Denis McGuire, Jr. found an article in the Chicago News Cooperative questioning the city’s policy of allowing the fire department to maintain current staffing levels which place companies of five per rig. Citing surveys of other large cities and the manner in which each runs their own fire department, the article sites a trend that lowers staffing to four. The article takes into consideration that fire deaths in Chicago have plummeted but counters with the overall reduction in fires. Below are excerpts from the article:

During the year that Robert Hoff became a Chicago firefighter, in 1976, 156 people died in fires in the city. By 2010, when Hoff became the department’s commissioner, that figure had plummeted to 27.

The number of fires that the department was called to put out also dropped dramatically in recent decades. What has hardly changed is the staffing level of the Chicago Fire Department, even as mayors from New York to Los Angeles are trying to combat the recession with reductions in fire protection spending.

The Chicago News Cooperative’s survey of the country’s 10 largest cities found that Chicago ranks near the top in the resources devoted to its fire department. With one firefighter for every 637 residents, Chicago has more firefighters per capita than every large United States city except for Houston, the CNC’s analysis found. And, taking into account its coverage area of about 230 square miles and more than 90 firehouses, Chicago’s department ranked third among the 10 largest cities in the density of firehouses, behind only New York and Philadelphia. (See the complete rankings)

“The decline in fire deaths and fires over the years is not reason to think about cutting back the number of firefighters or firehouses,” the fire department spokesman, Larry Langford, said in a statement this week.

Langford, the department spokesman, said the lower fire death rate is due in part to the department having “enough manpower to conduct searches while simultaneously” fighting fires and keeping flames from spreading to other buildings.

The decline in the number of fire deaths in Chicago was part of a national trend attributed to a variety of factors, including sprinkler systems, fire alarms and smoke detectors. City statistics for structure fires show a drop from almost 5,700 in 1996 to less than 2,500 in 2008.

But the number of medical calls to the fire department increased at the same time that the number of fires dropped, Langford noted.

Langford said Chicago needs larger crews because it has many apartment buildings as well as multi-story public schools and nursing homes. Even in largely residential areas of the city’s bungalow belt, Langford said, homes “are often very close together,” requiring more firefighters than the minimum standard.

He pointed to studies showing that four-person crews were only 65 percent as efficient as having five firefighters in a team. “That translates into minutes saved, which is lives and property saved,” Langford said.

The complete article and supporting data can be found HERE.