Report: Increased firefighting staffing could save state money

By City News Service

Increasing firefighting staffing could save California money in the long run by preventing wildfires from growing large and out of control, according to a study released Tuesday by a San Diego State University researcher.

SDSU’s Matt Rahn found that increasing an engine crew from three to four firefighters improves the efficiency in laying 1,200 feet of hose by 41 percent, or 8.5 minutes.

That can significantly improve the efficiency, effectiveness and overall ability to potentially control a wildfire, before it grows larger than 10 acres, resulting in a substantial savings, according to the 2010 “California Wildfire Staffing Study.”

“Wildfires result in billions of dollars of lost and damaged property, open space and infrastructure,” said Rahn, director of research and education at SDSU’s College of Sciences’ Field Stations Programs.

“Adding a single firefighter to an engine will save money by saving time, property and most importantly lives,” he said.

Increasing staffing to four firefighters per engine would result in an estimated $41 million savings annually to the state’s emergency fund alone, compared to three person staffing, according to the study.

Having four firefighters on an engine would also increase - by 1.7 percent to 3.9 percent - the number of fires that were held to less than 10 acres, Rahn concluded.

The 2003 wildfires that devastated San Diego County resulted in a $2.43 billion economic loss for the region, according to the study. Had the total acreage of those fires been decreased by just 1 percent, the impact on the region’s economy would have been $25 million to $250 million less, the researcher said.

According to the study, the number of extremely large fires, like those locally in 2003 and 2007, have dramatically increased statewide. Of the 20 largest documented fires in California’s history, half have occurred since 2000.