How Fire Departments Both Perpetuate and Get Victimized By Sprawl

One of the big ironies of the safe streets movement is that a government agency charged with keeping us safe is quite often a major obstacle to preventing injuries and deaths. Fire departments tend to insist on wider streets to accommodate their emergency vehicles. But those wider streets encourage fast driving, which claims a lot more lives in the United States annually than fires.

Many suburban and rural fire departments are having trouble filling volunteer positions, the Star Tribune reports, in part because people spend so many hours driving from place to place, they aren't as likely to donate their time to fire fighting. Image: Star Tribune

Here’s another irony: Bill Lindeke at Streets.mn relays that fire departments are having trouble functioning in the sorts of places where emergency vehicles can travel unimpeded:

I first became aware of the connection between of fire trucks and emergency vehicles when reading Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck’s famous book, Suburban Nation. They have a chapter that argues that streets are often made wider than they might otherwise be simply for efficiency of emergency vehicles, particularly large and long fire trucks.

Not only does road design involve a tradeoff between speed and access, everyday safety and emergency safety in dense urban areas, but in the suburbs and exurbs, where houses are spread out, fire response seems to be quite expensive.

A recent piece in the Star Tribune shows how suburban and rural cities are struggling to recruit fire fighters. Apparently, the traditional system set up to run fire stations is beginning to break down, particularly in cities and towns without a great deal of density.

One of the problems, the Star Tribune reports, is that many people are simply too busy these days to take a volunteer position, in part because of all the time they have to spend behind the wheel.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicious shares some early propaganda from the American Automobile Association that attempted to lay blame for traffic collisions on pedestrians (it worked). Walkable Dallas Fort Worth attempts to demonstrate just how horrible Interstate 35 has been for the city of Austin. And Greater Greater Washington considers the smartest ways to target suburban growth in Prince George’s County.