Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, fire departments around the country were struggling at varying degrees to provide essential emergency services 7 days a week, let alone 24 hours a day. Some departments had reduced availability in order to protect their budgets. In the town of Oceano, California where Firefighters and EMS Fund recently completed a project to protect their ability to remain part of a joint protection agreement, leaders had considered reducing the number of days EMS was available as they were already working with just two firefighters per shift; and that was before the pandemic hit.
COVID-19 has only exacerbated these kinds of compromises American fire departments were making. Agencies are closing stations left and right, not only to prevent spreading the disease, but save money given the reduced tax revenue they are dealing with. Chief Steve Allred of the Pinecroft-Sedgefield Fire Department in Guilford County, North Carolina says he estimates his 2021 budget loss to be somewhere around $800,000. Estimates this high are being seen all over the country. A new tool created by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is attempting to catalog and predict the effects COVID-19 will have on America’s fire departments, and the numbers are dismal. As of this writing they predict that from 2020-21 fire departments will see over $3 billion dollars lost due to declining tax revenue, while nearly 30,000 firefighters will be without jobs by the end of that same time period.
Given these numbers are only estimates, local governments are preparing themselves for the unknown. It is estimated that in the five years following the Great Recession, states cumulatively suffered a $600 billion shortfall. Experts are warning the Covid-19 recession, while it may be shorter, could be many times worse than what we saw from 2007-2009.
Now, more than ever before, American citizens need to be motivated to support ballot measures which take steps toward protecting fire and EMS capabilities as we weather the storm that is on our doorstep.