The prospect of a new fire station in Midland, Texas, came up in a casual remark in a recent post, and a commenter insisted on connecting a new station with the city's insurance rating. I wasn't ready to write about a possible new station, but I'm more or less dragged into it.
Published news items reported that the search committee that picked the new Fire Chief over others vying for that job were influenced by the possibility that this chief could raise the city's insurance rating. So it's almost certain that an effort will be made by the fire department to raise the rating.
Around the end of June the Fire Chief stated that Midland's insurance rating could be raised with the purchase of newer equipment and more training for the firefighters. So we can probably assume that new equipment and more training are in the works, although it's hard to find it in the proposed budget.
[By the way, he also mentioned that our neighbor city of Odessa currently has a higher rating, so those Midlanders with a competitive streak can get their gears going.]
The drive for a new station is based on a series of maps the Chief had prepared which show points in the city from which emergency calls were received in relationship to the fire stations. And the maps show circles around the stations with a little area that seems to fall through the cracks.
Anyone with a predisposition for a new station will no doubt be persuaded by the maps that a new station is absolutely necessary. But someone needs to look at the cost, not just of the land, building, equipment and vehicles, but the expense of the 12 to 18 new employees needed to staff it. That's an expense that keeps on taking, year after year. And it's questionable whether the benefit outweighs the cost.
An instructive item in the Midland financial report for year ending 9/30/10 is on page 134, table 21. There were 10,829 emergency responses in the previous year. That sounds like a lot, but the very next line says only 543 fires were extinguished. That's only 5% of the total emergency responses, so we have a fire department doing a lot more than putting out fires.
The agency that determines the insurance rating would look at that 5% not all those other calls.
If there's a problem that needs solving it's separating the fire calls from the other emergency calls. I phoned 911 twice in the past 12 months on behalf of a neighbor who needed emergency medical help. Both times a fire engine showed up first. That seems like an unnecessary use of resources. And perhaps a solution might involve the purchase of more ambulances rather than building a new station. The city of Odessa utilizes "8 front line ambulances." Source: page ii in Odessa's budget. How many does Midland have?
Disclaimer. Hey, I don't enjoy this. I love the fire department, but taxpayers have questions. The Chief is a smart, likable visionary, and with a compliant city council and passive taxpayers, he'll leave his mark on this city. Someone needs to compare the expected benefit with the cost.