Everett Fire Captain Offers Alternate Measure of Return on Fire Service Costs

Everett Fire Dept.

How do you measure the return on investment of a fire department?

Currently the Everett Fire Department is one of three City of Everett departments under review as the city tries to reduce its long-term deficits.

The city has hired a consulting firm, Fitch and Associates to look at short and long term ways to improve efficiency and reduce fire service costs. Everett is being asked to consider its risk tolerance and what is acceptable for response times and outcomes.

As part of work on his Masters degree, Everett Fire Captain David DeMarco is suggesting that there may be various ways to define value in order to measure the return on the investment that Everett puts into its fire department.

He’s outlined a couple of those thoughts here and asked MyEverettNews.com to have our readers take a look at his ideas and give feedback here.

Today’s fire service leadership is employed by elected governance that demands cost accountability.

Operating a fire department is expensive, and if you are in the business of balancing municipal books the fire department represents a large portion of your budget, with no measurable ROI except that sense of community comfort.

If you’re facing deficits it is tempting to reduce services to reduce expenses because you know that as long as you don’t disrupt the community sense of well-being, the reduction will not likely draw much attention.

For this reason it is essential that the fire service learn to report their operations not just in terms of losses, or costs, but also retained value.

DeMarco cites the recent New Year’s Eve fire at the Bluffs Apartments and the way it has been measured along with an alternate view of measurement cited in an Arizona State University study…


Nearly 90 firefighters fought the 3-alarm fire.

In Everett, Washington a 2015 New Year’s Eve apartment fire cost one citizen his life and injured many others. The fire in this unsprinklered apartment building moved so quickly that families were forced to drop their children from third story windows to escape. The fire department effected numerous rescues and contained the fire to one building, which was a total loss. Currently we will report that incident as a single fatality and million dollar property loss, but using the ASU methodologies we could report it very differently:

• Value of Lives Saved
• Value of Jobs Saved
• Value of Property Saved (Adjacent buildings)
• Value of City, County, and State revenue saved

Public safety agencies need to begin to understand and report the economic impacts of their services. Not so much to impress the average citizen who just wants to feel secure, but to create understanding in those who work behind the curtain with us, and are forced to make tough choices about what does and does not get public funding.

You can read the full text of DeMarco’s platform here and then give any feedback you feel appropriate here.

The City of Everett will be dealing with the costs of funding public safety as the major part of its budget process over the next few years and as we follow these efforts, MyEverettNews.com will continue to try and bring you the various sides of the issues as best we can.


About myeverettnews

My Everett News is a hyperlocal news website featuring breaking news and events in Everett, WA. We also cover City of Everett information and items of interest to those who live and work in Everett. It's written by Leland Dart a former Snohomish County based radio reporter born and raised in Everett.

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8 Responses to “Everett Fire Captain Offers Alternate Measure of Return on Fire Service Costs”

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  2. SWH Says:

    I have no problem whatsoever believing in the concept of intangible and non-quantitative value. I recognize that there is value above and beyond the ‘numbers.’

    Getting to a point of solid, verifiable, accepted and auditable numbers of what is counted as valid intangible escapes the desire to brag about value. I’m not saying the FD would inflate their ‘value’ for the purposes of getting more money. (For every dollar spent on the FD, $$$ is realized in value.) But there is no way for anything to be determined on that intangible value. Sorry.

    We see this as something tried in different sectors from time to time. In the 1990s UW put out figures that for every dollar spent on UW, (we will just use a number since I don’t remember the actual number), $10 comes to the state. I challenged a state senator at the time with a plan that would ultimately put all budget monies into the UW until a point that the return on value would sustain the state with no need for taxes or fees. Even if you could come up with figures to support the concept, the laws of diminishing returns comes into play at some point. And if you can’t add that law to the ‘value’ mix, you are just toying around with numbers having no basis.

    Not to be too snarky, but this is the same FD who less than 2 months ago when talking about the proposed 5 year contract for a single ambulance company answered a question regarding an alternative in restarting the Aid cars sitting in the stations with an estimate that it would take 5 years to put EMTs in the Aid Cars. 5 years.

    Given the acceptance that there is value in the Fire Department and a clear imbalance of workload between engine companies, I believe redistribution of available manpower and apparatus take place as opposed to cutting stations/manpower/equipment. It’s not a good idea, in my mind, to keep the least use stations at their current levels of low utilization and try to drive the busier stations down to the same lack of productivity. I get why the FD would like that, but that’s not where value lies.

    Despite despising outside contractors, I would like to see a ‘start from scratch’ study done on where to locate stations, where to locate apparatus/manpower, and whatever other values the Administration/Council/IAFF/FD can agree on. As we know that stations will need to be replaced (each time requiring a study), it would be better in my opinion to look at a ‘scratch’ document and see what ‘right’ looks like. One study, a multi-year strategic programming roadmap to doing right by the citizens and FD. And who knows that we might not be closer to ‘right’ than we might think.

    But what do I know?

  3. Frank Says:

    I’d say a very big ROI is given by the fire department. Think of life without them… Old men and women lying on floors or bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms dead because the fell and could not get up. Victims of car wrecks wrapped up in twisted metal left to bleed to death because no “jaws of life” came to cut them out. Whole city blocks of homes burnt to the ground because a house fire spread to neighboring properties. Diabetics brain dead or in comas because no medic came to help raise their blood sugar. Heart attack victims would be dead where they fell, rather than be saved to enjoy more years of life with their loved ones. And the list goes on…

    No, I’d say there is a great return for the investment we put in these men who serve the community as firefighters. They won’t get rich. They will statistically die earlier of cancer, retire with bad shoulders, knees, and backs from the physical nature of the work. But they do it because they love the job and love to help others. It is in their DNA. And they deserve the support of the community and the resources and staffing from the city to ensure the safety of the public and the firefighters alike.

  4. Phil Says:

    Police, fire, EMT….all three vital, and I mean VITAL services. If you cut the budget for any of these, you have placed a finite value on the life of the next fatality. Who wants to step up and be the author of that??

  5. Bourne Says:

    Nothing says saving taxpayer money like hiring outside consultants.

  6. John Says:

    Interesting stuff. How do you “value” the building that did not burn?

    What is the ROI of something that did not happen. Very Dr. Strangelove…. this was the whole question of deterrence during the cold war. Never thought it would apply to fire departments too.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    How about the Fire Department put out fires instead of daydreaming theories about how their intangible values are worth the ever-increasing slice of the budget pie.

    Or gee, how about a master’s thesis on something less self-serving, such as how public service unions are a destabilizing force in government as they have no effective countering force repelling their rapacious greed.

    Oh, and how about Captain DeMarco explain the impact of the fire chief’s intoxication at the Bluffs fire in terms of how that incident could be used to better allocate resources.

    • Bourne Says:

      Or gee, how about a master’s thesis on something less self-serving, such as how public service unions are a destabilizing force in government as they have no effective countering force repelling their rapacious greed.

      File this excellent question in the–Something you will never see in the western WA media folder.