January 22, 2010

RIPEC's Analysis of Firefighter Pay/Contracts

Marc Comtois

My post concerning the Warwick Beacon's look into Warwick firefighter pay/contracts has generated some commentary regarding the RIPEC report (mentioned in Russell Moore's story) that found:

On average, [a RIPEC] report showed that Rhode Islanders spend about $6.24 on fire services for every $1,000 of personal income, or just under double the national average of $3.21 per $1,000 of income.
Those who doubt these numbers seem to have these questions (cribbed directly from actual comments):

1) EMS services are included for Rhode Island but not the other states. By including EMS, you couldn't even compare Providence to Worcester- two very similar sized cities, but Worcester's EMS is provided by UMass Hospital, and Providence's by the Fire Department.

2) The cost represents the total cost of fire protection in RI, meaning sprinkler systems, alarms and other additions, not just the actual fire department budgets.

3) Belief that pension costs are included in the RI costs but not in those for other states.

All the RIPEC report says about it's methodology is:

Fire Protection comprises expenditures for the prevention, avoidance and suppression of fires and for the provision of ambulance, medical, rescue or auxiliary services when provided by fire protection agencies.
To be clear, I'd like more particulars myself. RIPEC appears to have used data taken directly from U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Government Finances, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (for personal income data) as well as their own calculations. Based on the Census Bureau's explanation of their methodology, the data is provided by the states. (Right now, I don't have the time to weave through the tables myself--and the links I provided are my best guess). All that being said, here are my thoughts on the 3 main contentions.

1) Whether cities and towns pay for EMS or not is not as relevant as some think. Having tax dollars pay for EMS is still a governmental (taxpayer/resident) choice. Just because some don't cover EMS via taxes doesn't mean it should be excluded from a comparison of tax dollars spent on fire/safety services. Those are real dollars no matter what column on the spreadsheet you want to put them in. Don't let the inconsistent accounting methodology obscure the fact that other cities and towns in other states appear able to provide EMS services through private companies or hospitals and not through taxpayer supported fire departments.

2) It is probably true, given the brief explanation by RIPEC, that they include expenditures for fire suppression (sprinkler systems, etc.) the state paid to have installed in government buildings (for instance). There can't really be any doubt that much of that expenditure is a direct result of government over-reaction to the Station Night Club fire. We all know that small businesses have screamed that they can't afford to pay for the new requirements. Unsurprisingly, local governments didn't because, well, they had the money, right? (Ours....)

3) There is no way of knowing whether pension costs were included or not without the raw data.

I'm sure this won't satisfy RIPEC's critics, though I wonder if they have similar reservations about the rest of RIPEC's analysis regarding other areas of government expenditures?

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Question. Do the comparative states include private EMS providers on their spreadsheets? That is a huge number, and most certainly is a big deal.

I for one don't mind constructive questioning concerning fire budgets, benefits and salary. It is my opinion we have nothing to hide.

I've been hearing for over a year now people comparing Rhode Island's fire protection expenditures to the rest of the country as being two times the cost. I don't know if it is or isn't, but I do know for certain that Rhode Island firefighters, especially Providence firefighters are far from the highest paid in the country, as Mayor David Cicillini professed on paid radio advertisements. His claims were based on the RIPEC report, and are simply not true.

Posted by: michael at January 22, 2010 2:22 PM

Michael, I simply don't know if "comparative states include private EMS providers on their spreadsheets" because the info is gathered by the Census bureau and I didn't find anything indicating where the average nosy blogger could get that info. I'd love the raw data, too, so that a lot of the "I heards" and "I thinks" can be eliminated.

Posted by: Marc at January 22, 2010 3:07 PM

I appreciate your follow up on this subject and to Michael the salaries as a whole don't even compare to other places in the country. So having said that I beleive something has to have been added to RI figures or something omitted from the others to make RI figures so much higher than other states where they pay 25% to 35% more.

Posted by: dave at January 22, 2010 4:32 PM

The report claims firefihter costs to be number one in the country. The report does not state EMS costs state by state nationally because EMS is found in the Health Department statistics on the census data where Rhode Island ranks 51st. That's right below dead last. RIPEC=liars

Posted by: truth at January 22, 2010 5:22 PM

I just downloaded that report. I'll need to study it before commenting.

Posted by: BobN at January 24, 2010 12:09 PM

The fact that these statistics are not reliable really doesn't matter to the enemies of RI FF's and fire departments. The fact that these statistics are published is all they need to keep the myths coming.

Posted by: Tom Kenney at January 24, 2010 11:02 PM
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