Report: San Diego County spends less on fire services than neighbors

By City News Service

San Diego fire agencies invest significantly less in fire and emergency medical services than their counterparts in Orange and Los Angeles counties, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study by the National University System Institute for Policy Research found that fire agencies in San Diego cumulatively spent $152.85 per resident in fiscal year 2009-10, compared to $177.98 in Orange County and $217.71 in Los Angeles County.

The data was culled from the budgets of more than 70 separate fire protection agencies throughout the three Southern California counties, according to the Institute for Policy Research.

Erik Bruvold, the institute’s president, said the findings should be “worrisome” to San Diego residents in the wake of the 2003 and 2007 firestorms that destroyed 4,500 structures and caused billions in damages.

“In the seven years since the 2003 firestorm we have seen many important steps toward improving our fire fighting efforts,” Bruvold said. “However, the biggest one - significantly increasing investment and the priority placed on fire and EMS among municipal budgets - hasn’t been a step that enough local policy makers have embraced.”

The study found that the lower level of investment translates into decreased fire department staffing.

Looking at the budgets of the fire departments in the three counties with budgets of $10 million or more, the study found that San Diego County has 8.5 fire department employees for every 10,000 residents. That’s compared to 9.01 fire department employees for every 10,000 residents in Orange County and 11.3 fire department positions for every 10,000 residents in Los Angeles County.