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SDSU Wildfire Study Says 4 Firefighters Are Needed Per Engine

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Aired 8/11/10

A new San Diego State University wildfire staffing study says adding a single firefighter to every fire engine could save the state $41 million a year. An extra set of boots on the ground could also save lives and help crews gain control of wildfires more quickly, according to the study.

A new San Diego State University wildfire staffing study says adding a single firefighter to every fire engine could save the state $41 million a year. An extra set of boots on the ground could also save lives and help crews gain control of wildfires more quickly, according to the study.

Matt Rahn, study author and director of research and education at the SDSU College of Sciences' Field Stations Programs, talks to reporters about his report at San Diego State University on August 10, 2010.
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Above: Matt Rahn, study author and director of research and education at the SDSU College of Sciences' Field Stations Programs, talks to reporters about his report at San Diego State University on August 10, 2010.

Matt Rahn, study author and director of research and education at SDSU's College of Sciences' Field Stations Programs, said increasing an engine crew from three to four firefighters improves the efficiency in laying 1,200 feet of hose by 41 percent, or 8.5 minutes.

“Under three people on an engine, what you typically have is two people actually working on the hose and putting down the fire,” said Rahn, “With only two people on the engine, what that really means is 65 percent of the time, you have the potential of only having one firefighter actively fighting the fire and advancing the hose line.”

Having four firefighters on an engine would also increase -- by 1.7 percent to 3.9 percent -- the number of fires that were held to less than 10 acres, Rahn concluded.

"By having one extra firefighter, having four firefighters per engine can often increase the effectiveness by over 50 percent, and that translates into about 15-40 minutes of a faster response time in effectiveness in fighting the fires," said Rahn.

The 2003 wildfires that devastated San Diego County resulted in a $2.43 billion economic loss for the region, according to the study. Had the total acreage of those fires been decreased by just 1 percent, the impact on the region's economy would have been $25 million to $250 million less, Rahn said.

According to the study, the number of extremely large fires, like those locally in 2003 and 2007, have dramatically increased statewide. Of the 20 largest documented fires in California's history, half have occurred since 2000.

Most of San Diego County’s fire agencies staff three firefighters per fire engine. The City of San Diego has a current agreement of four.

City News Service contributed to the information in this report.

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