A new study shows that per-capita fire service costs are higher in Rhode Island than other parts of the country.
Research by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block indicates a $350 per capita cost for fire services in the Providence area. By comparison, the per capita cost in Dallas is just $173. Phoenix spends about $210 per person.
Block said that on average, the cost of operating fire departments is about 40 percent higher in Rhode Island than in a number of other metropolitan areas in the US. He says he wants that information to spark an effort to save taxpayers’ money.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish is to initiate a statewide conversation and debate about consolidation, about regionalization, and coming to terms with the fact that the way we’re doing things here costs us dearly,” said Block.
Some unionized firefighters question Block’s findings, saying fire safety is more costly here due in part to the state’s residential density.
The president of the Providence firefighters union, Paul Doughty, said a simple comparison of different communities doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Fire service in Rhode Island has a number of attributes that add to its cost, one of them being the population density,” said Doughty.
But Block believes Rhode Island is still clinging to practices dating to the time when horse’s pulled fire engines.
Block unveiled the information on fire services Tuesday in connection with the debut of a new organization, Watchdog RI. He says the group will do additional research to help inform public policy decisions.
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