Fire Department – Convert Twenty Percent of Fire Suppression Apparatuses to Ambulances

Savings: $41.5 million

The City’s current collective bargaining agreement with the firefighters’ union, which expires June 30, 2012, requires the City to staff at least five firefighters on most fire suppression apparatuses, which includes the City’s fire engines, fire trucks, squad companies, and hazmat units.[1]  The CBA allows the City to have up to 35 “variances” from this manning requirement per day, increased from 30 in the previous contract.[2]  According to the CBA, a “variance” permits the City to staff a fire apparatus with four instead of five firefighters.   The table below details the number of apparatuses by type and the minimum staffing levels required for each of them.


Number of Apparatus

Minimum Staffing per Apparatus

Fire Engine



Fire Truck



Squad Companies






Sources: CFD data, Collective Bargaining Agreement

Under this option, the City would convert twenty percent of the fire engine and fire trucks to ambulances.  This would reduce the number of engines by 19 and the number of trucks by 12 and thus result in 31 additional ambulances.  Because five employees currently staff each engine and truck and only two staff each ambulance, this would result in a large reduction in the number of required staff.  The table below shows the number of employee-hours that would be reduced from eliminating the fire engines and trucks and the increase in required hours necessary to staff the additional ambulances.


Increase/(Reduction) in Number of Apparatuses

Annual Staffing Hour Increase/(Reduction)

Fire Engine*



Fire Truck*








* For engines and trucks, there is a staffing requirement of 5 personnel at all times.  To calculate the annual staffing requirements, we multiplied the number of apparatuses by the staffing requirement by the number of hours in a year (8,760).

** For ambulances there is a staffing requirement of 2 personnel at all times.  To calculate the annual staffing requirements, we multiplied the number of apparatuses by the staffing requirement by the number of hours in a year (8,760).

Thus, converting 20 percent of the fire engines and trucks to ambulances would reduce the need for nearly 815,000 firefighter hours per year.  Assuming that the average firefighter working in fire suppression and rescue works 2,048 hours a year,[3] this reduction would allow the City to reduce the firefighter staffing by 397 employees.[4]

Currently, the average annual compensation of a firefighter is approximately $103,500[5] (including fringe benefits). This figure does not include any additional compensation resulting from overtime pay, uniform allowances, duty availability pay, and holiday premium pay. However, this compensation will increase in 2012 by 1% per the CBA.  The terms of the CBA would increase the average compensation for a firefighter (including fringe benefits) by $1,000 to approximately $104,500 in 2012.[6] Thus, the elimination of 397 firefighter positions would save the City approximately $41.5 million in 2012.  This does not consider potential additional savings on equipment from maintaining 31 ambulances rather than 31 fire suppression apparatuses.

Implementing this option would require a modification to the current CBA, which is in effect until June 30, 2012.

Proponents might argue that the number of structure fires has declined substantially in the City over the last two decades, while the number of ambulance calls has increased.  Additionally, proponents might argue that the City gets reimbursed, at least partially, for ambulance services, while fire suppression services generally do not receive reimbursement.   Another argument that could be made is that cities around the country are closing fire stations and reducing firefighter staffing.[7] Opponents might argue that large scale reduction in the number of fire suppression apparatuses would pose a hazard to public safety and endanger firefighters themselves.  They might point to the 10 percent increase in fire deaths (from 30 to 33) in Philadelphia in 2010 that followed a reduction in fire suppression services.[8]  Others might argue that regardless of the trends in number of fires, the City must retain a reserve fire fighting force in the event of a major fire incident.

Discussion and Additional Questions

A key consideration in deciding whether to implement this option is, similar to the option that would reduce staffing on fire suppression apparatuses, determining the relationship between the number of fire suppression apparatuses in service and casualties and damage due to fires.

One should also determine what areas of the City should see a reduction in the fire engines and trucks.  Some potential questions include:

  • What wards/neighborhoods in the City have had the least number of structure fires in the last five years?
  • What wards/neighborhoods have the highest concentration of fire suppression apparatuses?

The option as presented does not take into account that some portion of the cost of the increased ambulance service may be recouped because the City charges for ambulance services.[9]  Some questions to consider:

  • Does the City currently charge for life support services administered by fire suppression apparatuses?
  • Would increasing the number of ambulance increase the number of total ambulance calls the City responds to?
  • How many calls that could be responded to by ambulances does the average fire suppression apparatus currently respond to?

Budget Details

Dept: Fire Department, 59 Bureau: NA
Fund: Corporate Fund, 0100 Approp Code: Salaries and Wages – On Payroll, 0005
The appropriation is located on pages 185 and the position schedule beings on page 189 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.

[1] City of Chicago. “Labor Contract between Chicago Fire Fighters Union, Local #2, International Association of Fire Fighters A.F.L.-C.I.O. – C.L.C. and the City of Chicago, Illinois. July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2012.” pg. 67.

[2] Id., pg. 72.

[3] Most firefighters working on fire apparatuses are on platoon duty, which means they work 24-hour shifts. The normal platoon schedule has firefighters work four 24-hour shifts in a 15-day period. This translates to 97.33 24-hour shifts per year. However, each firefighter is given twelve 24-hour vacation days per year. Thus, each firefighter works 85.33 days per year assuming no additional time off due to illness. 85.33 multiplied by 24 equals 2,048 hours per year per firefighter.

[4] We rounded this number down to the nearest whole number.

[5] According to the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance, there were 2,531 firefighter positions (not including Fire Engineers, Lieutenants, Captions, Battalion Chiefs, etc.) in fire suppression with combined budgeted salaries of $183,041,130. This equals an average salary of $72,320. In addition to salary, firefighters receive pension and health insurance benefits. The Mayor’s Office of Budget and Management estimated the cost of these benefits for police officers to be 43% of salary. If we assume that firefighters’ benefits cost approximately the same given the similarities in their pensions, then the average benefit cost for each firefighter is $31,097. Thus, the average total compensation for one firefighter in fire suppression is $103,417.

[6] The contract wage increase for firefighters is 1% in January 2012.

[7] Mihalopoulos, Dan and Liplin, Michael. “Outside of Chicago, Fire Departments Face Cuts.” May 13, 2011.

[8] Kurtz, Paul “Mayor Nutter, Union Squabble Over Cause Of Spike In 2010 Fire Deaths.” KYW Newsradio. January 5, 2011