multiple fires per night and need more firefighters and equipment to cover the workload. But over a range of numbers (at a wild guess anywhere between 1 and 20 fires per year) the total annual cost probably doesn’t change very much, since it’s almost all in labour and depreciation of equipment. Even stuff like foam, diesel, air etc. might need to be paid for anyway since the crews presumably need to train more if they rarely get called out.

Somewhere between the extremes of having a fire department that does nothing and a fire department struggling with its workload is the best cost-efficiency point - but I suspect that cost per fire is one of those numbers that’s not going to be very illuminating on its own. I know I’d rather have three trucks showing up in 5 minutes rather than one cyclist with a bucket showing up after half an hour, but that’s a gigantic cost differential right there.

There was a recent incident, or we should say chain of incidents with one of our local departments. Clovis, CA a city of nearly 100K, had 3 structure fires break out in roughly a 60 min span. Via existing assistance arrangements Fresno rolled out several engine companies along the Fresno/Clovis border to assist the already overwhelmed Clovis fire department.$54677

These are the moments that city councils and planning commissions fear. That they wouldn’t add another fire station that would have cost less than the damage that piece of apparatus may have been able to save.

The apartment where the man died was with 1/2 mile of the nearest station.

I didn’t run the numbers as cost per year, simply an hourly rate for the firefighters on-scene. This past weekend, we had a 12,500 gallon gasoline tanker overturn on an interstate highway. The fees that we are allowed to recoup from the owner of the truck (recoupable costs, since it’s a hazmat incident) will be based on the hourly rate for each responding firefighter. Breaking the costs down on a case of fires-per-year and annual salary doesn’t work. We’re not paid based on the number of working fires we go to, we’re paid on the number of hours we work.

In response to BiblioCat, I didn’t think to count the rehab unit or an ambulance. We have a local buff’s group that provides a (very well equipped) canteen at incidents, and our EMS is a third service in town. We generally have both on scene for any significant incident.

Well from a certain point of view it may be a relevant number for looking at the cost efficencies of your EMS agencies on a per incident basis. Granted I understand all too well that direct firefighting is only a small portion of what the fire department does. However if you have 2 cities of 100K people and the emergency services budget is divided by the number of “incidents” they handle.

City A: $3K per incident
City B: $5K per incident

Since last I heard something like 80% of a typical city fire department budget is in labor/bennies. You could get a basic idea of your “bang for the buck”.

Granted City A may average more responses a day and may be unable to respond due to an overtaxed system where City B might never have had.

If a firefighting agency is really having problems with coverage due to medical aid responses, maybe they need to look into better ambulance coverage rather than expanding firefighting responses.

Baltimore City is dealing with this very problem. The medics are running so many calls that they end up pulling personnel from the engines to go on reserve medics and leaving the suppression pieces short-staffed. I don’t know all the specifics, but it’s been all over the news here. Thye’ve been calling private ambos in to run 911 calls at some times.

Let’s round this up to $1,000 for ease of calculation.

$1k for:
1 ambulance
2 EMTs
1 hour service time

Fire, here are my WAGs as to the requirements:
1 fire truck costing 10x an ambulance
10 firefighters each of which likely has more than twice the average down time as an EMT (twice the hourly labor cost)
3 hours service, for a sizable house fire, to make sure everything is out and safe

Assume the cost of the truck and people is 10x the cost of an ambulance, per hour and add 3x the numbers of hours, you’ve got $30,000 per call

Just as a data point, the flats I lived in a few years ago had the fire alarms rigged to automatically call out the fire brigade whenever an alarm went off. This was, for a time, frequent. The fire department had a policy of charging the building for the callout if there was no good reason for it (ie, somebody burnt the toast). The cost for a “false alarm” callout - two firetrucks coming from the station about 5 minutes away, and staying only long enough to verify that there was no actual fire, was around $AU1600.

I know this number, because after a few too many intances of people burning the toast, a policy was instituted where the person who triggered the alarm paid. The number of alarms dropped dramatically after that point!

From the UK:

Case #1: a coworker and I once set off the fire alarm while toasting a piece of pita bread. We had to evacuate 200 people from the building. This was a former nuclear facility full of nasty stuff, and therefore had an onsite fire station. Two appliances turned up. Cost to the company from the fire dept. due to it being a false alarm: £800.

Case #2: I locked myself out of my house with a pizza in the oven. I went for assistance from a neighbour (specifically the tools to pick my own front door) and told her about the pizza. “That’s a fire hazard!” she said, and promptly called the fire service. They arrived with “blues and twos” going full, laughed at me, broke into my house easily through an open window using a method I should have worked out myself. Humiliated, I gave them slices of pizza, by now perfectly cooked. As I left, the chief smiled and said “thanks for the pizza - and by the way that was a false alarm and just cost you £200.”

I found a cite with some interesting figures here:

EAST HAVEN (pop 29k): annual budget of $4mil, don’t know how many calls.

NAUGATUCK (pop 31k): Annual budget of $ 2. 9 million, responded to 1,800 fire and rescue calls per year. Cost per call: $1611.

WETHERSFIELD (pop 26k): Annual budget of $300,000 but the city owns the house and equipment, responded to 450 calls. Cost per call of $667.

Of note, the first two towns have per capita costs of $138 and $93 respectively (per person, not per house).

If we make the wild assumption that “each house has 4 people” then the per house costs would be $552 and $372. Not actually useful in any way but kind of interesting. We’d need to some how factor in business addresses.

Has anyone else found similar data?